A child left in a hot car, or who gets into an unlocked vehicle unnoticed, can die of heat stroke very quickly, but officials say these situations can easily be prevented. The Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education reminds parents that with summer approaching to be extra cautious when children are outside. "According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children under 15 in the United States," said Nichole Hopkins, Division of Children and Family Services St. Francis County Supervisor. "We use that website and Arkansas Children's Hospital predominately for our information." Hopkins said cars heat up quickly on warm days, and children’s body temperatures also rise more quickly than adults. "This makes it particularly dangerous if a child is left in a hot car, even for a short period of time," she said. Hopkins said that keeping children out of hot cars is not just for concern of immediate death. "It is also due to long-term health concerns," she said, adding that heat exposure could cause brain damage, seizures and other health problems for children that parents might not think about. "It is just not cut and dry," said Hopkins. "A child's body is developing all the time. We have to raise concerns about those who say 'oh it's just five minutes,’ ‘oh I just need to throw this away at the convenient store.’” Hopkins said the AAP shows a child's body heats up quicker than an adult's does and when left in a hot car, a child's major organs begin to shut down when the temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. "A child can die when his temperature reaches 107 degrees Fahrenheit," said Hopkins. "Cars can heat up quickly. In just 10 minutes, a car can heat up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher.” DHS has reported that 910 children have died from vehicular heat stroke in the United States since 1998, 18 of which were in Arkansas. "Heat stroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees Fahrenheit," said Hopkins. “These tragedies are entirely preventable. Every parent and guardian needs to know about the dangers of hot cars, and they should take steps to make sure their child is never endangered by this situation,” said Arkansas Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education Director Tonya Williams. “Don’t assume this would never happen to you. Instead, make plans to never leave a child alone in a vehicle, to always check the backseat, and to immediately call 911 if you ever see a child alone in a hot car.” Hopkins also suggests residents follow these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics: • Always check the back seat and make sure all children are out of the car before locking it and walking away. • Avoid distractions while driving, especially cell phone use. • Be extra alert when there is a change in your routine, like when someone else is driving your child or you take a different route to work or child care. • Have your child care provider call if your child is more than 10 minutes late. • Put your cell phone, bag, or purse in the back seat, so you check the back seat when you arrive at your destination. • If someone else is driving your child, always check to make sure he has arrived safely. • Keep your car locked when it is parked to prevent a curious child from entering when no one is around. Many hot car deaths have occurred when a child mistakenly locks himself inside. • Make sure children do not have easy access to car keys. Store them out of a child's reach. • Teach children that cars are not safe places to play. • Keep rear fold-down seats closed to prevent a child from crawling into the trunk from inside the car. • Remind children that cars, especially car trunks, should not be used for games like hide-and-seek. 

"If it is breathing, take it inside first," said Hopkins of children or even pets who often tend to do daily errands with parents and owners. "Think about it, your child can overheat in a vehicle with no air faster than your ice cream can melt. Take that baby in first when coming home from the grocery store. Put them in a safe sleeping environment first, lay them down on their back then go get your groceries." Hopkins said everyone should get into the habit of checking their back seats before locking their car doors. "There are phrases like look before your lock and things of that nature," said Hopkins. "As adults, in today's society we should always be aware of our surroundings. Look inside of your vehicle. It is a matter of supervision." The AAP also shows that if a child is missing check for them in the pool first if there is one nearby then the car. "Even check the trunk," said Hopkins. "An easy way to prevent accidental lock-ins is to make sure your vehicle is always locked anyway. If a child is missing for more than five minutes, find them." Residents who notice a child alone in a car and are concerned should immediately call 911 or law enforcement, according to Hopkins. "You might also want to make sure you always have a spare key, have that backup plan," said Hopkins for cases of accidental lock-ins. "But the first thing I suggest is to call local law enforcement. Only thing that could happen is you get the child out before they get there." Hopkins said parents should implement safety plans and practice them. "Come up with a plan that works best for you, implement it and practice it," said Hopkins. "But my best suggestion is to have that spare car key made." Hopkins said spare keys should be left in places where they are easily accessible such as with close family, neighbors or even in a case mounted under the car." "If the child is not responsive or is in pain, immediately call 911, get the child out of the car, and spray the child with cool water," said Hopkins." We are told not to put them into ice because it could throw them into shock. But get a cool damp cloth, get them inside and work on getting them into a normal environment to get their body to cool down." Hopkins said if a child is crying and not sweating, lethargic or showing signs of distress, parents should immediately also call their pediatrician once the child is out of the vehicle. "Your pediatrician will also know of any underlying health concerns your child might have," said Hopkins. "In reality it is about keeping children as healthy as possible," Hopkins said of raising awareness of the dangers of leaving children in hot cars. The AAP website shows if the child is responsive to stay with the child until help arrives and have someone else search for the driver or ask the facility the car is in to page them." Additional safety tips are available on the AAP's website at healthychildren.org.

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