Protecting Children Because They Canít Protect Themselves

March 10, 2006

Responsible parents will do everything possible to protect their children. However, there are instances when parents make irresponsible decisions that often put their children at risk. To prevent these situations from happening, I have introduced legislation in the Assembly to keep children safe by educating high school students about Shaken Baby Syndrome, broadening the definition of endangering the welfare of a child, and making child safety seats more affordable for parents. This legislation builds on two child safety laws that I authored in 2004.

Educating parents to protect infants

Every year many infants are killed, often accidentally, because of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). Shaken Baby Syndrome results when a baby is shaken violently Ė resulting in traumatic brain injury, which can lead to brain damage or death. According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, nationally each year, an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 infants are brought to hospitals for treatment of the condition. Of these tiny victims, 25 to 30 percent die as a result of their injuries. The rest of these infants will have lifelong complications Ė such as blindness, cerebral palsy and mental retardation.

Sadly, Shaken Baby Syndrome is on the rise. Oftentimes, new parents shake their babies without realizing the damage that they are inflicting on the child because they havenít been properly educated about SBS. Education about this issue is essential to prevention. I first introduced legislation in 2004 Ė which is now law Ė that requires hospitals and birth centers to request maternity patients and fathers view a video presentation on the dangers of shaking infants (Ch. 219 of 2004). But I realize that itís not enough and more has to be done.

Thatís why this year I authored a bill, which the Assembly has already passed, requiring public high schools to provide students with information about SBS (A.6832). This information would include consequences of SBS and strategies to prevent it from happening Ė including a video that would be shown yearly to all secondary students. This additional information would be included with the already-required parenting education classes students receive before graduation. Itís my belief that through education, awareness and prevention, we can curb the instances of Shaken Baby Syndrome in New York State.

Keeping children safe in automobiles

Another priority for me this year is keeping children safe while passengers in motor vehicles Ė focusing on those who leave a child unattended in a motor vehicle during extreme temperatures and helping to make car seats more affordable for parents.

It seems like leaving a child in a car in hot weather would defy common sense, but too many parents take that risk Ė with tragic results. Between 1998 and the middle of 2005, 249 children died of hyperthermia after being left unattended in extremely hot cars. Shockingly, studies have shown that if the temperature outside a vehicle is between 72 and 96 degrees, the temperature inside the car will rise approximately 19 degrees in the first 10 minutes, 34 degrees after 30 minutes and 43 degrees within one hour. In addition, the studies found that cracking a window has little effect on the carís inside temperature. I believe anyone who knowingly or recklessly leaves a child in a car when itís hot outside is putting that child in danger. As a result, I submitted legislation that would make a person who leaves an unsupervised child in a motor vehicle in extreme temperatures guilty of endangering the welfare of a child (A.9106). No child should be left to suffer in an oven-hot car, and any person who makes such a reckless decision to do so, should be held accountable.

Lastly, in 2004, I sponsored a law that requires children under the age of 6 to use a child safety seat while a passenger in a motor vehicle (Ch. 509 of 2004). Before 2004, the law only required children ages 4 and under to be in a safety seat. Over 47 percent of fatally injured children ages 4 to 7 were unrestrained and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recommended that children less than 4í9Ē tall be in a safety seat.

As a result of this law, more children will be protected from injury or death while in motor vehicles. But, because of the cost of child safety seats, many parents are struggling to afford the number of seats needed to put all of their children under the age of 6 in them. In response to this and to strengthen compliance with this law, I have introduced a bill that will exempt the sales tax for the purchase of child safety seats (A.7286). We must make it as easy as possible for working families to do the right thing.

Keeping our children safe is a top priority for me. As the 2006 legislative session proceeds, Iíll continue to fight to keep New York children safe because they canít defend themselves.