By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY September 30, 2005 Hundreds of children are riding the roads of Sullivan County in a compromised position and their moms dont even know it.
Kathy Sauchuk, traffic safety educator at Sullivan County BOCES, has inspected hundreds of car seats over the years.
Only one mom had it installed properly, she said. Whether theyre well-educated or not educated at all, theyre making the same mistakes.
Even the most well-meaning parent faces complicated directions and the challenge of finding the right seat for their vehicle.
Sauchuk has taken the training to decipher it all.
Her job is to educate the public. Her job, she said, is to make parents and their children safer.
But Sauchuks baby-saving days have come to an end.
Dr. Debra Fuchs Nadeau, director of prevention services at the Liberty office, has been paying Sauchuks salary with a grant funded by the National Traffic Safety Administration thats funneled through the states Governor Traffic Safety Committee.
The states dried up that federal funding, Fuchs Nadeau said.
No funds, no Kathy.
And now, with a new state law that requires children up to age 7 travel in some sort of safety seat, there are potentially thousands of kids in Sullivan County riding in an unsafe condition.
But Sauchuk cant do a thing about it.
Shes the countys only certified technician for this program. The police who have done it in the past havent been able to pick up her slack.
They have to do policework, Fuchs Nadeau explained.
With money, BOCES could have Sauchuk installing car seats properly.
She could be teaching training programs for parents on properly strapping their children into their car.
She could be examining seats for wear and tear, checking their model numbers against an online database of recalled seats.
What many parents dont know, Fuchs Nadeau said, is that car seats expire.
If you have a car seat thats been recalled or is 40 years old in your car, she destroys them, Fuchs Nadeau said.
In turn, Sauchuk provides families with new, safe seats.
There are seats for low-income families who just cant afford to buy the proper equipment to transport their children.
And there are seats, paid for by another grant Sauchuk found, that go to parents whose seats she deems unsafe or match up with the recall list.
She doesnt send any child home in a compromised position.
And she has success stories that have made the program worth all the work.
One mother called after a serious rollover in Monticello.
Her child was safely buckled in because of tips she learned from Sauchuk.
The baby survived, she said, because of what shed learned.
Thats why Fuchs Nadeau grabs any spare funds she can lay her hands on to bring Sauchuk into the office for car seat inspections and training sessions.
And sometimes, I just come in and do it because someone needs a seat, Sauchuk admitted.
Forty-four people needed seats this year alone, and thats down from her usual number because the funding hasnt been available to run the full program.Theres a 30-person waiting list right now for car seats.
And Sauchuks other duties everything from bicycle safety programs to inexperienced driver training have fallen by the wayside.
Right now, Fuchs Nadeau is looking for help to get things going again.
Of a grant that usually averaged $35,000 a year, Sauchuks portion was between $20,000 and $26,000.
If I can even get $5,000 a year, I can do something, Fuchs Nadeau said. Its not a million-dollar program.
So far, State Farm and Allstate Insurance have both said no, and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunthers office has yet to find any funding.
Weve explored every avenue because we do think this is an important program, Fuchs Nadeau explained. Well support her however we can; unfortunately, I cant support someones salary without the money.
We need anything to keep it going, she continued. Its like apple pie its wonderful.
Turning to Sauchuk, she added, youre doing great things for the community.
For information on helping, call Dr. Debra Fuchs Nadeau at 295-4036.