Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Keeping the little ones safe

Express editorial logo416

Mark Fraser

The terrible death of a 17-month-old baby left in a car shocked the nation, and continues to be a major talking point.

The 56-year-old grandfather who left the child in the car has been charged with manslaughter. But public sympathy seems largely on his side since many people understand that, under the wrong circumstances, they might also have similar lapses into mindlessness. On the other hand, many people have been criticising the entire family, asserting that more responsible attitudes would have avoided this accident.

However, accidents happen precisely when they are not anticipated and it took an unusual set of factors for this infant to be left locked in a car under a blazing sun—an unexpected phone call, plus domestic arrangements shaped by work schedules which involved three different baby-sitters, and a lapse in memory which research shows can happen to anyone. 

If there is a slight silver lining to this tragedy, it is that parents and other care-givers of small children will now be even more cautious about their vulnerable charges. Indeed, the only people less likely to be more careful are precisely those persons who are convinced that they could never be so careless. That is a dangerous assumption, however.  

Memory is in many ways the most fallible part of the human cognitive system. We remember imperfectly, or we have clear memories which we find out are false only when confronted with objective evidence, such as a photograph. Thus, simply imagining how we are going to drop a child by the baby-sitter can create a memory, if the process of planning is interrupted by some emotive event. In such a scenario, a person can proceed with their day, convinced that they did drop off the child because they “remember” doing so.

These memory lapses can be avoided by simple precautions. Keep a toy in the front seat, adjust the rear view mirror so the baby seat is visible, or put an item in the back-seat that you have to collect before getting out of the car.

Unfortunately, small children have long been dying in T&T in other ways because of lapses on the part of adults.

Constant attention is the best prevention. It is not always possible, but it is always necessary.