Knowledge Center

Banking on KC – Stuart Hoffman of Charlie's House


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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Stuart Hoffman, the executive director of Charlie's House, an organization dedicated to preventing accidents and injuries to children in and around the home. Welcome, Stuart.

Stuart Hoffman:

Thank you.

Kelly Scanlon:

Stuart, the work that's going on at Charlie's House is reducing childhood injuries and even death. It's creating awareness for parents and other caregivers, but let's start with the story behind why Charlie's House was founded in the first place. Can you tell us about that?

Stuart Hoffman:

So Charlie Horn was a little boy, he was living in Liberty, Missouri. He was a triplet, so he had two siblings, a sister and a brother, and then he had an older brother. And at age two and a half, in November of 2007, he was climbing on his very short dresser in his bedroom when it fell over on top of him. And as a result of that, it suffocated him and he died. And at the time, Jenny and Brett, they thought their home was safe. They didn't realize that furniture could do that kind of damage, nor did they realize that they could have purchased a safety device to connect the furniture to the wall so it wouldn't tip over.

Stuart Hoffman:

And so they started thinking that if we didn't know about this, how many other parents don't know about it? And as a result of all of that, that is how Charlie's House was born was through that accident. They have since expanded the scope of our work beyond just tip-over accidents and we take a look at five different areas of safety, that would be home safety, fire safety, water safety, vehicle safety, and seasonal safety.

Kelly Scanlon:

I know that there might be some people who are thinking, yes accidents happen, but with the many regulations that now govern manufacturing of products, especially for children, that these kinds of accidents should be few and far between, but I know that's not true. Can you set the landscape for us, the situation today regarding accidents involving children in the home?

Stuart Hoffman:

Yes, actually as a result of some of the accidents that have happened in the home, and from parents and other groups out there in the public that have taken action, there have been a lot of regulations created. All the way from making furniture safe to the sale of window blinds without cords. Those types of things unfortunately happen because of an accident, but fortunately, they're in place now so we will hopefully reduce the number of accidents in that particular area.

Stuart Hoffman:

But unintentional accidents are still the number one cause of death in children ages one to 14. Every two weeks, a child dies from a furniture tip over. Other types of accidents include drowning in the bathtub, the toilet, or the swimming pool. Drowning is the number one cause of death for children of unintentional death in children. Strangulation from window blind cords, swallowing objects, items falling on the face of a child and obstructing their airway. An average of nine children die each year from window blind cord strangulation. And again, that number is down as a result of parents who have gone through that particular tragedy took action to get regulations created from the government.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of your points is then that, although there are new regulations in place that have brought these numbers down, there are still many products that are in homes that would not meet today's regulations and that are a hazard to children in the home.

Stuart Hoffman:

That's correct. In fact, many of your furniture manufacturers and/or furniture stores, as they sell their furniture, they provide those furniture straps with that sale and the parents simply don't install them. Same thing with the televisions that they purchase. They don't install the safety device to connect it to the wall so that it won't fall on top of a child. So, a lot of it has to do with the parents not following through and utilizing the devices and utilizing the information they have before them.

Stuart Hoffman:

The other issue is that there's new types of accidents happening every year. And one of those, as an example, are with the creation of button batteries and the ingestion of button batteries. 10 years ago we would've never had this conversation. Today, button battery ingestion is quite a serious situation and causes death in children as a result of not knowing what's happening. The child ingests the battery, the parents don't realize it, they think they have the flu, and in three days that battery has now started disintegrating the lining of the esophagus, or the stomach, or the bowel, or wherever it may have gotten caught. And at that point, then you're talking about having surgery to correct that situation.

Kelly Scanlon:

So there are multiple ways, multiple obstacles, multiple threats, and I know that you are a resource, that you have multiple programs to help educate parents, caregivers. Talk to us about some of those programs.

Stuart Hoffman:

Sure. Some of the programs that we have started in the past year have included things like the Safe Now/Safe Later program where we work directly with the temporary housing groups here in town. We recognize that however a family or however a child may define a home, it needs to be safe. And what we found were a lot of the temporary housing situations were not set up to be a safe environment for the children, so we work directly with those groups to go into each of the housing units and make sure that they are safe for the children.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you'll actually go on site to these various facilities?

Stuart Hoffman:

Yes.

Kelly Scanlon:

And inspect them?

Stuart Hoffman:

And we also provide their clients and also their staff with education and in-service on particular safety issues. We also have been working with the school systems and with other agencies out there to, we call it the home visiting safety initiative, in which those organizations have case workers or have people that are going into the homes for a particular purpose. They're talking to the parent or parents about education. They are also observing situations in the home that may be unsafe. And before, they didn't have any resources to recommend to the parents. It was, "You need to do something about it. I don't know what that is, but you need to do something about it." This way, they can refer the parents to Charlie's House and we can help them by providing them additional education on all the different areas in the house that they need to consider and then also safety devices.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about those safety devices. You've made us incredibly aware of many of the hazards, but what are these safety devices you're referring to?

Stuart Hoffman:

So the safety devices that we offer up to the public, and everything that we do is at no charge, we offer up furniture straps, we also offer up television straps, which are a little bit more robust than the furniture straps. We have doorknob covers. We have cabinet locks. We have cabinet latches. We have blind cord wraps so that they can wrap the cords up. A lot of our clients are not in a position to go out and replace the window coverings in their house, so the way we look at it is we've put them in an awkward situation because we've increased their awareness about potential strangulation, we've educated them on how to keep that from happening, but then they walk out of there with, "So you told me it's a problem, now what do I do about it?" Well, providing them those wind up cords is a way to take action and you don't have to replace the window coverings in your house.

Kelly Scanlon:

Exactly.

Stuart Hoffman:

We also talk about gun safety. We provide gun safety locks. We show them what a gun vault and a gun safe looks like, the access to it. We provide things like the corner bumper for your furniture so that the child's not running into the corner of the furniture and cutting open their head.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of the things I find the most fascinating is your safety demonstration house out there on Campbell. Tell us about that.

Stuart Hoffman:

Sure. It was back when Charlie's House was founded in 2007, there was another group here in town, and this was quite by coincidence that another group in town had been put together and was being spearheaded by a woman who was transferred to Kansas City from Sydney, Australia. And when she came here, her goal was to build a safety demonstration house because she had volunteered for one in Sydney and she wanted to build the nation's first safety demonstration house in Kansas City.

Stuart Hoffman:

So the two groups got together and it became a very big vision of Charlie's House that we want to be part of that process. So they started looking around for the ideal location for this. They found the property in 2016. They started raising the capital to build it. They broke ground on it in fall of 2018 and they finished in April of 2020, which was not necessarily a good time to finish a project or to start a new project, so we ended up kind of holding for a while until the pandemic settled down and we officially opened the safety demonstration house in May of 2021. And it was actually May the sixth, which would have been Charlie's 16th birthday. And we looked at it as our gift back to the city as this great resource.

Kelly Scanlon:

What will visitors to the safety demonstration house encounter when they get there?

Stuart Hoffman:

The house itself does look like a regular residential home. When they go inside though, and they schedule a tour, and our tours take about 45 minutes, all of the rooms are very open. They start with a welcome video and a short explanation of the history of Charlie's House. And then it moves them to the nursery. It's got the crib, a changing table, and a rocking chair. And the messages in there talk about safe sleep. It talks about keeping your hands on the child when you're changing them and it talks about refraining from falling asleep in a chair with the child. And then you move on to a bathroom area, which the bathroom and bedroom is a combination. We talk about water safety. We talk about poisons in the house. We talk about window safety. We talk about fire safety in the bedroom, creating a fire plan.

Stuart Hoffman:

And then it moves us into a family room area where we talk more about fire safety. We talk about staircase safety, fireplace safety. We go outside to talk a little bit about pool safety. And then it moves over to a laundry area and we talk about safety with the washer and dryer, and then into the garage where we talk about vehicle safety, which includes hot car syndrome, rollover/back over accidents, and also safety with the bicycles, wearing helmets, and other common types of poisons that you might find in your garage.

Kelly Scanlon:

Their eyes are probably open to many of the hazards that are right in front of them that they've never looked at in that way before as you take them through the house.

Stuart Hoffman:

Absolutely. And in fact, one of the phrases I often hear from the parents and from the people going through the tour is, "I had no idea." I mean, I just hear that over and over again. "I had no idea that a toilet could cause a child to drown," or "I had no idea that I need to pay attention to the water temperature setting on my hot water heater to make sure I'm not scaling my child in the bathtub." All of those types of things, I hear that over and over again.

Stuart Hoffman:

We sometimes have to be sensitive to, especially new parents or parents to be coming through with a tour, very excited about wanting to make sure their house is safe. We don't want to overwhelm them as they go through the tour thinking that, "We can't go back into our home because it's unsafe," but to remind them that the child's not going to be coming home from the hospital and running around the house. So it's a progression type of thing and what we try to do is make sure that they are aware of there's other types of accidents and injuries beyond eight to 12 months and they can always come back and get additional information from us.

Kelly Scanlon:

Sure, so ongoing education.

Stuart Hoffman:

Exactly. And so, the end of the tour takes us to a resource center that has all types of education material. A lot of that is from our community partners and then also they have access to the safety devices that I just mentioned and they're welcome to take whatever they need. The nice part about touring is they can see how the devices were used, they can determine whether or not the device is going to work in their home, and if it's not, we try to figure out what will work for them. Even though we may not have it, we can suggest to them what will work and in some cases we can access and get that device for them.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned that there is a virtual tour available as well. Is it the same tour of the house, but you're seeing it on your computer screen? Is that the difference?

Stuart Hoffman:

It's more of an expanded tour. When you take the virtual tour, it is like you're walking through Charlie's House. You can move the room around into a 360. You can expand out a particular area of the house. There are several areas that you can touch upon and it will bring up a safety poster or safety information. And then in some cases, there's a video that goes into more detail than what we do in the in-person tour, so they're able to access a complete video on the various types of poisons in your house, and they have the luxury of spending time watching that when they have the time.

Kelly Scanlon:

Which brings me to the question, you have to make an appointment for the live tour, but do you have to make an appointment or do you have to sign up and register for the virtual tour?

Stuart Hoffman:

It's just whenever you have the time, you go into the website, go and look at the virtual tour.

Kelly Scanlon:

Okay, and it's probably a good reminder or refresher for people who have done the live tour to be able to go out there and if there's something that they've forgotten, they can go out and get a refresher. And like you say, there's some additional information out there as well on that virtual tour. From what I've gathered in talking with you this morning, there are three different targets; you have parents and caregivers, you have healthcare workers and professionals, and then you also have community partners. We've talked a little bit about the community partners. Can you give us some examples of each to kind of bring this to life for us?

Stuart Hoffman:

Sure. You know, some of the community partners that I mentioned, the Parents as Teacher programs, the other types of temporary housing type groups, but we also work closely with organizations, Kids in Car Safety, and we are very sensitive not to duplicate services. We work with that particular group on handing out their information on vehicle safety. We work closely with the fire department, the police department, making sure that we are giving the right messages out there. They are the frontline people that have access or know exactly what's going on with the public and what they need to know. We take our cue from them of you need to expand your messages in developing a fire evacuation in your home. We make sure that we include that and we emphasize that then in the tour.

Stuart Hoffman:

As a result of that, throughout the last year, we have enhanced our tour based on the input we get from our community partners. We also work with Mark, one of our original community partners and a very supportive group is Children's Mercy Hospital and their Center for Childhood Safety. We work with pediatricians, making sure that they have access to our information, that they can tell their patients and their patients' families that they can actually prescribe a visit to Charlie's House.

Kelly Scanlon:

Charlie's House has been open, operational for about a year now. I think you said May 2021. How many live tours have you given to the house?

Stuart Hoffman:

Since we've opened, we have given approximately 375 tours. We unveiled our virtual tour the very same day that we opened and we track that, people that actually go online and go through the tour, and have been able to determine that approximately 2800 have gone through a virtual tour of Charlie's House safety demonstration house.

Kelly Scanlon:

We've talked about how this is the only safety house in the nation. Do you get calls from other communities, besides the people who actually come on from outside the Kansas City area and watch the virtual presentation, do you get calls from other organizations outside of the Kansas City area asking you how you've built it, what you've done, in other words, has it become a model so to speak for other communities?

Stuart Hoffman:

It has, and as we go on to conferences throughout the United States now, and as Brett Horn, the founder, as he presents at various conferences, people want to know how they can create a Charlie's House in their own community. And so we recognize that what we're doing here is developing a model that could be duplicated in other cities and to serve the same purpose. And so a lot of the work that we do, we're making sure that it works right so as we offer it up to other communities, they will be able to latchkey into it right away and not have to go through a few of the challenges that we did in the beginning.

Kelly Scanlon:

Absolutely. Just such important work that you're doing. If you had to leave our listeners with just one message about preventing childhood injuries, accidents, and deaths, what would you tell them? What would you remind them?

Stuart Hoffman:

I would tell them and remind them that many of the injuries, accidents and deaths that happen, unintentional deaths, that happen to children from ages birth to 14 are preventable. It's just a matter of knowing what they are, how to take action, and then, in many cases, having the resource to assist them in that process or the safety device. So this isn't one of those situations where someday we're going to find a cure for it. We know what the cure is. It's educating and making people aware of the situation and then providing them the correct tools to take action and make their own home safe.

Kelly Scanlon:

And for people who would like to find out more about your services, your programs, the resources and devices that you distribute, where's the best place to go to get that information?

Stuart Hoffman:

A best place to go would be our website. It's charlieshouse.org.

Kelly Scanlon:

Okay, charlieshouse.org. That's Charlie's, an I-E-S at the end, charlieshouse.org. Stuart, thank you so much for the work that you're doing to help keep our children safe and appreciate the time you took to be on this episode of Banking on KC with us.

Stuart Hoffman:

Thank you for having me.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Stuart Hoffman for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Unintentional injuries continue to be a major public health concern. They persist as a leading cause of death and injury for children. Unfortunately, these accidents don't generally make the news, so the threat is easy to forget about until they happen to someone we love. Kansas City is fortunate to have an organization like Charlie's House, the first in the country to provide the educational resources and tools to keep the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community safe. Thanks for tuning in today. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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