While working as a librarian for the Children’s Safety Network at EDC in 1995, Anara Guard took a phone call from a specialist at a child abuse information clearinghouse. The caller had been contacted by a reporter covering a case where a child who’d been left in a parked car died of hyperthermia. “They wanted to know how often this type of case occurred,” Guard recalls. “I didn’t know.”
That phone call prompted Guard to begin collecting and analyzing data and information about such tragic yet preventable child deaths. Twelve years and 450 documented cases later, she continues this line of research in hopes of raising awareness, advocating for change, and ultimately saving lives. Guard also works in suicide prevention. What keeps her going? “I like taking a topic that has been neglected and bringing it into the light.”
How did you come to EDC?
In 1993 I had just completed my master’s in library science, and there was a position for a librarian at the Children’s Safety Network project. I had done work with an early childhood family program in Minnesota and the notion of bringing my advocacy work into the library world was exciting. Over the years, I started doing more project work, including a training for injury prevention practitioners and overseeing the creation of a databook on suicide. I left EDC in 2000 and went to work for the B.U. School of Public Health, then I came back in 2004 to work with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
Your study “Heat-related deaths to young children in parked cars: an analysis of 171 fatalities—U.S., 1995-2002” coauthored with Susan Scavo Gallagher was published in Injury Prevention in Feb. ’05. What’s changed since then?
Advocacy groups around the country are now paying attention to the problem of children left inside parked vehicles and dying of heat stroke. When I started looking into this, there were case descriptions but no data. These deaths were occurring but no one was paying attention. They weren’t all child abuse or neglect cases, and they weren’t motor vehicle deaths, as the vehicles were parked.
We hear about these heartbreaking stories in the news. How do they happen?
We did the first real analysis of the circumstances leading up to these deaths and how they could be prevented. For example, 27 percent of deaths were toddlers who climbed into a car and couldn’t get out. The prevention is to keep the car locked even in the driveway. These incidents can also occur when there’s a change in routine and a parent who usually doesn’t transport the child has the child in the backseat, and the parent goes to work on autopilot and forgets. No one realizes the tragic error. I’ve given presentations at public health and medical conferences advocating for call-in policies with day care providers. That way if a child doesn’t show up for day care, a call goes out to the parent just like it does when a child doesn’t show up to school and the school wants to know where the kid is.
When we started this research, there were laws about leaving your dog in your car but not your child. Now I’m happy to say there are public awareness campaigns and laws have been passed. I’m also working with a Tufts student this semester analyzing the messaging in posters, brochures, flyers, and other materials that groups have developed to raise awareness of this problem.
What are your current projects in suicide prevention?
We’re about to come out with two documents that relate to a faith-based approach to suicide prevention. The role of faith in people’s lives can be protective. It’s not just a role for mental health providers, as people go to their clergy and clergy may or may not know what to do with them. We’re also launching a best practices registry for programs to be submitted for review and to be listed. This will help communities find programs that have been through some kind of review process. We also got a contract to train mental health clinicians to work on every U.S. Air Force base in the country. For years the Air Force has been concerned about suicide among its personnel and they’ve put a program in place, which has not only reduced suicides but also domestic violence and other problems.
How do you approach your work?
The public health approach helps because we’re looking at a population—at numbers and trends rather than individual cases, though it’s the individuals who humanize it. Both of these are heavy topics [preventing childhood deaths and suicide prevention], but it’s the preventability that drives me. Knowing that tragedies like this don’t need to occur is a big motivation for me and others in this field.
How does EDC support you in your work?
It’s a very collegial environment. It’s exciting to work with folks who come from lots of different backgrounds, both personally and professionally. I’m also fortunate to work on projects that allow for a fair amount of creativity. A lot of what I do is seek out the best information and get it into the hands of the people who need it. That’s what we do at EDC, moving research into practice. We get the best and most timely information and get it into the hands of the education and health practitioners who can use it. I find that really satisfying. And when you see a need in the field, EDC will help you come up with a way to find the resources to fill that need.