Family Matters

Study: 5,000 Children Fall From Windows Each Year

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Parents use devices to prevent kids from lapping up toilet water and creeping into the oven. They attach molded hunks of foam to soften a kitchen table’s pointy edges and install outlet protectors to keep children from inadvisably mixing with electric currents. But not enough parents are taking appropriate precautions when it comes to windows.

New research finds that nearly 5,200 kids are treated in an emergency department each year after falling from a window. That’s 14 kids a day, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

“These are serious injuries and they’re still common despite the fact that we have seen a decline,” says Gary Smith, the paper’s senior author and director of the Center for Injury, Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Typical hospital admission rates for childhood injuries stand at 5%, but 25% of window-related injuries wind up requiring care in the hospital, for pretty obvious reasons: a fall from a window can be deadly, as guitarist Eric Clapton learned in 1991 when his 4-year-old son fell from the 53rd story of a Manhattan condominium, which was apparently exempted from the city’s window-guard regulations.

New York City landlords are required to install the guards, which resemble horizontal jail bars and cover the bottom half of a window to form a barrier that prevents kids from crawling out. Current models, which are often available at hardware stores, are designed to be easily disengaged by an adult, such as a firefighter, in the event of an emergency.

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Programs like “Children Can’t Fly” in New York and “Kids Can’t Fly” in Boston, which have raised public awareness about the need for window guards, particularly in high-rise buildings, have helped contribute to dramatic reductions in the number of children falling out of windows in those cities.

Parents can also use window stops to protect youngsters. Stops are screwed into the window frame and block the window from sliding too far upward. (See how window guards and window stops work at www.injurycenter.org.)

Parents should further limit children’s access to windows by moving dressers, beds and nightstands away from the openings; many kids tracked in the Pediatrics study fell through a window they accessed by climbing onto furniture. It’s also important to be particularly vigilant when the weather is warm since that’s when windows tend to be open.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that a window screen offers any protection. “We found that screens did not prevent falls,” says Smith.

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Apartment-building windows aren’t the only ones parents need to be concerned about. “We need to take the model [New York and Boston] used and implement that across the country,” says Smith. “It’s a problem occurring not just in major metropolitan areas. Any home that has a second-floor window is a potential risk to a child.”

Children under 5 are the most likely to tumble from windows, says Smith; they accounted for two-thirds of the kids in the new study, which looked at data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Although researchers initially found a significant decline in falls among children under age 18 between 1990 and 2008, “that decline happened mostly in the first decade, but we have since plateaued,” says Smith.

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