Recently I received a telephone call from an attorney representing a family who had lost a child due to a choking incident at school. These calls always break my heart. And I say “calls” because this is the third such death of a child in which I have been asked to serve as an expert witness.
These cases are always heartbreaking for everyone involved, particularly the family and the school staff who witnessed and participated in trying to save the children involved. No one can question when school staff respond to these incidents with their best efforts and desire to save the life of the child. Unfortunately, in the cases I have been involved with, the child did not survive.
While each case is unique, there are considerations that I wish to share with schools so that we can perhaps save one life and, one family and one school the heartbreak:
- Recognize that if you have young children and/or special needs children in your environment, someone could choke on food.
- Prepare for such an event and train staff, including support staff, who might encounter a choking child.
- Think about the environments in which we provide food to children. This goes beyond the cafeteria. How about classroom snacks? What about after school programs? What about breakfast in the classroom? Think of different scenarios because these are environments in which children could choke.
- This training should ideally be done annually and be ongoing. It cannot be “one and done.”
- This training should include school administrators who have cafeteria duties or who will be responding to a choking child anywhere in the school.
- The school’s emergency plan should include a response for such emergencies.
- Remember children are not the only ones who choke in the school environment. Prepare for the adult choking as well.
- This type of training could also be an excellent parent outreach program to provide so parents know what to do at home, particularly for our special needs families.
This list is not meant to be comprehensive and each case will have its own unique fact pattern and circumstances. The purpose of this article is to heighten awareness as readers may think of other steps which should be taken.
Let us not lose the lives of any more children in our school environments because we were not aware and prepared.
Consultant to National School Safety and Security Services
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