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Local woman on a mission for safety

Jennifer Booge

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury to Minnesota children 14 and under.

But fatalities among children are declining notably in the 34-county area served by the Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Resource Center.

CPS trainer Jennifer Booge, who contracts with Mahube, is behind the wheel. Hubbard County is her base of operations.

"Park Rapids is the hub," she said of child passenger safety information. "Calls come from all over the state."

Booge's initiative, receiving national and state recognition and grant funding, has now earned her a position on the National CPS Board.

"I wanted to learn more about what was happening on the national level," she said of applying for a board seat.

The group of representatives, comprised of doctors, public officials and manufacturing and safety program representatives from all over the U.S., meets two to four times annually and via phone conferences.

The mission is maintaining the quality of the CPS certification. The program works collaboratively with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to train technicians and instructors.

"Each of us has a task," Booge explained of board members' roles.

The mother of four represents "diverse populations" - low income and ethnic groups. She is working on increasing the number of certified technicians and instructors - law enforcement and public health nurses to be trained in CPS.

And she serves on a quality assurance committee for the National CPS Board.

"I love what I do," she said. "I like to think I've saved lives."

Booge became interested in the statistics 12 years ago. The stay-at-home mom with two kids in Head Start learned of child passenger training from a friend.

Intrigued, she contacted Mahube who agreed to send her to training for state certification.

"I realized from other parents there was so much misuse," she said of child safety restraints in vehicles. "We consistently found nearly 100 percent" of parents using the wrong seat, not reading instructions carefully and using outdated seats (they are only good for six years). And very few older children were riding in booster seats.

"Kids were dying in car crashes," she said. "We needed to do something."

Education became the main focus, Booge said, families a primary audience.

"A child improperly restrained can cause severe injuries," in the event of an accident, she explained, including ejection from the vehicle.

Head, neck and facial fractures are the most common injuries sustained by children who are not buckled tightly.

And the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children face the rear of the seat until they are 2 to avoid spinal cord injuries in the event of a collision.

"I see kids who are out of booster seats too soon." Booster seats are recommended for children under the age of 8 and/or under 4 feet, 9 inches in height.

Booge's sons, Nolan, 10, and Ryan, 12, both ride in boosters. "It's not negotiable," she said, although neither object. "As a parent, I'm not willing to take a chance."

"When I explain to parents why, most are open to this," she said.

School bus drivers and aides are tutored in evacuation and crash dynamics and transporting children with special health needs.

"But you can't just educate," Booge realized. "You have to give them tools and resources." So with the backing of Mahube executive director Leah Pigatti, Booge began sending out letters soliciting funding to hold clinics and purchase car seats for families who cannot afford them.

She received a grant through the Department of Public Safety for training in the three-county area Mahube serves, Mahnomen, Hubbard and Becker.

In 2003, the model fitting station she created received national recognition from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. She requires training and inspection of the seats before parents depart with kids in car seats.

In 2006, she received annual grant funding for the Child Passenger Safety Resource Center, which started as a pilot project.

The center now covers a 34-county area, with Booge contracting independently to consult in Wisconsin and South Dakota.

"Over the past five years, there has been a steady decline in the numbers of children 14 and under that were killed in the 34-county resource center coverage area," she reported in September 2010.

"These numbers reflect a 36 percent decrease from injuries and deaths from 2003 to 2008," she stated in the report.

Booge credits collaboration with agencies. "We're getting the information out."

She holds a position on the state Child Passenger Advisory Board, focusing on curriculum revision and development. And she works directly with child care and foster care providers to maintain their licensure.

"I feel passionately about what I do," Booge said. "If I can reach out and save one life, it's worth it."