Car crashes are one of the leading causes of child death in Australia. Several thousand children aged birth to six years are hospitalised each year in Australia from injuries sustained in car crashes.
And while studies by road safety researchers show that almost all young children in Australia (98 per cent) use child restraints when they travel in cars, about one quarter of children are using the wrong type of restraint for their age, and about 70 per cent of restraints are incorrectly installed or used.
Wrongly installed or used child car seats have alarming consequences for children in a car crash. It is estimated 42 per cent of child deaths in car crashes and 55 per cent of injuries could be eliminated if all children aged one to six were travelling in an appropriate child car seat that was correctly installed, according to a recent study by Australian road safety researchers, published in the medical journal Pediatrics.
Early Learning Association Australia (ELAA) worked with VicRoads, Family Day Care Australia and other peak bodies in the family day care sector, as well as leading early childhood experts, to develop the Safe Transport Policy (Family Day Care).
It is based on the Best Practice Guidelines for the Safe Transportation of Children in Vehicles published by Neuroscience Research Australia, an independent, not-for-profit research institute.
The policy reflects best practice and goes beyond the minimum legal requirements outlined in Australian road laws.
For example, it is legal to use a safety harness, also known as an H harness, for children travelling in cars in Victoria, however the policy recommends against their use. Research shows that safety harnesses provide no safety advantages over lap-sash seat belts and may, in fact, increase the risk of injury.
While the law sets minimum standards for the safe transportation of children we still need to do the best we can to protect children and keep them safe while travelling, especially when we’ve got the scientific evidence and the knowledge about the sorts of best practices that should be implemented.
ELAA understands that we’re aiming high with these best practices and recognises that it may take some time for family day care educators to take on all aspects of the policy. ELAA will provide support with education and resources to help the sector adopt the policy.
Moonee Valley City Council, a local government authority in Melbourne’s inner west, is trialling the best practice policy among its 11 family day care services.
The council has held professional development sessions for educators and coordinators about the best practice policies.
Gurpreet Thiara, the council’s Children Services Development Officer, said educators’ main concerns included how to determine the age and appropriateness of a car seat, especially when parents provide their own car seat.
“Educators appreciated the information they received from the training session and they are now more confident, not only in transporting children in their care, but in answering questions from families about safe transportation,” Ms Thiara said.
Shane Lucas, ELAA’s Chief Executive Officer, said the best practice policy, developed in partnership with VicRoads, was a great example of how diverse organisations could work together to create practical improvements for educators, children and families in early learning services.
 Wei Du, Caroline F. Finch, Andrew Hayen, Lynne Bilston, Julie Brown and Julie Hatfield (2010) ‘Pediatrics’, Relative benefits of population-level interventions targeting restraint-use in child care passengers, p304-312.
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