Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Safe Kids Program Provides Helmets, Safety Advice

Safe Kids Florida Suncoast strives to increase use of correctly fitted helmets for bicycle-riding and other wheeled sports in children younger than 16.

Safe Kids Florida Suncoast
Published in Community Health - Community Health Stories

When Sheila Rainey, a Safe Kids community educator at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, got a call from a local school about a bicycle giveaway, she was delighted. The school had found bikes for five siblings, and wanted the children to have properly fitted helmets.

“The children didn’t know they were getting bikes,” says Rainey. “I went to the middle school to fit the oldest sibling for a helmet, and talked to him about the rules of the road. I told him that this was his first vehicle on the road, and that every vehicle had safety precautions. I explained that your helmet is one of the safety features of your vehicle. I asked him to take a lead role in helping his younger siblings understand. I suggested they make a cardboard stop sign together and practice stopping before entering the road. He hugged me at the end.”

Safe Kids Florida Suncoast is a coalition of health and safety experts from various backgrounds working to decrease the number of preventable childhood injuries in the Tampa Bay area. Led by a Johns Hopkins All Children’s team, the coalition serves five counties in the Tampa Bay area: Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota and Manatee. Each county elects officers who annually review childhood injury data to develop strategies to combat specific childhood injuries. 

The organization’s top initiatives include increasing the use of adequately fitted helmets for bicycle-riding and other wheeled sports in children younger than 16. They also work to decrease the number of fatal and nonfatal drownings of children of all ages, and ensure children ride in properly installed car seats and booster seats at all times.

When Safe Kids works on bicycle safety, they are working on injury prevention, says Karen Macauley, director of the pediatric trauma department at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

“Bicycle safety is important because we want to stop kids from crashing or bicyclists from getting hit by cars,” Macauley says. “Helmets are a secondary prevention to stop kids from sustaining head injuries.”

Macauley says bicycle safety also includes broad advocacy for cycling laws and partnerships with the Department of Transportation regarding bike trails and lanes with barriers.

Children are also at high risk for handlebar injuries because of the way they come off the bikes, Macauley says. She has also seen abdomen injuries like bowel perforation and liver and kidney issues from cycling accidents. 

“If we think about trauma as a disease, like heart disease, there are modifiable and nonmodifiable factors. We can change many things that are behavior,” says Macauley. “I think it’s important for our messaging to the community to be that there are things they can control that will make things safer, like helmets. We need to have a conversation about why it’s important to address the reasons why they might not do it — it messes up your hair, or you don’t ride very fast. It really takes a community to increase the safety of cyclists.” 

Petra Stanton, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Safe Kids supervisor, says that in Florida, bicycle injuries are near the top of the list of children’s injuries. 

“Our aim is to reduce the severity of bicycle-related injuries,” Stanton says. “We want kids to wear them properly. If the helmet is correctly fitted, it should be two fingers above your eyebrows. We are also teaching safe bicycling practices. We teach kids about recognizing road conditions and visibility. One cannot exist without the other.”

Stanton says Safe Kids is helping to change families’ attitudes and minds about bike helmet-wearing. While Florida is hot, and kids don’t want to wear helmets, the program strives to teach children to wear them correctly to prevent life-changing injuries. 

Jennifer Garcia, family services coordinator at the Dream Center in Tampa, says her organization has an ongoing collaboration with Safe Kids. The Dream Center of Tampa is an organization that helps children develop a strong foundation and build healthy communities and families. 

“We work with Safe Kids to provide helmets to all the kids,” Garcia says. “Many kids have bikes or share bikes, but don’t have helmets.”

Garcia says Safe Kids is helping children understand that wearing a properly fitted helmet is a critical extra step they have to take, because injuries to the head are the most dangerous. 

“The community needs education resources like Safe Kids,” Garcia says. “By providing these resources, we’re educating the families and making a brighter, stronger community for the future.”

To learn more, visit Safe Kids Florida.