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Moving messages for child safety

Building on parental safety concerns to motivate booster-seat use among Latino families

June 15, 2006
Dr. Gloria Coronado

Dr. Gloria Coronado and colleagues in the Public Health Sciences Division developed a booster-seat safety campaign based on interviews with 91 Latino parents living in rural King and Yakima counties.

Photo by Todd McNaught

A community campaign highlighting the risks to child safety and the risk of a citation are likely to motivate booster-seat use among Latino families, according to a collaborative study involving investigators from the Cancer Prevention Program. Their paper, "Child Passenger Safety Behaviors in Latino Communities" appeared in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

Booster seats protect children from serious injury in motor-vehicle crashes, yet research shows that parents are inconsistent in using booster seats to protect children 4 to 8 years of age. Children of Latino families are at greater risk, as their parents are often ill-informed about the proper use of child-safety seats, according to Dr. Gloria Coronado, Dr. Beti Thompson and Teri Martinez of the Public Health Sciences Division.

Motivating factors

The researchers and their colleagues conducted one-on-one interviews in Spanish with 91 mothers and fathers of booster-eligible Latino children in an urban county (King) and a rural county (Yakima) in Washington.

Most families thought booster seats were affordable or knew where to find inexpensive seats. However, rural families were more likely to note that cost was a barrier. Of the parents interviewed, 48 parents (53 percent) reported they used a booster seat, and 43 parents (47 percent) did not. Most parents in urban and rural counties reported an annual household income below $25,000, and parents who had completed high school were more likely to report booster-seat use than those who had not.

Key motivators for booster users were child safety (94 percent) and concern about receiving a ticket (94 percent). Under Washington law, drivers receive a $101 ticket for each child passenger between 4 and 6 years of age or between 40 and 60 pounds who is not restrained in a booster seat. Among those who don't use safety seats, fear of receiving a ticket (79 percent) was cited more often than child safety (70 percent) as a potential motivator for using a booster seat. Of parents who were not using booster seats, 60 percent incorrectly believed their child was safe in just a seat belt.

The study emphasized behavioral factors that may be important to address in a targeted social-marketing campaign. Researchers also report that coupling social-marketing messages with cost-reduction strategies, such as the provision of discount coupons or low-cost seats, may help families overcome cost as a barrier.

Radio is preferred medium

Families in rural communities indicated that radio is the preferred method to reach Latino families, while families in urban communities said they prefer television. The preference for radio messages is an appealing target for radio- intervention materials, delivering messages to parents while they are driving with their children. In Washington, there is currently little Spanish-language programming on free television-broadcast channels, requiring a subscription service for access to Spanish language channels.

Materials developed by the researchers for a community campaign can be viewed at www.abrochatuvida.org. Targeted messages will be incorporated in radio and television novelas as well as printed brochures and posters, with the goal of increasing booster-seat use among Latino parents. The researchers hope this formative research to understand behavioral factors will prove helpful in developing effective, targeted interventions to redress safety-related health disparities.

Study collaborators include Drs. Frederick and Beth Ebel of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center; Katharine Fitzgerald from Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center; and Dr. Frederico Vaca of the Center for Trauma and Injury Prevention Research at the University of California at Irvine.

Grants from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the research.

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