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"This week, I left my baby in the car for five hours".

This week, Annie was busy working on the sale of a business.

She had barely slept, skipped meals and was not looking after herself.

And this week, Annie almost killed her baby.

When Annie returned to her car at lunchtime on Tuesday to collect something for work, she was shocked to discover her baby girl was in the back seat – five hours after she had locked up the car and gone to work.

Thankfully, she was still alive.

Noah Krespanis died in the back seat of his parents’ car. Screenshot via Seven.

Annie contacted Mamamia this week with a simple message: It could happen to anyone:

On Tuesday I unintentionally forgot to take my baby to day care and left her in the car. 5 hours later, I luckily had to go to my car to get something and found her. Luckily for us she is ok. Had it been a summer day or had she been left there until I was supposed to pick her up from day care she would have died.

I had heard of this happening to other parents before and judged them saying “how could anyone forget their child”. I now know exactly how it can happen to anyone…

She had been so quiet in the car and I had so much on my mind that I unconsciously went into auto-pilot. She is doing well and is unaffected by it. I will never forgive myself for what happened and the right now the flashbacks are horrible. I have to live with what I have done for the rest of my life. Yes it was an accident, but that doesn’t change what happened.

Annie was hours away from a lifetime of guilt and regret. Hours away from a potential manslaughter charge and a jail term of up to 20 years.

But Annie’s story is not rare.

Jayde Poole was found not guilty of manslaughter last year.

In February, 22-month-old Noah Krespanis was discovered dead in a hot car outside a day care centre in central Victoria.

A month earlier, a New Zealand mother mistakenly believed she had dropped her 16-month-old son at day care, but later found him dead in her car, parked at the hospital where she worked.

In the US, dozens of babies are fatally forgotten in cars every year.

In Australia, seven babies have died this way in the past three years.

And, this week, Annie’s daughter was almost the eighth.

Sleeping babies in the backseat are easy to forget about.

Fatal distraction or ‘forgotten baby syndrome’ – a defence successfully used by Bendigo woman Jayde Poole last year after she was charged with the manslaughter of her five-month-old daughter – doesn’t discriminate.

A parent’s wealth, intelligence, age, ethnicity and organisational skills are irrelevant.

Prosecutors argue it’s criminal negligence, but experts say it’s a lapse in short-term memory that can happen to anyone.

“Distraction is one of the worst things to occur for your short-term memory,” Monash University Professor Matt Mundy recently told 60 Minutes.

“Your brain is capable of forgetting something, you’re capable of not remembering you didn’t do it and, therefore, when asked, you can fill in that information from previous experiences.”

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Annie explained how she had become so distracted:

For the 5 days prior I had been working on a acquisition project that had an extremely short deadline. I had worked all weekend and stayed up late every night working on it when the kids went to bed.

I did not eat lunch the 5 days prior and ultimately was not taking care of myself. That morning I received a phone call I had been waiting on whilst driving her to day care. This is the last I recall until 1.30pm when I found her.

Annie was one of the lucky parents.

Laboratory tests have shown that on a typical summers day, 70 per cent of the temperature increase occurs within five minutes of the car being sealed – and 90 per cent within 15 minutes. On a 35 degree day, the interior reaches a fatally hot 54 degrees within an hour.

If a kid doesn’t turn up, call the parents. Simple.

A common factor among cases of fatal distraction is that parents mistakenly believe they have dropped their child off at day care, but leave them in the car.

Annie said the near-fatal experience made her realise that neither of her daughter’s two day care centres have a policy of calling parents when the child does not turn up as scheduled – something she thinks could save lives:

If I can make a positive come from our experience it would be to prevent a child being left in a car all day, particularly in summer. My daughter goes to 2 child care centres, neither of them call when a child does not turn up.

I believe that child care centres should call a parent when a child does not arrive. That 1 phone call could save a life. Changing the law does not happen over night, but if we all approach the child care centres that our children go to about changing their policies to include this we together can help prevent this happening to another child and potentially even save their life.

Please help with getting this message out to other parents.

Every Australian state and territory has laws against leaving children in cars, with hefty penalties. But there are no laws in place to help parents actively prevent the unintentional tragedies that occur when a parent mistakenly believes they have dropped off their child at day care.

In the US, campaigning has led to thousands of day care centres across the country routinely calling parents when their child does not turn up as scheduled.

A simple, yet potentially life-saving measure.

So why is this not mandatory in Australia?

A NSW Department of Education spokesman told Mamamia the idea was not even on the radar.

We need to change that by raising this with child care centres until they offer this service.

Regardless of whether it is mandated by law, it is best practice. A quick phone call could save a child’s life and save a parent a lifetime of guilt and regret. And that’s no small thing.

One mistake is all it takes. One fatal distraction.

Related stories:

They forgot their kids were in the car. The question everyone wants to ask is: HOW?

That moment that changes a life. When a Dad realises he left his baby in the backseat of the car.

She didn’t remember leaving her child in the car. By the time she realised, it was too late.

How does a parent just “forget” their child?

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