After their baby has arrived, many new parents bring their bundle of joy out of the hospital to their vehicle and struggle with attaching their car seat securely.

So goes the story of Jury Graeme, a security staff member at St. Croix Regional Medical Center, who was assisting expectant parents with car seat safety at a Car Seat Clinic in Vadnais Heights June 27. Graeme was assisting at the clinic for his final exam as part of a child passenger safety certification course. Upon course completion, he can better assist those parents he sees leave the hospital without knowing how to attach their car seats.

Graeme was one of 16 students who work in public safety, health care or social services that were training parents and parents-to-be how to attach their car seats.

There are five kinds of car seats, several seat belt and latch systems and countless styles and models, so there is a lot to learn in order to assist parents with any type of car seat, said Jessica Whitehead, of Epiphany Caring for Life, a pregnancy resource center for Anoka County residents. It is the only social service agency in the county to offer free infant car seats to low-income Anoka County residents; in order to do so, staff needs to be car seat safety certified. The child passenger safety technician course includes written exams and skills assessments, Whitehead said.

Regions Hospital’s Car Seat Program holds 25-30 clinics per year in partnership with fire departments, said Coordinator Diana Van Wormer. Most car seat checks are done by hospital staff, local fire department personnel and volunteers. A few clinics per year are staffed by students testing for certification.

Van Wormer, a Grant resident, personally started the clinics about a decade ago. She is a nurse by trade and suggested her department start a car seat program for parents. Her supervisor said the hospital didn’t have money for that; she didn’t believe him, but since he kept saying no, she asked the hospital’s foundation for funds instead. She was given $10,000 to start the program.

The clinics have grown in popularity over the years. It used to be that fewer than 10 people would attend a clinic to make sure they were securing their car seat correctly. Last year, the program performed 700 seat checks, Van Wormer said.

Leah and Matt Batesky came from Minneapolis to learn how to securely attach their car seat. Leah said it is hard to find a car seat clinic in the Twin Cities; they searched for one online. Technicians-in-training helped them readjust their car seat from behind the driver’s seat to the middle of the back seat. The safest place for a car seat is in the middle of the car, furthest from impact, Whitehead noted.

“We know if kids are properly installed in their car seat, they are 80% safer,” Van Wormer said. Unfortunately, about 70 percent of car seats are not installed or used correctly, according to the Vadnais Heights Fire Department.

Vadnais Heights Fire Technician Chris DuBay said he has personally seen the injuries that improperly secured car seats can cause. But he has also seen serious accidents where a child who was properly secured received only minor injuries.

The Vadnais Heights Fire Department partners with Regions Hospital once a year for a clinic, but it also offers car seat check appointments weekly all year long.

“This is a service we offer to our community,” DuBay said. The department is also willing to do car seat checks for people outside Vadnais Heights, he added. Technicians offer car seat checkups from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, depending on staff availability. To make a car seat checkup appointment, call 651-204-6030.

“We’re happy to do it,” DuBay said. “We view it as a prevention measure, a lot like sprinklers.”

The White Bear Lake Fire Department also offers car seat checkup appointments year-round. For more information, contact Technician Carrie Varco at 651-762-4876 or cvarco@whitebearlake.org. The Mahtomedi Fire Department holds a clinic in partnership with Regions Hospital annually.

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