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Sick, Absent, or Forgotten? How a Change in Routine Can Become Deadly in Minutes

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Have you ever had a child in your child care program not arrive by her usual arrival time and simply rationalized that the child must be sick or on vacation today? My mission is to show you how this assumption can have lethal consequences for dozens of young children annually. How? Each year since 1998, an average of 37 children have perished due to what is known as vehicular heatstroke, also referred to as vehicular hyperthermia or child hot car deaths. At the time of this blog, 23 cases have been documented in 2017, and more than 723 since 1998.

Child vehicular heatstroke was a danger to child passenger safety that I had never heard until the afternoon of May 25, 2011. This was the day I became schooled about this danger in the worst possible way—personal experience. My daughter and soulmate, Sophia Rayne (nicknamed Ray Ray) Cavaliero, was the fourth vehicular heatstroke victim of 2011. The reason? Forgotten (Backseat) Baby Syndrome during what should have been her morning child care drop-off.

The Morning of the Tragedy

Our entire family had overslept on the morning of our heatstroke tragedy. It was the first time that Ray Ray had slept through the night, omitting her usual 5 a.m. feeding, which had always woke us like an alarm clock. I woke to a clock blinking 9:43 a.m.! A chaotic household then hastened to get ready for work and child care. We managed to get Ray Ray secured into her car seat by 10:15 a.m., after which my husband traveled out of our neighborhood and to what I had assumed would be a late start to a normal day for everyone.

But within the next five minutes the day would become anything but normal....

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