Student devotes spare time to ensuring kids are safe in cars


Published: April 25, 2018

By Sally Crocker

Elizabeth Velarde 2

As a busy mom juggling graduate school, part-time employment, volunteering in the community and caring for her family, UNTHSC public health student Elizabeth Velarde understands the challenges that parents face when time is at a premium and it’s important to get things right.

Before coming to UNT Health Science Center to pursue her MPH in Maternal and Child Health, Velarde was a bilingual community educator for Family Compass, a North Texas nonprofit organization dedicated to equipping parents with the tools they need to build safe, healthy, stable families.

She trained as a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician in 2014 and has since been providing one-on-one instruction to parents on how to properly use child car seats.

“With funding through a State of Texas grant, a coworker and I created a car seat program for Family Compass when I worked there, and because I have such a personal, vested interest in the program, I have continued to stay on as a volunteer,” she said. “We distribute and help install free car seats at community events and teach parents about important safety issues. Statistics show that many parents are not using their child car restraints as intended and need help in getting it right. That’s where we come in.”

At any given event, Velarde and Family Compass staff distribute around 35 to 40 child car seats.

Elizabeth Velarde 1“That might not sound like a lot, but one appointment can sometimes take up to an hour. A family we recently served had a minivan and five kids. Installation can be a hot, sweaty job, especially with older cars, seat belts that won’t cooperate or just a tight fit,” she said.

Many parents are also unaware that car seats expire, generally about six years after the manufacture date.

Velarde met a family at one event who had been passing safety seats down from one child to the next; in setting up the replacements, she discovered that one had been expired for over 10 years.

“Most people are very compliant once they are trained. The issue usually is that they just don’t know all the guidelines,” she said. “I have a daughter who is 8 now, and I’m pretty sure I did everything wrong at first. There is just so much to learn as a parent.”

In addition to the community events, Velarde has also taught parent education classes at apartment complexes, PTA meetings, day care locations, homeless shelters, the county jail, anywhere she could connect with parents. Family Compass receives referrals from Child Protective Services and provides case management home visits to these families, as well as teen parents. The agency offers car seats for all clients and the community.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to reach so many different families and help meet their needs. Most parents have 100 things on their list and would love to focus more on areas like this, but they might also be facing the stress of putting food on the table, paying the rent, finding a job or a place to live, escaping domestic violence or other situations, so if we can help a little, it really means a lot,” she said. “We want everyone to leave safer than they came.”

For more information on child car safety, parents can visit the healthychildren.org website.