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August 6, 2007

Promoting Child Safety with Computers

Andrea Gielen, ScD

Andrea Gielen, ScD

Computer technology that provides parents with customized safety information can be an effective way to help their children avoid injury, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. Parents who received safety information tailored to their family’s specific circumstances were significantly more likely to follow safety recommendations compared to parents who received general information. The study is published in the August 2007 edition of the journal Pediatrics.

“Injuries are the leading cause of death for children in the United States. We have effective ways to prevent injuries, like smoke detectors and car safety seats, but many families, especially low income families, remain unprotected,” said Andrea Carlson Gielen, ScD, ScM, lead author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research & Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Our study shows that parents respond best when safety messages are tailored to their specific needs and beliefs.”

The randomized controlled trial of the “Safety in Seconds” program involved 759 parents of young children ages 4 to 66 months. The participants in the “Safety in Seconds” program used a computer kiosk set up for parents in the emergency department of the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center to answer a series of questions about their children, their own experiences and personal beliefs about safety. After parents complete the questionnaire, the computer generated a personalized safety report for them based on their responses. The control group received a generic health report.

The researchers conducted follow-up interviews with the parents 2 to 4 weeks later to see how they responded to the safety messages. According to the results, the parents who received the customized safety reports scored significantly higher on knowledge of smoke alarm use and safe poison storage; they were also more likely to report correct child safety seat use. Ninety-three percent of the intervention parents said they read at least some of the safety report while 57 percent said they read the entire report. Lower-income parents who read the tailored reports were more likely to store poisons in the home safely compared to the control group. Higher-income parents in the intervention group were more likely to report correct child safety seat use than the control group parents. The intervention was equally effective for those with injured children and those who were being seen for a medical problem.

“Every year, millions of families visit an emergency department, providing an important opportunity to deliver injury prevention services. We are encouraged by these results, which suggest that computer technology holds promise for efficiently delivering patient education in busy health care settings,” said Allen R. Walker, MD, co-author of the study and director of emergency medicine for the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Additional authors of “Using a Computer Kiosk to Promote Child Safety: Results of a Randomized, Controlled Trial in an Urban Pediatric Emergency Department” include Lara B. McKenzie, PhD, MA; Eileen M. McDonald, MS; Wendy C. Shields, MPH; Mei-Cheng Wang, PhD; Yu-Jen Cheng, MS; and Nancy L. Weaver, PhD, MPH. Weaver is with the St. Louis University School of Public Health and McKenzie is with the Columbus Children’s Research Institute at Columbus Children’s Hospital.

The Center for Injury Research & Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is celebrating its 20th anniversary. For information about the Center, visit

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna L. Lowe at 410-955-6878 or