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Car seat risk continues – five years after law changes

Sunday September 18th 2011 is the fifth anniversary of the introduction of child car seat regulations. Leading UK children’s disability charity Newlife Foundation is concerned that young lives are still being put at risk and is campaigning for specialist seating to be reclassified to allow widespread statutory provision.

Despite the law on children’s use of car seats changing five years ago, disabled youngsters are still being put at risk because families can’t afford to buy specialist seating. Newlife Foundation – the largest UK disability charity routinely providing these seats – warns the situation is worsening as families of disabled children can often be the poorest, the price of specialist equipment keeps rising and neither the Government nor local statutory services will make provision.

Newlife – the UK’s leading children’s disability charity – is calling on the Government to reclassify these specialist safety seats so they can be provided by statutory services. This will help relieve financial pressures experienced by so many families of disabled children and enable mobility without compromising safety.

For the past five years, all children either under the age of 12 or up to 135cms in height have been required by law to use specified child safety seating. However, whereas standard child seats can cost as little as £50, specialist seating for specific disability needs retails at between £180 and £2,500. Car seats are currently classed by statutory providers as either ‘non-essential’ or ‘standard childhood’ equipment, so they will not foot the bill, leaving already financially-burdened families to either stump up the cash themselves or break the law and risk their children’s safety. Many turn to Newlife Foundation for advice and practical support.

In 2010/11, Newlife funded 226 car seats at an average cost of £922 each.

According to figures provided by the Office for National Statistics, more than 590,000 disabled children across the UK could need specialist car seats to ensure their safety while travelling.

Newlife campaign manager Clare Dangerfield said: “Having the right car seat can save lives; why should the safety of disabled children be any less important?”

She added: “We are the largest of only a handful of charities currently funding a range of specialist equipment so we are in a position to know the difficulties faced by an increasing number of families. Children with physical disabilities require more postural and safety support than able bodied children; in addition, inappropriate seating can impact on their health. Those with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour can risk their own safety – and that of those travelling with them as well as other road users.

“We have supplied seating to a child who had had to be resuscitated at the side of the road as the straps on a regular car seat caused him to choke. We have also provided car seats to allow children to leave hospital, because they were unable to travel without appropriate seating.”

She added: “Many parents have no alternative; they have to have a specialist seat if they want to transport their child by car. Those who can’t afford to fund the seating themselves turn to charities like ours; without our support they can’t drive their children around in safety.”

A specialist car seat makes a huge difference to the life of 11-year-old Thomas Foster from Rugeley in Staffordshire. Tom, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, has had two car seats provided by Newlife over the last five years.

Mum Cindy Foster said: “We have a standard family car and have therefore needed a specialist car seat for Tom to allow him to travel not only with us but with family and friends too.

“Car seats are essential pieces of equipment for families of disabled children but they are a ridiculous price and are just one item on a long list of things not provided by statutory services. Without charities like Newlife, what are parents supposed to do? Families with disabled children just don’t have savings to call on because the day to day cost of so many basic items is extortionate. For instance, I have just had to pay £110 for ten vests for Tom, and big feeder bibs for a child of 11 are £7 each.

“When you have a disabled child you fight for help all your life. As a parent, I really don’t want to keep having to go to charities to beg for things for my son. We need charities life Newlife to challenge the Government.”

*Daniel Brewster is a severely disabled seven-year-old boy from Hull in East Yorkshire. He has Angelman Syndrome which means he cannot walk or talk and has regular seizures as he also suffers from epilepsy.

His parents had been struggling to secure him in a standard car seat which was too small for him and provided inadequate support. He needed a specialist seat with a base that swivels outwards, allowing Daniel to be lifted directly from his wheelchair.

Mum Jennie said: “To get Daniel into a standard car seat we had to get into the car with him. If we didn’t get him in straight away he would start to mess about, wriggle and drop down, all of which made it very difficult to strap him in. Sometimes it has taken two of us to get him into his car seat.”

She added: “The new specialist car seat makes a huge difference; getting Daniel in and out is a lot easier to manage.”

The equipment Daniel needed cost £1,239, so Jennie and her husband turned to Newlife for help. She said: “It is disgusting that seats like these cost so much money – it really does annoy me. We are fortunate that Newlife has been able to help us fund the seat complete with five-point safety harness so he can’t slip down and risk strangling himself. The seat will adjust as Daniel grows, so we can look forward to several years of use.”

Newlife is concerned that some parents might feel they need to accept that travelling without protection is possible, by seeking a seat belt medical exemption certificate from their GP. Newlife’s Clare Dangerfield said: “We believe disabled children deserve the same protection from injury as able bodied children.”

* Pictured Below

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