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Washtenaw United: Care Seats of Michigan provides access to child safety seats for those that can't afford them

Care Seats of Michigan
Care Seats of Michigan
Care Seats of Michigan


Jenna Dawson is a child passenger safety technician and founder of the group Care Seats of Michigan.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And today, we want to take a bit of your time to discuss child safety. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. Whether you are currently a parent or grandparent or just a neighbor of someone with children, making sure the kids are safe every time we put them in the car is of paramount importance. With the school year now underway and more traffic on the roadways, particularly in and around those schools, it further highlights the need for both awareness and access. Now, if you've ever purchased a car seat, you know how it can be cost prohibitive. That is especially true for lower income areas of our community. Our guest today is working to overcome any barrier to child safety on this front. Jenna Dawson is founder of Care Seats of Michigan and serves as child passenger safety technician. And. Jenna, thank you so much for making time for us today.

Care Seats of Michigan founder Jenna Dawson.
Care Seats of Michigan
Care Seats of Michigan founder Jenna Dawson.

Jenna Dawson: Thank you so much for having me, David.

David Fair: I am really curious in your research. How prevalent is the issue of lack of car seats and improper use of car seats in Michigan?

Jenna Dawson: Oh, my gosh. It is prevalent. It's absolutely astounding how many people I see come to me for child passenger safety checks, and they don't have a car seat for their child, or the car seats that they have are expired, or they're used, and they don't know where they came from, or they're not even properly installed in the car seat. They're too loose. The harness is twisted. It happens all the time. I see it every day.

David Fair: So, is affordability a primary issue then?

Jenna Dawson: It's a barrier for sure. A lot of parents just don't have the funds to afford that $150 car seat. And, you know, when you have multiple kids, that really adds up. That's a lot of money. And so, parents will default to the cheapest car seat available, and it's often not the right fit for their child.

David Fair: Now, clearly, this is another issue that most dramatically impacts lower income residents and people of color. Where do you find most of the issues here in Washtenaw County, east of U.S. 23?

Jenna Dawson: I would say, like, in the Willow Run area, mostly--the other side of Carpenter towards Ypsilanti, for sure. The parents who come to me who have like an Ann Arbor address generally have, the more, you know, expensive car seats or did their best to have the car seat installed. They followed, like, the directions on the manufacturer label. They had the guide out for me. And the parents on the other side, they just don't have the knowledge. They don't have the information. They don't even know that child passenger safety technicians exist, or they don't view their car seat as a piece of safety equipment. So, they just throw their car seats in the car and, you know, that's what they can do because that's all they know.

David Fair: Was there an incident, or was there something that you noticed that drove you to take this line of work and to educate the community?

Jenna Dawson: I was volunteering for a number of car seat safety check stations in Washtenaw County through Buckle Up, Mott's Children's Hospital Program, and some others that just had regular car seat checks. And I was seeing some clients that were coming to me that didn't look like me. I'm a BIPOC woman in my community, and most of the families that I saw were coming to me were white families who could afford, had the knowledge, had somebody tell them, "Hey, car seats are a problem." And I just didn't feel like enough BIPOC families were coming to me. And when I researched, when I asked why, it was because they didn't know that we existed, or they didn't know that child passenger safety was an issue. They didn't think their child even needed a car seat. Once, you know, your kid hits five, six, seven, they're old enough to sit in a vehicle seat by themselves. At least, that's what they thought.

David Fair: And they're not.

Jenna Dawson: It's not. A child needs to be sitting in a car seat until they're at least eight years old or four feet nine inches tall.

David Fair: WEMU's Washtenaw United and our conversation with Care Seats of Michigan founder Jenna Dawson continues. I'm sure you've heard the old adage, "Meet the people where they are." Now, Care Seats of Michigan is certainly made itself visible in the area. Where are some of the locations that people will find you?

Jenna Dawson: People can find me all over Washtenaw County. Mostly, they'll find me in Ypsilanti. I do an event every second Saturday of the month with the Ypsilanti Mutual Aid Fair--POP, as they like to call it, the Pullover Prevention Clinic. We have an event every second Saturday. I am stationed there. You can find me there every second Saturday. We're all over Ypsi. So, sometimes we'll have it at the DHHS office, the Department of Health and Human Services or at the Ypsi Islamic Temple off Ford Road.

Delivering car seats.
Care Seats of Michigan
Delivering car seats.

David Fair: How is Care Seats of Michigan funded?

Jenna Dawson: Right now, we just received a grant from the United Way of Southeastern Michigan. We're also self-funded, so I provide a lot of my own income into the program, and I accept donations from families who can afford to offer anything to my services. My services are all free and donation based. If those families can, they usually do.

David Fair: Well, with that in mind, I know that, as an organization, you were hoping to implement a buy one, give one campaign that would further support accessibility to car seats for those in need. What all would the buy one give one campaign entail?

Jenna Dawson: So, the premise is that a family that can afford a retail value car seat that's anywhere between $150 to $400, $500 can purchase a car seat through me for that amount. And then, my program, Care Seats of Michigan, will match the amount that they paid and provide a family with a car seat that fits their child properly.

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with Jenna Dawson. She is founder of Care Seats of Michigan and our guest on Washtenaw United this week. Beyond access to car seats, and you've touched on it, using them properly is of paramount importance. And you have found that it is very difficult for many to install those car seats, so that they are best safe for the children. So, what is your best advice when you get the box with the car seat in, what do you need to do?

Jenna Dawson: My best advice, honestly, is if you have access to a phone or a computer, like most people these days--

David Fair: YouTube it?

Jenna Dawson: YouTube it. Yeah. Go on YouTube. Search in the model and the manufacturer for your car seat like Graco, Snug Ride 35, which is usually what it is. And then, watch the installation video, watch the recommendation video, that comes with that--how to fit your child properly in the car seat. You know, car seat technicians are happy to provide that service. But if you need something immediate, those videos are so helpful.

David Fair: The new school year, of course, is underway. And if any of you have had to load kids into the seats and then go wait in the forever lines that are outside the schools, you know, there is temptation to find some time efficiency. Jenna, how frequently as a whole do we put our kids at risk by trying to take a few shortcuts?

Jenna Dawson: Every single time. A family prematurely moves their child from a five-point harness into a booster seat. That's premature. It means, like, before that child has maxed out the height and weight limit on their five-point harness. You are putting your child at risk, mostly because if your child doesn't fit the booster seat right, the booster seat isn't going to serve its purpose. If your child isn't old enough or responsible enough to handle sitting in a vehicle seat without putting the strap--the shoulder belt--behind their head or under their arms or moving around in the car seat, you could get into an accident, and that's it. So, it's really, really important to do your best and keep your child in the car seat that they're in, until they maxed out the height and weight limits on the car seat that they have.

David Fair: And those are instructions that can be found within the container that the car seats come in. But are there additional resources that you would recommend as we try and best inform ourselves on child safety?

Jenna Dawson: I would recommend the American Academy of Pediatrics. I would recommend going to the Safe Kids Worldwide website. It's just Safe Kids dot org. And I would recommend reaching out to Mott's Children's Buckle Up program. They have CPST's is on call who can answer your questions while they're on the phone. And I would recommend doing, you know, your research. Don't just take it at face value. Actually do the research to find out how big your child is and what car seat they might fit in properly.

David Fair: Is there a general time that we should allow our car seats to expire? I know that when I had girls, we kind of went from the eldest daughter to the youngest, and it was a hand-me-down situation. But, perhaps, with advancing technologies, that's not the best way to go about it.

Jenna Dawson: Well, it depends on the manufacturer. Every car seat manufacturer has a different expiration on their car seat. Some are six years. Some are ten years. So, you really want to look at the stickers that are provided on the underside of your car seat or the little registration tag that comes with every single car seat. It will have the manufacturer date and the expiration date. All the things you want to keep in mind are if it was recalled. You want to make sure you're keeping track of any car seat recalls the same with your car recalls. And make sure that you're not using secondhand car seats, mostly because you don't know if that car seat has been in an accident. Car seats are a one-time accident equipment. Once you've been in an accident, you have to get a new one.

David Fair: And, unfortunately, there are all too many who feel that the only option they have is to use those secondhand car seats. So, what is the best way to either donate or get in touch with you to access assistance?

Delivered car seats
Care Seats of Michigan
Delivered car seats

Jenna Dawson: So, I would love for people to reach out to me on Facebook--Care Seats of Michigan, or on Instagram--just at Care Seats. You can also find me online: www dot care seats mi dot org. You can reach out to me. I do recycling. So, I'll take your old car seat. I'll recycle it. You can purchase a new car seat from me, or I can help provide you a new car seat if you're in a financial struggle right now. And I'm happy to offer those services.

David Fair: Well, I'd like to thank you for the time and for sharing the information today, Jenna.

Jenna Dawson: Thank you so much, David.

David Fair: That is Jenna Dawson, founder of Care Seats of Michigan, and she serves as a child passenger safety technician. Again, for more information on Jenna and her organization, we'll get you all linked up when you visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


Care Seats of Michigan

Care Seats of Michigan on Facebook

Care Seats of Michigan on Instagram

AAFP Updates on Car Seat Safety Recommendations

Car Safety Tips from Safe Kids Worldwide


Most recently, Care Seats of Michigan is a recipient of UWWC’s Community Impact Fund, the purpose of which is to support solutions that mitigate and disrupt the intersectional impacts of poverty, racism and trauma – root causes of systemic oppression and three forces which hold opportunity at bay for all people in Washtenaw County. They will receive $18,750 annually in general operating support over the next three years.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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