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May 7, 2013
By Chrystal Smith (USAG Wiesbaden)
Army.mil

WIESBADEN, Germany - Among the seemingly harmless things around the home from which you're not protecting your child there is likely something that can hurt them.

While the home is generally regarded as a safe haven, multiple dangers that are a part of the everyday routine and floor plan exist for toddlers who are just beginning to explore their world.

"Imagine life through the eyes of your baby" is the advice Deborah Lohnes, New Parent Support Program registered nurse, gives to parents when she visits homes in the community to help parents create environments that are safe for developing infants and toddlers who tend to use their mouths to analyze and examine small discoveries. "Anything that can pass through a toilet paper roll should not be within a child's reach."

Reports from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, American Association of Poison Control Centers and Safe Kids USA translate daily practices such as the morning cup of coffee, taking daily vitamins, watching television, smoking, shaving and cooking to hazards such as burning, poisoning and tipping when considered from the perspective of little ones.

"We're not trying to be melodramatic about this. … But it happens enough that we have to get your attention on it," said Michael Robinson, Family Advocacy and Social Work Services supervisory social worker.

There have been near fatal situations, cases of ingesting chemicals, burns and falls reported in the community. "There are a lot of close calls," Robinson said.

According to Consumer Product Safety Commission reports about 90,000 children are treated in emergency rooms yearly for unintentional poisoning, and about 40 die. U.S. poison control centers logged more than 3.5 million calls for poison exposure in 2011, and nearly half of that tally were calls for children under 6 years old.

Though adding socket covers, locks or buying things with sophisticated capping systems are the general approaches to childproofing, local experts stress that the task of proofing one's home does not end there.

The term childproofing, "gives a false sense of security," said Dr. Michelle Melicosta, Wiesbaden Health Clinic pediatrician.

In 15 years, she said she has seen a number of emergency cases where children were injured or died from incidents in the home. She shared an account where one child died from ingesting a cigarette, and because it happened during a brief moment when the child was unsupervised the medical responders couldn't figure out what happened to render appropriate care. "Kids will find amazing ways to get into things. They need to be in eyeshot," she said.

The act of childproofing "doesn't negate the need for supervision," said Lohnes, adding that her checklist for helping parents ready the home for toddlers includes pointing out the hazards of such things as exposed edges, loose or hanging cords, power outlets and chargers, razor blades, cleaning products, hot surfaces, and stairs, for example.

"Things can happen really quickly, and the average person doesn't spend time thinking about such things," said Robinson.

Robinson has responded to a number of suspected neglect cases that grew out of an accumulation of negligent habits. Children falling from windows and furniture tipping over on them were two major matters on which he hoped to get parent's attention.

He spoke of his own daughter when she was a toddler and how she would use the dresser as a staircase. "My youngest was very clever about figuring these things out," he said, adding that he saw the danger of how such a piece of furniture could have fallen over on her or she could have used the dresser as a bridge to reach the window.

Robinson said that safeguarding the home is not merely an action parents must accomplish to avert a visit from Social Services. It is about preserving the health and well-being of one's child.

"We're the least of their problems," he said, adding that the cost of simply placing hazards out of the reach of children is far less costly that those associated with injuries and fatalities. "One moment of omission could change your child's life forever."

A certain school of thought on childproofing encourages that everything be locked up or hidden away, but such an approach can limit a child's development. Local experts recommend reconfiguring the home's layout to make it safe for exploration.

"It's not about making boundaries," Lohnes said, but instead parents should swap the hazardous things for more "baby friendly" items so the child can still explore.

A number of resources are available locally and on the Internet to families to ensure homes are made safe for youngsters just beginning to discover.

On the web, the Safe Kids USA website at www.safekids.org has a number of resources for educating one on how to maintain the safety of children.

Parents can also access local resources such as New Parent Support Program, Social Work Services, and Women, Infants and Children services for more information.

New Parent Support is located in Hainerberg Housing at Texasstrasse 57. Call mil 335-5330/5331 or civ (0611) 4080-330/331.

Social Work Services is located at Clay Kaserne Building 1526. Call mil 337-5297 or civ (0611) 705-5297.

The WIC Overseas Office is located in Crestview Housing Building 7005. Stop by or call (0611) 505-5348.