Friday, December 19, 2014

Furniture safety: Activism 101 - We've come so far and yet we have so far to go

As I sit and reflect on the place I was in emotionally ten years ago today, I am filled with a combination of sadness, gratitude, and awe.

This is the anniversary of the day I had to visit a funeral home, to plan my 3-year old daughter's wake and funeral.  The first day I woke up without her gleeful "Moooommmmmeeeeeeeee" squeals.  The first day she wasn't at the table for meals.  The first day I called her name and she did not answer or come to me... This is the day friends and family came to us with heavy hearts and tear filled eyes, having no idea what to say or do, but they brought love.  We needed love...

What I am reflecting on today is the way in which Meghan's Hope has grown these past ten years.  It was born the night she died and ten years ago, was mere hours old.  The mission as clear then as it is today.  Prevent any other child dying from a furniture tip-over the way Meghan did.  Holes in walls and in furniture don't matter! They can be fixed!  The hole in my shattered heart, dark with guilt, will never, ever be fixed.  I will live the rest of my life knowing I could have done something to prevent my daughter's death.  A few dollars and a few minutes was all it would have taken. If only I had known... If only I had access to the very thing that could have prevented it.  Furniture straps.

Meghan's Dresser

Safety First Furniture Wall Straps

Come hell or high water, it would be my mission that every parent know what I didn't.  Hell hath no fury like a mama whose child just died. For the record, that holds true ten years later, just on a different level.

I dreamed of our local community, state, and region rallying and helping us to spread the word.  I dared to hope that it became a nationally recognized problem and one that the media would help us solve.  I contacted TV and print media outlets asking them to help me raise awareness. Initially, there was a burst of support. A few newspaper and TV stories, some even nationally.  Flyers went out. Emails were sent.  Written letters of appeal were sent.  There was no social media like there is today, it was word of mouth.  But it quickly dwindled.

We established Meghan's Hope as a 501 C3 non-profit organization.  I exhibited at safety fairs and conferences.  I gave out furniture straps at these events.  I created all my own documents and brochures and informational presentations.  I spoke about it wherever I could to whomever would listen.  Still, I struggled to reach beyond our local community and even then, there was a whole lot of "it won't happen to us" going around.

I truly (and naively) expected furniture and local box stores to immediately start carrying furniture straps, as people were running in with Meghan's picture asking for them.  Most did not. I was shocked to discover they were made by popular childproofing companies, but not sold in stores, at least near us.  Why the hell not?  On-line shopping was in it's infancy when Meghan died.  I had no idea these devices existed!

I expected the furniture stores and box stores I wrote to to at least reply to me, and ideally, follow through on my request to post information about the dangers and sell the very straps that could prevent the type of accident that took my baby girl's life.  Crickets.  Not a single one responded!

Congressman Jim McGovern offered to help.  With his support, and that of a Congresswoman from PA, Allyson Schwartz, the Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes Act was born.  It was a bill in the US house in two different sessions of Congress. In 2005 and 2007.  I wrote to every member of Congress I could asking for their support. Neither bill ever got out of committee but it did get the attention of the Consumer Product Safety Commission  (CPSC) and the Consumer's Union.

Eventually, and painfully slowly, some of what we asked for in our bill became incorporated into a VOLUNTARY furniture safety standard written by ASTM.  It continues to be revised periodically. It's not ideal in my eyes yet, but at least progress is being made.  In 2009 tip-restraints being sold with certain types of storage furniture have been part of the standard.

There is, however, no testing or requirements for that restraining device, so it may or may not actually safely hold the weight of the furniture!  Honestly, I rarely use the device sold with the furniture, even though it brings tears to my eyes when I see one included, my little girl was a part of that...  I don't trust the cable ties or plastic L brackets to hold a 100+ pound piece of furniture, full of stuff and with a child pulling or climbing or bumping in to it accidentally.  No way.  I think they are creating a false sense of security for parents and setting manufacturers up for lawsuits that way.

There needs to be testing of the straps with that specific piece of furniture or at least some standardized testing of the restraining devices.  Both the ones sold with furniture and the ones available from the childproofing manufacturers.  There are very few with documented weight capacities.  No certification or description of how that weight capacity was determined.  Was it tested? How?  With all types of furniture?  With a giant weight?  What if it's pushed?  Pulled?  Climbed on? Bumped into?   Or is it just your best guess?

Parents should not be left to play a guessing game.  While any restraining device is better than no restraining device they are not created equal.  In fact I adamantly recommend against any cable tie type restraint.  They become brittle and crack.  They likely won't hold a heavy piece of furniture, loaded with stuff, and with a child on it.  In fact I had a set of Mommy's Helper straps (cable tie style) on my son's dresser after Meghan died.  While showing them to a TV news crew a few months later, one had broken!  I almost had a heart attack when I saw it.  His dresser was not safe, even though I thought it was safely secured.  ATTENTION FURNITURE AND RESTRAINING DEVICE MANUFACTURERS: THIS IS NOT OKAY!

I don't understand why this is not already part of the standard.  I don't understand how childproofing suppliers or furniture manufacturers can sell a safety device that has not been tested.  Forget potential litigation for failure of the device to work.  What about social responsibility?  What about protecting children?  Any cost manufacturers concur could be passed on to the consumer, or, perhaps taken out of the CEO's bonus check at the end of the year.

Let's forget about profits or inconvenience or expense.  It's about lives.  Imagine for a moment that it's your child or grandchild that this device is protecting.  Because it is. Do you want to take that gamble?  What makes you think your child won't be one of the 71 injured every day in a tip-over accident?  What makes you think your child won't be the one to die like Meghan did?  If you think it won't be yours, and/or you do nothing to protect them, you are a fool.  Yeah, remember that hell hath no fury?  She's me and she tells it to you straight.  Used to get me in trouble all the time as a kid. Maybe now, it will motivate people to act.  It will save a life...

I am beyond thrilled to be collaborating with the CPSC on their Anchor-it tip-over awareness campaign.  They recognize the dangers and the need to get the information to parents.

The thing is, it's not just parents that need to know.  It's not just our homes that we need to be concerned about tip-overs in.  Yes, they are of the utmost importance, because we all have furniture and we all have TV's and they ALL need to be safely and properly secured to the walls.

But there is also unsecured furniture and TV's everywhere our children go; in our schools, in our churches and religious halls, in hotel rooms, at recreational facilities, and in stores.  The wall of TV's at any box store gives me panic attacks!

There is also the often overlooked danger to adults, especially our elderly.  Not only in their homes but in assisted living facilities, senior centers, elderly housing and nursing homes/rehab facilities. They are often less mobile, less agile, tend to have a lot more clutter, and have large furniture and TV's that are not secured and on inappropriately sized devices.  They are at risk, too.    The armories, dressers, and entertainment units in elderly facilities should be secured!  Elders should be made aware of the risk in their own homes not only to themselves but to their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

We have a long way to go in raising awareness.

I spend a lot of time on Meghan's Hope.  I'm a one mama show.  I receive no financial compensation. My "pay" is knowing someone "listened to Meggie."  My return on investment is people sharing Meghan's Hope, doing that news story I requested, selling restraining devices in your stores, handing out our brochures, taking action and securing furniture and TV's to the walls.  Invite me to present to your organization or group.  Interview me.  Talk to me.  Listen to Meggie!

It's a difficult job, especially since it doesn't pay my bills, so I need to do it in my "free" time, which as a mom of 2 boys, is not a whole lot!  I'd do it full time if I could, but I can't.  I do need to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.  I need to support my boys in their educational and extracurricular endeavors.

I'm not the only parent doing this. Others have lost their children the same way and they, too, are trying to raise awareness.  There are small communities all over the country who have a heightened awareness, but it's so hard to break those barriers and cross state lines.  Go national.  Go global.  Be heard.

In the past 2 years, with the advent of social media, and especially Facebook, Meghan's hope has taken off.  A viscerally raw and emotional blog post I wrote went around the world.   Awareness started to spread.  People started to listen and act.  Still, the statistics are sobering.  Children are still being injured.  Adults are still being injured.  People are still dying.  Not enough people are sharing. Not enough people are taking the risk seriously.

Why?  Is it fear?  Is it ignorance?  Is it poor marketing skills?  For the love of God, why are people not hearing the message and if they are, and not taking action, why?  Please tell me, so I know how to help them understand.

More needs to be done.  I can't do it alone.  I'm so grateful for everyone who has shared and helped us along the way. I'm so grateful for the support of the CPSC and other organizations who recognize the danger and are taking steps to raise awareness at a national level and beyond.  Who are supporting Meghan's Hope and I am grateful for the recognition of the work I've done. I just wish it was more successful...

Activism is not for the faint of heart.  It's a labor of love.  Believe me, I'd much rather be mothering Meggie by taking her to dance class instead of through Meghan's Hope.  But now, it's the only way I can.  And so it is.

Save a life.  Secure your furniture and your TV's today.  All of them.  Then do the same at your parent's house.  Inquire at your child's pre-school, school, after school program or day care, church and gym child care, the nursing home your parents or grandparents are in. Be proactive.

Need a stocking stuffer?  Furniture and TV straps make great gifts!  Offering to install them for a family member or friend, even better!

Anchor it today.  Tomorrow may not come...

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