Safe Kids Program educates families on keeping kids safe

The Marion County Health Department has a number of programs that it does in Marion County. One that they have amped up over the last few years is Safe Kids.

“Safe Kids is an essential program here in Marion County. Each year in the United States, 8,000 families lose a child to a preventable injury. Our mission through Safe Kids is to educate children and families and raise awareness with safety information to help minimize the chance of unintentional injury or death,” said Erin Hein, Safe Kids Coordinator Marion County. “If we can help save even one child, our program is a success.”

Hein focuses on creating safe environments for kids by teaching families and children about a broad range of safety topics such as bike, water and firearm safety. In addition to providing education through various events and classes, the program gives out items to help with safety and all are funded by grants and private donations rather than using tax-payer money.

“This last year in Marion County, families received over $8,000 worth of safety devices to help keep their children and families safe while participating in activities such as swimming and bike riding,” said Hein.

Some of the devices are life jackets and bike helmets for kids as well as a small amount for adults as well depending on how many adult sizes they have on hand. They also provide gun locks as well as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. In addition to the devices, the program partners with all of the county fire departments to do fire prevention week in October where they do education in the schools.

The program also offers free car seat checks and has four technicians in the county. Hein is one as is her husband Matt who is a part of the Hillsboro Fire Department. Tristan Cope of the K-State Research and Extension Office, located in Marion, and Hillsboro Police Department Officer John Hubert are also technicians.

Hein added, “If there is a family who is in need of a car seat or maybe doesn’t have the right car seat for the age or weight of their child, we also can provide them one for free.”

Hein said that one problem that the program faces is having a proper place to store all of the equipment that they have collected to give to community members for kids’ safety.

“We currently have things stored in a shipping container and other places throughout the county. We need a larger, temperature-controlled space to store all of the items. Hopefully we will have a bigger space in the near future,” said Hein.

The Marion County Health Department, including Safe Kids, is in the process of figuring out a better-suited space for its growing department. They currently rent a space from St. Luke’s Hospital but it is not large enough and they are losing part of the space this month since the hospital needs the space for their own use.

While the health department has been criticized for wanting a bigger space and has been compared to other health departments such as Harvey County, they have a huge need for better facilities for labwork, COVID-19 and other virus testing, Safe Kids equipment storage and more. Harvey County does not even have a Safe Kids program or other programs such as SDI testing that the Marion County Health Department has or is planning on getting so the comparison is not applicable.

Medication storage safety is another important topic for Safe Kids. The program provides medication lock boxes and storage bags to families and educates them on both the safe storage and disposal of medications.

“We have medication disposal bags where you can dump in old medications and pour in water and the bag neutralizes the medication so it can be thrown into the trash,” said Hein. “That’s just another option as opposed to waiting for a drug take-back day if you don’t want to hang on to your medication for that long.”

While the Safe Kids program has accomplished much in a short time, the program would not be successful without the help of numerous organizations throughout the county including the fire and police departments. They also partner together with the K-State Research and Extension Office to provide education in the schools and also outside the schools at events such as a babysitting clinic. There are many others organizations as well.

“We have been very fortunate to have a number of agencies in Marion County partner with us in educating families and holding community events. Those relationships are essential in the success of our Safe Kids program,” said Hein.

Safe Kids will be trying out a new event this month that they hope to make an annual one.

“On Saturday, March 25 we will be hosting a community baby shower from 10 a.m. to noon at the Hillsboro City Building at 118 East Grand in Hillsboro. It is for either expecting mothers or mothers with infants 12 months and younger,” said Hein.

The main focus of the shower is to teach safe sleep and what a safe sleep environment looks like. Another focus is educating attendees on having a smoke-free environment, and they will be discussing tobacco cessation and providing information on the topic. The third focus is on breastfeeding and information from the WIC Program will be given to those who attend, including education on the health benefits for both mom and baby.

“We will also talk about how breastfeeding can reduce the risk of SIDS,” said Hein.

And just like with other events, in addition to education, there will be items available for families as well such as a pack n’ play for every mom/couple who attends the safe sleep education portion. There will also be door prizes and 11 vendors with a variety of information pertaining to new mothers and the programs and resources offered within Marion County.

Later this spring, Safe Kids will be holding an event at Marion High School called Consequences Day. The event starts out with a dramatic mock crash designed to educate teens and parents on the consequences of making poor driving decisions. Over 20 agencies come together to make the event happen.

“The whole day is really about choices. Every day you wake up and you have choices to make and they have positive or negative consequences depending on the choice you make,” said Hein.

On May 6, the 2nd Annual Safe Kids Day will be held in Marion at the Sports and Aquatic Center.

“Last year was a huge success. We had numerous vendors there and kids and families got to go to different stations to learn about bike and water safety. They walked away with fitted life jackets and bike helmets that were all free of charge,” said Hein.

In spite of all that has been accomplished, there is still more to be done with the program, and Hein is up for the challenge.

“My goal is to continue to grow the Safe Kids Program and to continue to provide safety education on a broad range of topics,” she said, “Safe Kids in a lot of ways is like Public Health. Public Health is all about the prevention of diseases and illnesses. We’re prevention and our goal is to prevent injuries. We want to be proactive and not reactive.”

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