Colt Cavanaugh is a typical rambunctious toddler who loves to explore his grandmother’s house. Since the 1-year-old spends most days and some nights in Sandy Cavanaugh’s care while his parents work, Cavanaugh hired a professional company to baby-proof her two-story Center City townhouse.
“It’s a great place, but I suddenly realized how non-baby-proof it was,” said Cavanaugh, 65, who moved from Seattle to Philadelphia when Colt was born last February. “I wanted somebody who could do a good job all at once and take care of all the things I thought were important.”
During a free 30-minute consultation, Cavanaugh and Joe Metzger, co-owner of Safer Babies of Media, decided on the best plan: gates at the top and bottom of the stairs, including a special wraparound gate for an unusually shaped staircase; outlet protectors; cabinet locks; anchors for the bookcase, dresser and TV, and corner protectors on sharp-edged furniture.
Cavanaugh spent $1,100, including materials and labor, for the half-day job.
New dangers exist today that grandparents didn’t need to worry about when raising their own children. Button batteries fill TV remotes and watches. Small magnets, usually found in toys for older kids and adults, are especially dangerous.
“If they swallow just one of them, it’s usually not so bad, but if they swallow even two, the magnets can clump together inside the child’s intestinal tract and cause all kinds of damage,” said Fred Henretig, senior toxicologist at the Poison Control Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Individual plastic outlet covers and rubber tips on certain doorstops, popular a generation ago and still in homes today, can present choking hazards. Laundry and dishwashing detergent pods remain poison hazards, despite manufacturers making their packaging more childproof.
“Unfortunately, people take the pod out of the box or bag and throw it on top of an open basket of dirty clothes and when they turn their back for a second, the toddler sees it and gobbles it down,” Henretig said. “Ingestions of traditional liquid laundry detergent in a cup would give the kid an upset stomach, but pods can cause severe burns in the throats of children and trouble breathing.”
More grandparents are taking precautions — they now make up about 5% of Metzger’s clientele, just within the last three years. Certain products, such as easier-release gates, are helpful for those with arthritis. Grandparents may not need to childproof their entire house, depending on how much time a child will spend there.
“Some jobs are as simple as the grandchild is there Wednesday mornings, and they just need a gate at the bottom of the stairs, which might just cost a couple hundred bucks,” said Metzger, who typically consults with clients when the child is 6 to 24 months old. Areas childproofed are determined by the child’s access within the house, possibly the bedroom where the child takes a nap, the kitchen, and so on. Most jobs cost $600 to $1,000 including materials and labor.
Although dangers can occur anywhere, grandparents’ homes are more likely to present risks from medications, Henretig said. A study conducted at CHOP examined patients under age 6 who either visited the ER or were hospitalized between January 2006 and December 2008. Of those 900 instances, about 17% involved a grandparent.
“All those medication ads on TV every night are not aimed at 30-year-olds; they’re aimed at 70-year-olds,” Henretig said. “On average, a grandparent’s home is going to have more medicines, many more potent medicines. We tend to be a little bit more forgetful, and our hand-eye coordination and vision may not be as good.”
A young child might easily find a pill on the floor that a grandfather didn’t realize he had dropped, or several pills on a grandmother’s bedside table that she forgot to take that morning.
“I can’t tell you how many times, anecdotally, I heard that story," Henretig said, “and tragedy occurred.”
Cavanaugh feels secure knowing she’s doing everything she can to keep Colt safe.
“Back when I had my kids, we had some gates and cabinet locks,” she said. “But it’s far more scientific than it used to be in terms of what can harm a child and how to prevent that from happening. I read and hear all the horror stories and just don’t want to be responsible for something like that happening.”
Safer Babies co-owner Jenn Metzger offers this list of precautions for new grandparents:
Poison/ingestion safety: Keep all medications (prescription and over the counter) out of reach of young children, preferably in a locked or latched cabinet. If you have medication in your purse, wallet, or jacket, also keep that out of reach.
Store other dangerous items, including soaps, cleaners, furniture polish, small fridge magnets, batteries, sharp objects, coins and breakables, in high cabinets and out of sight. If some of these items must be stored in a lower cabinet, make sure the cabinet has a child safety latch.
Securely store all alcohol out of a child’s sight and reach.
Keep dishwasher and laundry detergent pods in their original containers and out of reach of small children.
Save the Poison Control number — 1-800-222-1222 — in your phone, so you can be instantly connected to your regional Poison Control Center, 24/7.
Tip-over prevention: Make sure heavy furniture, including bookcases and dressers, is anchored to the walls or to the floor to prevent tipping. Tip-over deaths can happen in any room to children up to age 10. A child may climb, fall against, or pull up against a piece of furniture, or on an open drawer, and the weight of the falling furniture is crushing.
Fall safety: Consider closing off access to stairs with safety gates at both top and bottom. Mounted gates can be left open when the grandchild is not at home and are easy to operate with one hand. A pressure gate can work at the bottom of the steps and be stored away when the grandchild is not home. (Never use a pressure gate at top of stairs.) A retractable gate is an option for the top and bottom of stairs, as well.
Make sure children are properly secured at all times in high chairs and booster seats.
Electrical safety: Use sliding outlet covers whenever possible. Make sure all electrical cords are out of reach.
Fire safety: Never leave a child unattended in a room with a lit fireplace. Children can get burned from hot glass or safety screens if they get too close. Store matches and lighters and keep candles out of reach.
Burn safety: Keep the hot water heater set below 120 degrees. Whenever possible, use the back burners on a stove so a small child cannot reach the hot burner.
Other dangers: Avoid using tablecloths. Small children may pull the cloth and bring everything on the table down on top of themselves.
If you don’t want a child in a particular room, keep the door closed, or close it with high-mounted eye hook or flip latch.
If a bathroom door has a lock, make sure it can be opened from the outside in case the child gets locked in.