February 7, 2018

United Way trains caregivers on car seat and sleep safety

Shareece Williams felt helpless.

A few years ago, her shift as an overnight nurse was winding down. She was looking forward to spending her birthday with her baby daughter. But then she got a panicked call from her husband. Their daughter wasn’t breathing and was turning blue.

“I felt in that moment probably the most helpless I have ever felt in my life,” Shareece told an audience of local child caregivers during a car seat and sleep safety training session

“My daughter needed her mother and I was too far away.”

She was 45 minutes from home. Her daughter was taken to a nearby hospital, and when Shareece arrived, her worst fears were confirmed. She had fallen asleep with her father in a chair on her stomach. Poor sleep positioning caused her death.

Darlene's grandson Jonah demonstrates the proper way to be buckled into a car seat.

Jackets should be removed when children are placed in car seats.

Darlene's grandson Asahd demonstrates the proper way for a baby to be laid to bed.

Babies should be placed to sleep on their backs.

Now, Shareece is turning her tragedy into a chance to educate others. She’s sharing her story far and wide in an effort to educate about sleep safety to prevent future deaths. That’s what brought her to a recent child care training session, one of many for license-exempt child care providers that are hosted by our Bib to Backpack team.

Training sessions like these are offered free of charge thanks to federal funding United Way receives through the Michigan Department of Education-Office of Great Start. United Way operates the Great Start to Quality Wayne-Oakland-Macomb Resource Center, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Education and the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, to provide these services, which are funded by the Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge Grant.

‘A great opportunity’

Quality child care can be expensive, and oftentimes, grandparents or family members will step in to help parents. With funding from the state, our Bib to Backpack team works with more than 100 of these caregivers each year to provide information, resources and trainings like these. These caregivers are one part of a network of thousands of children, parents and caregivers who are supported by Bib to Backpack annually.  It’s all part of ensuring that children have the support they need during the most vital time in their development.

“Events like these give license-exempt child care providers a great opportunity for continuous education on everything pertaining to early childhood,” said the Great Start to Quality Wayne-Oakland-Macomb Resource Center’s Kristal Johnson, who works at United Way and helps child caregivers improve their skill sets. She said opportunities for caregivers to network with peers is another benefit.

Safety supported by science

In addition to Shareece, two medical professionals spoke at the gathering to discuss the science behind the safety measures.

Anita Barksdale, a nurse and injury prevention coordinator in the trauma department at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, was on hand to discuss car seat safety. Three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly, she said. Children must be buckled in a car seat or booster seat until they are either 8 years old or 4-foot-9.

Many in the room were surprised when Anita said children should not be strapped into a car seat while wearing a winter jacket. Although the belts may seem tight, a child wearing a big jacket can easily slip through in the event of a crash. A better practice is to take them to the car in a jacket and remove it once inside.

Kristal hopes this information spreads throughout the community.

“I hope caregivers get a better understanding of how important it is to put infants to sleep properly and secure children safely in the car,” she said.

“I want them to spread the word and become advocates not only for the children they care for, but for all young children throughout Southeastern Michigan.”

Darlene, Ayle and Jonah play with hand puppets.

Darlene, Ayle and Jonah play with hand puppets.

Excellent information

Pontiac resident Darlene Hill has 23 grandchildren, and she cares for eight of them while their parents work. She shares the information she learns from training sessions offered by United Way and the Wayne-Oakland-Macomb Resource Center with the whole family.

“Everything that United Way is doing right now for this cohort — it’s just awesome,” Darlene said. “They put in so much work and I commend them.”

Carol Thomas is a Southfield-based child caregiver. She began participating in the child caregiver programming offered by the Wayne-Oakland-Macomb Resource Center at United Way last year.

“I like the trainings,” she said. “They teach you what children’s needs are, how they learn and what you can do for them at certain ages to help them learn.”

“(United Way) puts in so much work and I commend them.”

Carol has three grandchildren and was up-to-date with most safety practices but appreciated the event as a refresher. It was also an opportunity to meet up with her friend Mary Graham, who also watches children in Southfield.

“This was excellent information,” Mary said.

“I have immensely enjoyed it. You get a lot of information, and knowledge is power.”

Editor’s note: This work is funded by the state of Michigan’s Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant. The Great Start to Quality Wayne-Oakland-Macomb Resource Center is operated by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. To learn more, contact Shauna.Aitson@LiveUnitedSEM.org or click here.

Funding from the U.S. Department of Education has been granted to the Office of Great Start within the Michigan Department of Education for supporting the implementation of Great Start to Quality.