While telephone support has been a tool used by CPSTs for decades to conduct remote education, most techs would agree that in-person education is far more thorough and effective. However, as the imperative for social distancing nixed all in-person interactions with caregivers this spring, virtual options, which incorporate both audio and video components, emerged as the next best thing. Almost overnight, individuals and programs across the country began transitioning from offering in-person outreach events, like checkups and classes, to hosting modified versions online.
Thankfully, the widespread ownership of smartphones, tablets, and computers, paired with the availability of free or low-cost apps (like FaceTime, Teams, Skype, and Zoom, to name just a few), has made this transition possible, at least for a majority of people. And a benefit of using the online format could certainly be the discovery that the platform was underutilized before. However, while virtual options have provided workable alternatives during mass quarantine, they do have inherent challenges. In general, it’s important to think through how virtual education, while not the same as in-person education, can be carried out using the same efforts to ensure quality. Therefore, consider the following tips when expanding your program to include virtual education. Virtual checkups, in particular, will require extra planning, as noted.
Use freely shared resources
Luckily, it’s not necessary to start from scratch when developing materials or establishing protocol to build a virtual checkup program. A COVID-19 CPS Remote Education Toolkit, containing free resources on this topic, has been posted at the Safe Kids website. A collaborative effort by Safe Kids Worldwide, Safe Ride News, BRITAX, and Goodbaby, the toolkit includes guidance handouts and precheck forms, as well as a webinar that expands on the intended uses for the toolkit materials.
One of the links in the toolkit goes to www.saferidenews.com, where materials, like a pre-checkup form and email templates for virtual checkups, are available in English and Spanish. These materials may be edited to suit any organization’s needs and customized with a logo, if desired.
Always use learn-practice-explain model
Communicate with caregivers ahead of the interaction to ensure they are clear about the format and expectations. Sample emails to help guide this communication, including how to relay the following points, are offered here.
Ask caregivers to review their owner’s manuals and try out installation and harness use on their own before a virtual checkup. This bit of homework on their part helps any checkup go more smoothly and is particularly helpful for a virtual checkup.
Both the caregiver and the CPST should have certain items on hand. Remind the caregiver to have the instructions and all parts of the CR gathered and, if baby isn’t born yet, to have a doll or stuffed animal available, if possible. Likewise, the CPST should have a CR for demonstrating steps; one that’s the same as or similar to the caregiver’s model is ideal, but any CR with a harness will suffice. In addition, the CPST should strive to have other useful props, like a training doll and a length of webbing (to show belt routing on the CR). Although it’s not essential, a training vehicle seat or a real vehicle can also be useful for demonstrations.
Consider the size of the screen and the quality of the camera. If a CPST will be demonstrating using props (as recommended), hands will need to be free. Plan to use a desktop/laptop computer, have a stand ready to position a hand-held device, or enlist a helper. Since the caregiver will be working in a vehicle, it’s probable that they will need to use a hand-held device, so tell them to plan for how they’ll prop the device or have another adult operate the camera, if someone who is quarantined with them is available.
Quality audio will also be essential, so ensure that both the CPST and caregiver are in an area with a reliable connection and away from background interference, such as home, office, or street noises.
Documentation still a must!
A virtual seat check should be documented in the same way as an in-person checkup. If you need forms, your state coordinator can supply you with the form used in your state. (Find a listing of state CPS coordinators here.)
Another option is to download and use the National Digital Checklist Form or the Safe Kids generic form. (Note: Safe Kids coalitions will be asked to use their Program Management Tool to record the number of educational phone contacts and/or virtual checkups they conduct during the COVID-19 crisis.)
For virtual checkups, in addition to a regular checkup form, use a pre-checkup form to gather ahead of time details about the child, car seat, and vehicle so a CPST can review the owner’s manuals for the car seat and the car, check the LATCH Manual, check for recalls, and gather the most useful props. Find a pre-checkup form for collecting this information here. Email it to the caregiver, who can fill it out digitally.
Obtain the liability release
Another function of the pre-checkup form mentioned above is to get the caregiver’s signature on a hold-harmless agreement prior to providing education. While properly conducted CPS services carry extremely low liability risk, a hold-harmless agreement is a safeguard that should still be included for remote checkups. Only after the completed and signed form is returned should a scheduled virtual checkup be conducted.
Follow up by sending resources
Using email (or, if necessary, regular mail), follow up with the caregiver. In addition to sending any information that wraps up the virtual education, let them know how to access CPS resources in the community, including how to find out about future opportunities for an in-person checkup, as needed.
Plan for in-person interactions
When in-person interactions resume, they’ll likely need to be structured quite differently than they were before. In-person checkups that follow social-distancing guidelines are possible, but require much forethought and training, so now is the time to start planning. An excellent resource to help with this, labeled “In Person Seat Check Suggestions,” is in the toolkit.