When Lindsey Austin had her second daughter eight years ago, she felt confident installing her child safety seat. Two years earlier, when her first child was born, she'd taken advantage of a fire station program that taught parents how to do just that.
However, once her girls started the transition to booster seats, she found that the program no longer existed.
“I decided I would get certified,” she said.
While obtaining her child safety seat installation certification through a three-day program, Austin, an engineering project manager for the city of Albany, noticed an entry on former City Manager Wes Hare's blog.
“He said he was trying to put his grandson’s seat in and I emailed him,” Austin said. “I said, 'We used to have this program. Do you think we could start something again?’”
The answer was yes. The problem was money. Enter the Albany Firefighters Community Assistance Fund, a nonprofit entity consisting of donated funds.
“They gave me $500 and we were able to get some more people certified and bought a few car seats,” Austin said.
With additional grant money, Austin has held approximately 10 free clinics a year with the help of eight volunteers over the last five years.
“Our area has a 95-percent misuse rate,” she said, noting that the statistic was based on the individuals who attended her clinics. “The people we see with the highest misuse rate are people who have a lot of kids because things change quickly and they think, ‘I’ve had five kids, I know what I’m doing.’”
In 2017, Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 3034, which requires children to remain in rear-facing car seats until age 2, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“As adults, we know what is comfortable and we assign that to kids,” Austin said. “But kids sitting rear-facing don’t know that they’re not looking out the front window and children who are able to talk will tell us that sitting front-facing with their legs dangling makes their feet go numb.”
The most common misuses Austin and her team see are parents who don’t fasten the seat securely, misuse of the seat's attachments and children being in the wrong seat for their height and weight.
Austin said each year less and less grant money is available. It costs approximately $4,000 each year to run the program, which also provides car seats to low-income families for a $30 co-pay.
But that hasn't stopped her and her team.
“The program will continue,” she said, noting that the group was seeking other grants. “My kids are out of car seats but I’m continuing to do it because I see the difference it makes and the lives we’re saying. There’s nothing like having someone come up to you and say they were in a crash but their child is OK because the car seat was installed properly.”
Austin will represent the city at one of two national conferences later this year on the subject of car seat safety, either in Louisville, Kentucky, or Orlando, Florida.
She plans to leave her position with the city's Engineering Department later this month but will continue running the child safety seat program.