If you've ever driven a child - yours or not - you've probably had questions about car seats. Some examples...
- "Where does this thing go?"
- "What's that?"
- "Does this seem tight enough?"
- "Why won't this kid sit still??"
Car seats can be frustrating. (We won't judge if there have been some swear words mixed in with those questions above). They aren't intuitive, each one is different from the next, they have to be installed differently depending on what kind of car you're driving, and on top of it all... there is a wiggly human being involved.
Many parents and other caregivers feel nervous using car seats - with good reason! They are devices that can literally mean the difference between life and death in the case of a collision. This is not something to take lightly! But unfortunately, often times families don't know where to go to have their car seat questions answered.
Meet Amanda Cagle, Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). She works with families in Orange County and Long Beach to help them understand how to properly install their car seats so the only question left in their minds when buckling a little one in is "Why won't she sit still?"
Amanda is passionate about education. She understands parents' dilemma and translates unintelligible user manuals into practical, hands-on instruction. Our clients who have worked with Amanda say that they feel confident installing their car seat(s) in their car(s) and have a sense of security in knowing their children are that much safer. We are fortunate enough to work closely with Amanda in our doula practice, and we simply can't recommend her enough!
To answer some questions about how she came to be a car seat tech and what car seat sessions look like in real life, we'll hand things off to Amanda!
As a doula and parent educator, I often get questions from parents on either side of birth regarding all the “stuffs.” You know - the discussions about cribs, diaper options, baby outfits, shampoo and soap selection, babywearing wraps and slings, strollers, toys, blankets, swaddlers... Parents want to know which stuff they should focus their attention and money on, which stuff is a waste, which stuff will help them feel like confident caregivers, and which stuff will keep their children safest. In fact, since I became a doula in 2011, only a handful of days have passed in which I wasn’t asked my opinion or advice on some kind of pregnancy or baby device/necessity/system. And while I typically welcomed the questions, I spent the better part of 4 years avoiding the dreaded car seat chat with every ounce of effort I could.
I knew the first time I was asked to “take a look” at a client’s car seat that I was in over my head. There were straps coming out of every hole, hard plastic pieces jutting out where I was sure a baby’s body was supposed to go (it wasn’t), and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out anything the manual was trying to tell me. It was in English, my native tongue, and yet I kept looking at the sparse drawings provided wishing that they would magically start moving so I could just follow some video to success. I flat out told my client that I had no idea what I was doing and that she should take her car seat to the local police station so they could check it for her. She called the next day in an attempt to make an appointment, only to be informed ever-so-swiftly that the one person on staff who checked car seats didn’t have an opening for 2 months. She was due with her first baby in 2 weeks.
This kept happening in my work with pregnant or new parents. A family would come to trust me as a resource, asking my advice on one thing or another, and inevitably it would lead to a conversation about car seats. A mother would ask me if I had any idea how to work ___ or if this part was supposed to connect to ____. I’d have to look at her empathetically and say something to the effect of, “I know these are super confusing, but unfortunately I just don’t know enough about it to help, and I don’t feel comfortable giving advice that could lead to it being incorrectly installed.” I’d pass on the fact that some people have their seats checked by law enforcement agencies and that they could give that a try. But leaving it at that felt awful. I always worried about what would happen if they didn’t get it checked by someone knowledgeable and then got into a car accident.
In 2015, I partnered with a doula who had an interest in learning about car seat safety and she offered the service to all of our doula clients. They would ALWAYS leave the session saying things like “I had no idea how complicated that was going to be. I’m so glad you were here to help us figure it out.” Once, a dad had installed a car seat and was 95% sure it was perfectly safe only to find that he had missed a critical step in the harnessing process that would have easily led to his baby being ejected from the seat in a serious collision. It never came to that because my doula partner helped sort it out before the baby was even born. But we all learned that car seats were indeed as insanely confusing as I had initially felt. I decided to get trained the next year so I could easily help families feel confident about buying, handling, installing, and actually using their car seats.
So, off I went to Riverside for a work week (yes, a week) to train with Safe Kids Worldwide. When I tell people about the training, they always seem shocked to find out how much it entailed. We learned the obvious: how to install over 20 car seat models, all varying in size and functionality. And how to make sure children were properly secured inside the properly installed car seats. But we also experienced multiple lectures about topics like car crash statistics, infant and child mortality rates due to collisions, current laws in our state and country pertaining to children in vehicles, and even the different types of materials being used in modern car seats and their efficacy. We expanded our vocabulary and read through manual after manual after manual for car seats. We were challenged to think critically about specific scenarios in hands-on skills testing and ultimately had to do a live car seat checkup event before earning our certification.
I can see the hesitant anxiety melt from their faces and a very clear “I’ve got this” quality take its place. And what better way is there to walk forward into parenthood?
I’ve been a CPST for over a year now and have installed over 100 car seats in and around Orange County, CA. My favorite part of this work is the moment when a parent or caregiver repeats the steps I’ve taught them and gets the perfect installation easily. I can see the hesitant anxiety melt from their faces and a very clear “I’ve got this” quality take its place. And what better way is there to walk forward into parenthood?
The misuse rate of car seats in California is 75-90%. Which sounds insanely high. And yet, in my 100+ car seat installations, I have never (not even once) come to a home to find a car seat being used 100% correctly.
Here are the most common mistakes I find ways to correct during Car Seat Education & Installation Sessions:
- The wrong car seat is being used. Sometimes it’s because a very lightweight car seat on leather seats just can’t be installed tight enough (1 inch of movement or less at the belt path!). Sometimes the child has outgrown a seat. But more often than not, a combo car seat or booster seat is being used too early for a child’s weight,height, and/or age specifications.
- The installation angle is incorrect. Each car seat has a set angle(s) tested to be safest in collisions. Sometimes the indicator for this is a level (like the type you use to hang a shelf at home). Other times it’s a line that’s supposed to be parallel to the ground outside the car, and often there are color indicators to follow (i.e. “if it’s in the blue it’s good, red is bad”).
- Incorrect usage of the harnessing. The harnessing is the webbing system inside the restraint system meant to hold your child to the car seat itself. Even if you’ve done all the right things to get the car seat to stay put in a collision, your baby won’t stay put unless the harnessing is correctly used each and every time. The problem with harnessing is that babies aren’t static. They ball up, they cry, they wriggle… You may feel like you’re strapping them in too tight, but in reality they may be so loosely set in the seat that they slip out of the straps completely in a collision, thereby rendering the car seat close to pointless.
I serve all of Orange County and Long Beach (surrounding areas welcome for a small travel fee). My flat rate is $50 and includes installation and education on any number of car seats in up to 2 cars. Sessions typically last about 1-2 hours. I have weekday, weeknight, and weekend availability and accept payment by cash, check, Venmo, PayPal, and credit card.
I would be honored to check your family's car seats and bring you true peace of mind when driving your little one(s) around. Children are welcome during sessions!
Amanda's contact information: