Florida Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition Celebrates 30 Years of Saving Young Lives

SafeKids team members doing a car seat check

SAFE KIDS Florida Suncoast and its community partners educate families on things like child passenger safety in its efforts to combat preventable childhood injuries.

Published in Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital - Winter 2022

What happens when you have a state-of-the-art children’s hospital with highly trained emergency medicine physicians, and you don’t want them to be busy caring for kids with preventable injures? You join a national injury prevention initiative to keep kids safe and out of the Emergency Center.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital’s partnership with The National SAFE KIDS awareness campaign to bring attention to predictable and preventable injuries in children. The SAFE KIDS Florida Suncoast Coalition, led by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, has grown from one coalition in Pinellas County to injury prevention coalitions in Sarasota, Manatee, Polk and Pasco counties.

Since 1991, SAFE KIDS Florida Suncoast and its network of more than 150 community partners have educated thousands of kids, parents and caregivers on child passenger safety, fire and burn prevention, water safety, poison prevention, bike safety and much more.

In the United States, more than seven million children are treated for injuries in emergency departments every year. These are often serious injuries that can affect them for a lifetime. Since 1988, when the National SAFE KIDS Campaign was founded, the U.S. childhood death rate from unintentional injury has dropped by over 60 percent.

Martin Eichelberger, M.D., a pediatric trauma surgeon at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and founder of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, started the national initiative because he says he was busier than he wanted to be caring for seriously injured kids in the trauma room.

“I helped to start the first trauma center at Children’s National Medical Center in 1985,” Eichelberger says. “We built a great team, but we were still seeing kids getting killed or hurt really bad with head injuries. I started thinking that we’re working in the wrong area. Shouldn’t we be working on setting up a program where we help prevent those things?”

Along with a team of medical professionals and community advocates for child safety, the SAFE KIDS Campaign was founded with funding support from Johnson & Johnson to create an organization dedicated to protecting children from preventable injuries.

“To put a bike helmet on one child or installing a car seat properly for a baby can be more complex than you think,” Eichelberger says. “One helmet or one car seat doesn’t ensure kids are going to be safe. It takes a community effort and people that step up, in our numerous coalitions to bring skill sets and advocacy needed to make these efforts a success.”

Today, the Safe Kids Florida Suncoast led by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital looks slightly different, says Petra Stanton, M.S.W., SAFE KIDS Supervisor, who started with the SAFE KIDS Florida Suncoast Coalition as a volunteer in 2002 and went on to become a certified car seat technician before assuming a SAFE KIDS staff position in 2011.

“Depending on county population and geography, coalitions fine-tune their injury prevention strategies to meet the county needs. For instance, Pinellas County is very dense with heavy motor vehicle traffic. So, Pinellas statistics show a higher rate of motor vehicle accidents and pedestrian injuries. Which may not be as critical to one of our less densely populated areas. At the same time, some unintentional injuries are unfortunately consistent throughout the bay area, like drownings.”

Stanton says many things have changed in 30 years. “While we have technology like the Internet, social media and smart phones to help better spread the word about child safety, those same electronic devices have caused the coalitions to focus on new safety awareness campaigns about distracted driving.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has focused attention on the social determinants of health, conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life risks and outcomes. Safe Kids plays a role in how Johns Hopkins All Children’s addresses those conditions for the health of children.

“Thank you to the leadership of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital for your outstanding commitment and support of Safe Kids Florida Suncoast,” says Torine Creppy, president of Safe Kids Worldwide. “I have learned that kids are safest when parents, partners, supporters and communities believe that every child deserves the chance to grow up safe and then take action to make it happen. And that’s what you have been doing at the highest level for 30 years."