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When it comes to protecting our kids, what is the proper role of government? The federal budget is the document that draws the road map for what our government will do, and we are now deep into the budget season.
This question about the government’s role is at the top of our national debate. The preamble to the Constitution says in its first 52 words that the government is to promote the general welfare of its citizens.
In his recent State of the Union message, President Barack Obama quoted his hero, Abraham Lincoln: “Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.”
I believe this defines government in a broader way while maintaining the traditional caregiving duties of parents, citizens, caregivers, doctors, teachers and so many others. Others believe that by strictly limiting the role of government, the taxpayer’s bill will be less and they will be able to take care of themselves with more resources.
Both views have merit, but for the most vulnerable group of people in our society — children from birth to age 18 — I believe government has a fundamental role.
A parent acting alone cannot determine whether a product — a car seat, a toy or a youth football helmet — is safe, that is, unless we are an engineer.
Children are not small adults. They are more sensitive in what they eat and which medications they take — a parent acting alone cannot analyze food that may be tainted or determine the proper dosage of a drug. We depend on government performing its oversight role.
Recent statistics show how effective the government role has been in enabling our young children to live safer lives.
A car can be a perilous place for a young child. A parent might inadvertently leave a child in a car on a bright, sunny day, and there is a severe danger of hyperthermia. If a child is not properly restrained, a minor collision could mean death or a permanent disability. Parents need to know they are buying a safe car seat that meets federal standards, how to install it in the back seat and how to “install” their child into it. The government has been involved in restraints and baby seats for more than 30 years. While there remain too many car-related injuries involving children, research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found them to reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants younger than 1 and by 54 percent for toddlers ages 1 to 4.
Another danger zone is water. Virginia Graeme Baker was a 9-year-old girl who learned to swim when she was 3. But Virginia’s foot was trapped by a drain in a hot tub and, despite desperate efforts of her mother Nancy, she drowned. Along with Safe Kids, Nancy Baker fought for legislation to make kids safer in water — whether in a pool, a hot tub or a bathtub — and in 2007, a law named after her daughter was passed to do just that. The proper installation of drain covers compliant with the law can make entrapment less likely.
Still another example is found in the crib. Eighteen years ago, our nation was horrified by the number of infants dying in their cribs by sudden infant death syndrome. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development began a government-run public awareness campaign to stop SIDS: “Back to Sleep.” Just like the name of the program, the “diagnosis” was very simple. It recommended that parents make sure infants slept on their backs. What happened? Since 1990, SIDS deaths in the United States have fallen by more than 50 percent. There is still work to do to further reduce unexplained infant deaths, and government continues to work on it along with the medical community and parents.
There are similar success stories involving baby carriages and strollers, toys and warnings about dangerous substances and medication. We still face significant challenges involving things like sports-related concussions and creating safe kids’ homes.
This is not to say that it must all be on government. As the president and CEO of the organization Safe Kids Worldwide, I work with thousands of parents in more than 600 coalitions. We provide advice to parents on how to keep their kids safe, alert them when a product is recalled and promote safety when children walk to school or ride their bike in the neighborhood.
As the mother of three, I can tell you that parents cannot do it alone — just the same as we, alone, cannot put out a fire, respond to crime or make the air cleaner. Government must be on hand to promote the general well-being of our children. It is.
Kate Carr is president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide.