Keep the children in the game

Preventing child accidents saves pain, tears and deaths – and is preferable to treatment and rehabilitation.

Ethiopian children playing 521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Atalia Katz)
Ethiopian children playing 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Atalia Katz)
Consider the huge amount of time, effort, love, concern and money that parents invest in each of their children from conception through the onset of adulthood.
But all of that is wiped out in a single careless moment for the nearly 150 Israeli children killed in preventable accidents in an average year.
That does not include the 500 children injured daily and rushed to hospital emergency rooms, and 24,000 hospitalized annually after being hurt at home or its environs, in schools and on the roads.
Some Israeli youngsters have died in missile and rocket attacks on the border with Gaza – but the number of children killed in accidents would fill up three buses in a single year.
A week ago, the cabinet unanimously approved launching a plan to establish a comprehensive national program for preventing children’s injuries and reducing the number of accidental deaths by 35 percent by 2020.
Prepared in coordination with the World Health Organization and the European Union, which are involved in the world effort to save children from unintentional harm, the plan was first publicly announced 10 days ago at the First Child Safety Conference, organized by Beterem (the National Center for Child Safety and Health). An impressive 1,000 doctors, nurses, engineers, educators, local authority representatives and others attended the all-day conference – the first of its kind – at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
Beterem was established in 1995 at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva when Prof. Yehuda Danon, founder and director- general of the hospital, and Dr. Michal Hemmo- Lotem, a staff pediatrician, were shocked by the high percentage of otherwise healthy children being admitted to emergency rooms and hospitalized for a variety of injuries. They set up the organization for the sole purpose of saving children from everyday injuries, with Hemmo-Lotem at its head.
Child deaths from accidents have declined by 30% since Beterem opened, but that is not enough, according to the organization’s current director, Orly Silbinger.
The day before the conference, the problem of preventable child accidents came to the fore with the death of a two-and-a-half-year-old child of Ethiopian immigrants, whose two-room Rosh Ha’ayin apartment burned down, apparently due to an electrical failure. Her father was seriously injured while acting as a human shield to save her. She was one of a number of children who have tragically suffered death or injury in home fires.
Among the video clips shown at the conference was one of a modern Orthodox mother who recounted how her infant son had been badly burned in a bath of scalding water that her professional childcare provider had prepared.
He suffered excruciating pain and spent many weeks in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Today, he has fortunately healed, but many babies have not been so lucky, as skin burns leading to infections are often deadly. Legislation that Beterem has initiated requires the installation of simple devices in new buildings to prevent water heaters from reaching beyond 55ºC.
A highlighted invited guest from abroad was Kate Carr, head of Safe Kids Worldwide, a roof body of 22 national organizations for child accident prevention of which Beterem is a valued member.
Some 2,000 children a day or 570,000 children around the globe die each year of needless accidents. Since Safe Kids was founded in the US almost 25 years ago, deaths have declined by 21%, Carr said.
She noted that the world body collects good, workable ideas and disseminates them among members to fight accidents.
One idea that Beterem passed on was inspired by the recognition that when a child has been injured in an accident, this is likely to happen again. As the parents are a “captive audience” while their children are hospitalized, Beterem encouraged giving them lessons on how to prevent further accidents, injury and death. This “bedside education” has been adopted in the US, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.
“We are constantly sharing good ideas and interventions that work,” said Carr. “We have a research unit, but there is no single solution that can protect all kids.”
Beterem’s chairman is Ofer Neeman, who until 2005 was CEO and president of the leading private equity firm Evergreen. “It is good to see so many people here who care about accident prevention,” he said. “But I have criticism – not of you. There are still too many deaths and injuries.
Israel can make big changes if it just wants to and devotes the resources to them. Children and their parents learned not to pluck and destroy wild flowers [in a campaign during the 1980s]. Why not do this with children?” Until the cabinet session on the new prevention plan, he added, no Israeli government had ever discussed children’s accidents.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said that from his experience in hi-tech, he knew that bringing about change required partnerships, as well as caring, devoted people to lead.
“First, amass collective wisdom from around the world and then develop programs suited to Israel. This is what we did with the light rail,” which was over a decade in the works and finally accepted passengers at the end of last August. Though experts predicted that dozens of people, including children, might be killed and injured during its first year of operation, this has not happened.
The impressive safety record, Barkat said, along with a persuasive video showing teachers in action, was thanks to an organized effort that reached children in 93% of the city’s kindergartens and schools – secular, modern Orthodox, haredi and Arab.
“We reached 12% of the city’s population – nearly all the children – for this,” said Danny Bar-Giora, head of the Jerusalem Education Administration.
“We built a curriculum specially for this task of introducing the light rail and safety rules to kids from kindergarten through 12th grade,” he continued. “It was suited to the culture and understanding of the different sectors.
Booklets in Hebrew and Arabic were produced to follow up lessons on crossing intersections, staying away from the rails and other safety tips. Kindergarten teachers combined the lessons with music to make it catch the non-reading youngsters’ attention and keep it in their minds.”
Kadima MK Ze’ev Bielski, formerly a longtime mayor of Ra’anana, recalled receiving a suggestion that the Ra’anana Municipality make a gift of simple pieces of plastic that could be inserted safely into electrical outlets to prevent young children from sticking things into them and being electrocuted. He was also shown rails for bathtubs and showers that could prevent the elderly from slipping, falling and breaking bones.
“We distributed them, and the number of injuries from these accidents dropped,” said the MK. “As a legislator, I will do all I can to push legislation to reduce accidents when there is no other way to accomplish it.”
Prof. Amos Rolider, an expert in the analysis and treatment of child behavior who appears often on TV, said it was hard for him to accept the concept of “unintentional injury.”
Why, he asked, do parents buy four-wheeled electric vehicles for young children to ride? Why do parents put their children in the back seat of the car without seat belts? “Many parents are arrogant. Why do so many Israeli parents allow their young children to come home from school alone, opening the door with their own key? They know what’s right, but don’t do it,” he said sternly.
The head of the National Road Safety Authority, Ron Moskovich, noted that Arab children are proportionately more likely than others to be hurt and killed in accidents.
One of the most frequent accident scenarios in this sector is an adult running over a child while reversing the family vehicle into the road.
“We ran a door-to-door pilot program in Arab towns to teach parents about avoiding these risks,” he said. “It dramatically reduced such accidents. Now we are expanding it in the North and South with the help of Beterem.”
Dr. Yuval Weiss, director of the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood, described an ongoing project at his hospital to ensure that all newborns are discharged and taken home safely.
“We teach all parents about the importance of safety seats,” he explained. “Most haredim and Arabs do not have their own cars, so they take the baby home in a taxi.
We arranged for all the taxis at the station on campus to have an infant car seat – donated by the Shilav company – and insist it be used every time.”
Shilav’s director-general, Anat Levin, said the firm was the first to adopt safety as “its DNA affecting everything we do.” The baby goods supply company initiates legislation and lobbies the National Standards Institution to set standards for all baby products, she said.
“And we have an internal standards system in which everything we sell is first checked to make sure it is safe.
We set an example for our competitors,” she said.
Rada Zuabi, the manager of the Arabic-language website Bukra, said that as a relatively poor population with large families, the Arab sector has many child injuries and deaths.
“Of the 500 emergency room visits daily, many of them are Arab children,” she conceded.
But Internet is now very important among Israeli Arabs. “We are not just a source of information, but we also initiate. We recently organized a discussion with families who lost children to accidents. We know that cases of small children getting killed when cars reverse into the street is the result of many Arab homes having no driveways to separate homes from the road,” Zuabi said. “The general Israeli media almost never discuss accidents in the Arab community. I am also upset with Arab MKs who don’t put child safety as top priority in Knesset activities.”
Children in the haredi sector also suffer a large number of accidents. Rabbi Ya’acov Asher, mayor of the country’s largest haredi city, Bnei Brak, admitted this, but described programs to fight the phenomenon: “We work before Purim educating families to prevent children from using cap pistols and explosives that can harm their eyes and ears and cause burns. Before Pessah, we instruct them to avoid leaving around toxic cleaning products and standing water that can result in drowning.”
Enforcement is needed, said the mayor, “but first one needs educational programs.
Our population reads books, so they can get safety information from them. Recently, the municipality taught the importance of recycling. But we have to use messages understandable to the haredi population.”
For instance, the mayor said, this sector would not comprehend the public service ad in which comedian Tal Friedman has grass growing from his head. “They would think he had been electrocuted and his hair was standing on end. Every message must be suited to the population.”
The news media also expressed some mea culpa.
Some senior journalists, editors and publishers admitted that accident deaths of Arabs, residents of the periphery, the poor and those “not from north Tel Aviv” are rarely covered.
They called on the media to “prevent deaths by dealing sometimes with boring subjects” and to cover the causes behind events in addition to burning news.