WORTHINGTON — For the first time in history, the Worthington community hosted a class last month for members of the public to become certified child passenger safety technicians.
Several organizations collaborated to make the class possible, including: South Central Minnesota EMS, Helping Hands Pregnancy Center, ISD 518, Nobles County Community Services, Worthington Police Department and Sanford Worthington Medical Center. Representatives from each organization, along with community members, were students in the class.
A child passenger safety technician, or "tech," is someone certified to share knowledge about when children need car seats and booster seats, as well as how to use those safety devices in a way that keeps kids as safe as possible in the car. They must pass three written exams and a hands-on skills assessment to be certified. After passing the class, they are qualified to perform car seat inspections and safety checks to help save the lives of local youths.
The participants worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 21-23 learning information and practicing proper usage of car seats and seatbelts.
Representing the Worthington Police Department at the class was officer Alex VanSomeren, a first-time father with an infant at home.
"One of the reasons I wanted to go through this class was because I have a kid," he said. "To be honest, there were things I didn't know."
Sometimes during traffic stops, VanSomeren sees child passenger safety issues, such as a child not in a car seat who should be, a car seat not strapped down with a seatbelt or more kids in the car than there are seatbelts.
"First of all, people just don't know (the law)," he said. "Second of all, car seats are expensive."
"When we do car seat safety checks,
we see 90 to 95% misuse."
— Sheila Denton
Sheila Denton, child passenger safety liaison with South Central Minnesota EMS, taught the class. She explained that when parents and guardians buy car seats and booster seats, they don't necessarily know how to use the seats properly. There are guidelines about wear the straps are supposed to be on a child's body and how each seat is strapped in to the car.
These rules are not well known by the public.
"When we do car seat safety checks, we see 90 to 95% misuse," Denton said.
In addition to learning how to use safety devices, techs also learn the law. In Minnesota, all children must be in a rear-facing car seat until age 1. Until they reach age 8 or a height of 4'9", kids have to be in a booster seat.
As part of the certification class techs learn how to communicate the rules to parents, including across language barriers, and how to connect parents with resources and programs to provide car seats if cost is a factor.
VanSomeren added that there are grants available for law enforcement agencies and other techs to have some car seats on hand to give people who wouldn't be able to get a car seat any other way. The Nobles County Sheriff's Office has applied for some of these grants, and VanSomeren plans to do so on behalf of WPD.
Child passenger safety is not negotiable.
"Vehicles inherently are dangerous," VanSomeren said. "Seatbelts and airbags are not designed for kids."
Car seats and boosters seats help protect children who can't protect themselves, he said.
"Our goal is to make sure kiddos are being transported safely," Denton said.
Last month's class was a step in the right direction for the Worthington community, she added.
"It went wonderfully. We got a wide variety of people who know what to look for and are out in the community," she said.
Now that he's certified, VanSomeren is open to questions, if anyone needs help operating a car seat or learning the laws about child passenger safety. He is willing to meet with people, do a car seat check or even help install a car seat if needed. He can be reached at the police department at 295-5400.