Buckle Up for Life

Adrian Villanueva loves to play with toy cars. His favorite is a toddler-sized model car that allows him to climb in, drive around and honk the horn. At 18 months old, he’s still learning how to propel the car forward. So right now he only cruises in reverse until his car hits a roadblock of one form or another.

As his mother, Sol, watches him laugh and play, she thinks about always keeping him safe. She knows one way to protect him in her car is to always properly secure him in his car seat.

Sol did not always believe car seats or seat belts needed to be worn when riding in a car. Her opinion changed after taking a class led by Cincinnati Children’s called Buckle Up for Life, or Abróchate a la Vida, at her church.

“Every time I am in the car now, I wear my seat belt,” Sol says.

Buckle Up for Life is part of a comprehensive effort by Cincinnati Children’s to help keep our community safe.

“Education and injury prevention initiatives are vital components of our commitment to improve pediatric injury outcomes,” says Richard Falcone Jr., MD, MPH, director of Trauma Services. “We can’t fulfill our mission of eliminating injury as the leading cause of death for children without changing the culture of safety.”

Alarming Trends

As the only Pediatric Level 1 Trauma Center in the Greater Cincinnati area, Cincinnati Children’s cares for approximately 150 children who have been in motor vehicle crashes each year. Of the 727 children involved in car crashes in the Tristate in recent years, only 64% were restrained. Nationally, African American children under the age of 4 had the highest death rate from motor vehicle crashes.

Under the direction of Victor Garcia, MD, founding director of Trauma Services, and with the help of Rebeccah Brown, MD, associate director of Trauma Services, Cincinnati Children’s has implemented several prevention programs in the community to reduce unintentional injuries. One of the first was the Youth Injury Prevention initiative developed in 2000, a faith-based program designed to educate the African American community on safety issues, such as motor vehicle safety.

“The success of the program came from empowering the people in the community and showing them they have the ability and strength to create a program with us, centered on our shared vision of safety,” Dr. Garcia says.

As positive results from the Youth Injury Prevention program were being reported, Drs. Brown and Garcia began noticing a new trend locally: an increase in the Hispanic population and high numbers of Hispanic children involved in motor vehicle crashes who were not properly restrained.

“I felt it was my responsibility as a doctor, an injury prevention expert and a human being to help create a safer environment for the local Hispanic community,” Dr. Brown says.

Partnering to Save Lives

In order to make a difference in the community, Cincinnati Children’s needed a partner who shared our dedication to safety. Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America (TEMA) in Erlanger, Kentucky immediately stepped up.

“Improving vehicle safety for the Hispanic community through education aligned perfectly with our company-wide focus on safety and diversity,” says Helen Carroll, local manager of community relations, TEMA.

With grant support from Toyota in 2004, Cincinnati Children’s developed the Buckle Up for Life program by adapting the Youth Injury Prevention program to the Hispanic community.

Through the program, experts from Cincinnati Children’s provide important facts and education about motor vehicle safety to church leaders. The church leaders then share the key teachings during church services and encourage members to participate in car safety classes outside of services.

“Faith is a central part of the Hispanic culture,” Dr. Brown says. “By partnering with these well-respected leaders, we are able to share our vehicle safety messages in a familiar, safe environment.”

Sol took a Buckle Up for Life class when she was a young teen after receiving encouragement from her parents and a church leader, Sister Juana. The class taught Sol how to wear her seat belt correctly – and why it is so important.

Teaching Each Generation

To encourage seat belt safety practices throughout the family, Cincinnati Children’s developed targeted classes for three different age groups. Gloria DelCastillo, a program coordinator for Buckle Up for Life at Cincinnati Children’s, teaches classes to the adults and teens and also trains Sunday school teachers who educate the school-aged children. Each class has an age-specific curriculum.

“Children are often the best advocates,” Gloria says. “They speak up and tell their parents to buckle up or ask for help with their seat belts.”

For young children, songs and crash demonstrations using toy cars and eggs show the importance of buckling up. The classes for teens highlight the dangers of drunk driving and not wearing a seat belt. For the parents and grandparents, the  classes are centered on car seat and seat belt safety as well as what happens during a crash.

When Sol became a mother, she decided to enroll in the program again – to learn how to keep her young son, Adrian, safe.

“I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what I needed to do for my baby boy,” Sol says.

Creating a Culture of Safety

Results from the Greater Cincinnati Buckle Up for Life program have been outstanding. Car seat and seat belt usage has increased to nearly 100 percent in the Hispanic communities that have participated in the program.

“One of the most exciting results has been the sustained use of seat belts and car seats long after the completion of the program,” Dr. Brown says. 

Now, with the continued partnership of Toyota, Cincinnati Children’s has begun to expand the model program into other US cities including Los Angeles, San Antonio, Denver and Chicago.

“We are truly creating a culture of safety in our community – and beyond,” Dr. Brown says.

Partnering with Toyota to Save Lives

cchmc-toyota-buckle-upWhat started as a local initiative to help save lives and improve vehicle safety in Greater Cincinnati’s Hispanic community is now getting national attention and support.

Buckle Up for Life, or Abróchate a la Vida, began through a partnership between Cincinnati Children’s and Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America in Erlanger, Kentucky. The program has increased the use of car seats, booster seats and seat belts for Hispanic communities participating in the program to nearly 100 percent.

Now, thanks to funding from Toyota Motor North America, the model program will be expanding into Hispanic and African American communities in San Antonio, Denver and Chicago.

“Cincinnati Children’s came to us with a proven solution to the tragic and unacceptable statistics related to motor vehicle safety for this population,” Pat Pineda, group vice president, national philanthropy and the Toyota USA Foundation, says. “African American and Hispanic children have the highest rate of death from motor vehicle crashes. Because safety is a top priority for Toyota, we wanted to join Cincinnati Children’s in helping save lives in these communities.”

The model program utilizes a faith-based curriculum developed by Cincinnati Children’s. By partnering with well-respected and trusted church leaders within each community, the program delivers important vehicle safety education – information that is changing behaviors and ultimately saving lives.

Last year, Toyota supported a pilot expansion of Buckle Up for Life in Los Angeles. The program’s continued success prompted Toyota to commit another $1 million to help Cincinnati Children’s further expand the program.

“The growth of this program is the fulfillment of our wildest dreams,” says Rebeccah Brown, MD, associate director of Trauma Services at Cincinnati Children’s. “Our desire has always been to improve the safety of as many children as possible. It is wonderful to see it come to fruition, thanks to the generosity and vision of Toyota.”

If you would like to learn more about our injury prevention initiatives, contact Tracey Kastelic at tracey.kastelic@cchmc.org or 513-636-8758.

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