Just after Christmas, Lisa Schmidt's niece was in a single-car accident. Thankfully, her 3-year-old was not in the car at the time, but she was shocked to learn that her like-new car seat was no longer usable.
"The sheriff told her she should not ever use her car seat again — that she should throw it away," said Lisa, a lead infant teacher at a daycare. "This was very surprising to her."
Thanks to a recommendation from the Milwaukee Fire Department, Lisa visited the Children’s Wisconsin car seat program for a discounted seat and tips on car safety.
Road injuries are the leading cause of unintentional deaths to children in the United States. From 2021-2022, 2,284 children were seen in a Children’s Wisconsin Emergency Department or urgent care offices for crash-related injuries. Ashley Mahnke, program manager of the Children’s Wisconsin Injury Prevention team, said the Children's Wisconsin car seat program is intended to help reduce these numbers.
"We want to prevent those injuries," said Ashley. "We want to either give them a product that they need or help educate families."
Through the car seat program, patients and families who see a Children's Wisconsin primary care provider can learn about safe car seat installation and harnessing and can have any questions or concerns addressed. Caregivers practice installing car seats and harnessing a child. If a family needs a car seat, the clinic also provides discounted car seats.
"Ashley showed me every detail on it," said Lisa. "She showed me how to put the car seat in a car, and how to keep it safe and tight." Lisa was able to get an appointment within a week of calling, and she walked out of the appointment with what she called a "Cadillac of car seats." It only cost her $20.
"Thank God for the sheriff and fire department," said Lisa. "I love that Children's Wisconsin gave us a new seat."
One part of the appointment Lisa particularly valued was the opportunity to discuss questions with the clinician. Lisa learned that kids shouldn't be put into car seats with a puffy winter coat on. She also learned safety features about the new car seat that she didn't know were there. And, it was all delivered in a helpful, compassionate manner.
"I didn't feel like I was being tested," she said. "I was learning."
The car seat program is one of several Children's Wisconsin efforts aimed at reducing injuries to children while riding in a car. Car safety efforts through the car seat clinic, primary care offices, community service and social work programs, and home visitation programs aim to teach parents about safe practices when traveling in a car with a child. Car seat technology and research has evolved, which has also evolved laws and best practices — updates that not all parents may be up to speed on.
Just last year, the car seat clinic distributed 179 car seats to families in the Children's Wisconsin network. In addition to educating families and distributing seats, the program also maintains and distributes a variety of pre-recorded instructional videos and resources for families looking to learn more about car seat safety.
Often, the car seat program serves as a helpful connecting point for parents who may need more than just a car seat. Ashley said it's not uncommon that in speaking with a family, she'll learn of additional needs they have and be able to refer them to the community connector program or other resources throughout Children's Wisconsin and their local community.
Lisa is so grateful for the training and car seat she received at the program . "I kid you not — I'm so glad I went," she said. "I feel like I'm a teacher now of car seats." Lisa has also passed all of her learning on to her niece, and she even brought some resources to the daycare she works at to distribute to parents there.
If you’re interested in signing up for a car seat appointment, Children's Wisconsin patients and families can sign up online (available in person and virtually) or call (414) 607-5280. Appointments are typically available on Wednesdays from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
Car safety resources are also available online to anyone, including car seat resource sheets and instructional videos.