Safety demonstration van aims to combat childhood injuries

July 30, 2010 - Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Baltimore

Thousands of children die or become disabled nationwide each year because of injuries caused by falls, drowning, choking, burns or suffocation. But a mobile safety center tries to prevent such incidents by taking the home safety message on the road to festivals and community events.

According to public health officials, 6,700 children nationwide die annually because of injuries, and 50,000 are disabled. The CareS Safety Center, started by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the Baltimore Fire Department, aims to cut into those numbers with interactive displays that illustrate how to keep people safe in every room of their homes. There are demonstrations of scalding hazards in the kitchen, drowning and poisoning dangers in the bathroom medicine cabinet and fire safety in the bedroom.

"It's a great partnership to move out of the clinical setting and into the community, and trying to make it fun," said Andrea C. Gielen, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Safety center officials worked with the Maryland Science Center and Maryland Institute College of Art to present the information in an engaging way. The name "CareS" stands for Children are Safe.

"The kids really enjoy the van. When the kids enjoy it, the parents enjoy it, so they want to learn more," Gielen said.

Health educators from Hopkins and the Fire Department give tours of the 40-foot truck, which often gives free presentations at events. It also supplies low-cost safety products such as cabinet and oven locks or stair gates to communities, with prices on a sliding scale based on household income. The Fire Department provides free smoke alarms.

The mobile center cost about $500,000 to build; a $480,000 grant by CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield over three years covers its operating costs, according to the health educators. The Children Are Safe program was launched in 2004 after research in Baltimore highlighted barriers some low-income families faced in creating a home that prevented childhood injuries.

"Everyone wanted to do the right thing to protect their kids, of course, but they had real barriers to some of the childproofing that everyone was recommending," Gielen said. "In low-income urban communities, it is often challenging to follow that advice."

Parents in some neighborhoods would have to take three buses to get to stores that sell items like baby gates, Gielen said, and cost was certainly a factor.

Families can also purchase low-cost products at "safety stores" near Johns Hopkins' pediatric emergency room and in a pediatric clinic building.

Some of the safety products can cost so little in comparison to the suffering an injury can cause, said Geilen. The lifetime cost generated by injuries every year in the United States is $406 billion, she said.


By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun