This week a Perth family is dealing with the tragic, senseless loss of their 11-month-old son who died as a result of a terrible accident. His father drove him to preschool, parked the car, went to work and returned at 4pm to pick up his little boy only to be told the boy had never been dropped off that day.
After a moment of shocking realisation the dad sprinted to his still-parked car, followed by childcare workers. His son was in the vehicle, dead. Childcare workers tried to revive the boy but to no avail.
It had been a hot day in Perth, too hot for this little boy to withstand.
Kim Beange, general manager of the Ladybugs Early Learning and Care Centre in Helena Valley, said her staff did all they could to help the child and his father. "Our staff became aware of a child needing first aid and they attempted to revive him with CPR. Unfortunately, it wasn't successful," she told The Australian.
The questions began. How could a parent forget their own child? Why didn't the childcare centre call the family to ask after the child? Would the child have survived if it hadn't been such a hot day?
How could he forget his own son?
The sad reality is it's more common than we first realised. While figures aren't current for Australia it's been reported that incidents of children being forgotten in cars occur in the US between 15 and 25 times each year.
I have been actively trying not to think about this story and failing. As a parent, I feel it is necessary to confront the horror, only so it never happens to me.
It was 2008 when I first came across the story of Brenda Slaby on Oprah. Brenda had forgotten to drop her daughter off at daycare and had instead driven to work, parked the car and went about her day. A colleague left work later that day and raced back upstairs, telling Brenda that two-year-old Cecilia was still in the car. Brenda knew what she'd find as she raced down to the car to her daughter.
"I opened my car door, and I remember hearing the voices around me," Brenda recalled. "Teachers who were close to me [were] screaming. I knew she was gone as soon as I picked her up, I knew," she says. "I remember I took her, and I ran through the parking lot with her, screaming her name. Then, what brought me kind of to consciousness, I guess, was somebody from the cafeteria yelled for me to bring her here.
"I heard people yelling for ice, and I sat in a ball and I prayed," she says. "I prayed harder than I've ever prayed in my life... But I knew she was gone."
I watched this show with my four-year-old son Philip and my newborn baby Giovanni close by and swore it would never happen to me. But, just in case, my sister and I came up with a system. Whenever we were together, which was most days, we'd do a head count several times a day to make sure all our children were accounted for. We had six in total by then and it was on a hot day after shopping that we took the kids upstairs, boiled the kettle and did a headcount.
One child was missing.
We raced back down to the cars and my little Giovanni was in his car seat, hot, wondering when someone was going to get him out.
How could I have forgotten my own child?
According to psychologist Michael Carr Gregg, it's easily done. He told news.com.au that we enter a 'state of flow' which means we enter autopilot, focusing on other things and forgetting crucial details. It's a form of absent-mindedness. Gregg himself has had a similar experience when he put a child safety seat on top of the car roof instead of in the car and has driven off. "The child wasn't in it, but I drove off with the bloody thing on top. I had no memory at all of not putting it in the back seat."
Factors that increase the chance of forgetting a child include:
* A change in routine.
When I had my third child I put her in her car seat on the dining room table, hopped in the car with my boys and drove off.
"Mum, you forgot Caterina," my five-year-old helpfully informed me and I bloody well had. She was back at the house waiting to be carried to the car. I added a new routine to my head count strategy. Whenever we left the house, no matter how rushed we were, I would go through a check list - car keys, three children, handbag, nappy bag...
The incidents of children being left in cars by absent-minded parents is tragically long and it happens to all demographics. Children have been forgotten by a dentist, a police officer, an accountant, a soldier, an electrician, a nurse, a construction worker, an assistant principal and a paediatrician.
It can happen to any of us. We can do our best to prevent it by forming habits such as head counts, checking in with each child after car trips and getting into the habit of checking the back seat of the car whenever we leave our vehicles. I feel nothing but compassion for this Perth family who are currently experiencing the devastation of losing a child.
Image credits: Oprah.com and Nine News Perth
Have you ever forgotten your children? What strategies do you use to prevent it?