A three-year-old boy in Harris County, Texas, died after daycare workers left him in a hot van for over three hours on July 19. Police on the scene said the temperatures in the van had reached at least 113 F.
According to the Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, the child was found unresponsive around 7 p.m. that evening when his father arrived to pick him up.
“When EMS had him, he was just limp, you know,” Kenneth Brooks, an eyewitness, said to ABC13. “Right there, I knew the kid was gone. It’s a sad day.”
The toddler was one of 28 children who had gone on a field trip to a nearby park with Discovering Me Academy that day. The group returned between 2:30 and 3 p.m., and the daycare centre’s records showed that the child was accounted for upon their return.
Although an emergency medical team worked on the child immediately upon their arrival on the scene, he was later transported to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
“It seems to me this was just gross negligence,” Const. Alan Rosen said. “It’s just tragic.”
The van’s driver and the daycare chaperone were detained for questioning, and CNN reports that they are being cooperative.
Rosen also emphasized that parents and caregivers should do a scan of their vehicle before exiting to prevent a similar situation from occurring.
“Do something that always reminds you that you have a loving package in the backseat of that car,” he said.
An average of 37 deaths occur each year in the U.S. from children being left in hot vehicles, the majority of whom are three and younger. (There are no statistics for Canada.)
The Canada Safety Council reports that extreme heat affects infants and small children quickly because of their size, and that their core temperature can increase three to five times faster than that of an adult. Heatstroke occurs when the body’s temperature reaches 40.5 C (105 F) and it can force the body into shock, halting circulation to vital organs.
The tragedy of this scenario is only amplified for parents who entrust their children with daycare workers every day.
“One of the mantras that comes out of every childcare program is to count heads, count heads and count heads once more,” says Don Giesbrecht, CEO of the Canadian Child Care Federation. “This is not just a random piece of work. It’s a system that’s built into the program, and a continual process that starts from the moment a child is dropped off at the centre and throughout the day.”
“Even if you take a group to the bathroom, you have to count them in the room before you leave, in the bathroom and when you return. It’s not redundant. It’s putting checks and balances in place for this very reason.”
He says that Canada has strict regulations in place for licensed daycare centres, whether they’re in-home or centre-based, and that they tend to be better than those in the U.S.
“From coast to coast, we have really good regulations. From interacting with colleagues, I know that Canada tends to be ahead of the curve when it comes to these issues.”
Although the regulations are provincially mandated, Giesbrecht says they’re very similar across the country. For example, licensed daycare centres are required to have one chaperone for every eight preschool aged children (two to five).
In the case of the toddler in Texas, the driver and the chaperone were responsible for 14 children each.
“In Manitoba, for instance, every childcare program has a safety charter that was instituted by the province. It challenges child and healthcare providers to look at multiple scenarios that require safety checks be put in place.”
He says that its benefits are two-fold: it made childcare programs aware of the magnitude of what could happen, as well as opened communication with parents so they know how the program will respond to a problem.
As for parents, Giesbrecht says that they should sit down with a daycare supervisor before enrolling their child in a program and go over their policies. The daycare programs should inform parents of any field trips, even ones that take them only a few blocks away, including letting them know what steps they’ll be taking to ensure safety.
“Childcare programs should never just randomly decide to hop on transit and take the kids to the zoo without prior consent from a parent,” he says.
“There should be an open dialogue between the childcare provider and the parents. It’s OK for parents to question things. It has to be about the safety of kids.”
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