To start off, what is a Child Passenger Safety Technician? A CPST has been trained specifically on the topic of child restraints and safety within a vehicle. They can spot problems and know the specifics about seats and cars on the market. They make sure that a child is in the correct seat for their age, height, and weight. With upwards of 80% of child restraints being used incorrectly, a CPST educates parents on the correct use of seats and shows them how to properly install them.
In the United States, all CPSTs are certified by SafeKids. They are all taught the same curriculum from the same book. The requirements for recertification are all the same.
In Canada, there is no universal certifying body. There are many courses, with varying levels of curriculum. Recently the CPSAC (the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada) has been formed and is trying to offer as much consistency across Canada as possible. Research the course that the technician has taken and ensure that they are up to date on the 2012 standards.
Just because all technicians have passed a course doesn’t mean all technicians are equal. Some take the course because they are required to for a job, and don’t keep up on best practice, new seats, or safety updates. Some take the course and receive outdated or inaccurate information from the instructors.
Then there are the technicians who devote their time, money, blood, sweat and tears to being a CPST. They may have taken the class for fun, or as a requirement that blossomed into a passion. The technicians attend public checkpoints, watch webinars, attend conferences, and play with seats in stores to keep updated on the latest information in the world of car seats.
There are also many technicians in between these two extremes. Those who work hard, read manuals for seats in front of them, and are consistently helpful to their community. They may not know the latest details about seats or studies, but they have a solid understanding of the basics and are great hands on help to their community.
With so many variations of technicians out there, what can you expect when you visit a technician? Listed below are the main points an experienced technician will cover.
First and foremost, don’t be scared to card your tech! All technicians in the United States and Canada are given a technician ID number and can print out an ID card. It should be with them when they are doing checks. Never assume someone is a technician because of their job; such as a nurse, police officer, firefighter, doctor, or others.
What to Bring: Your car manual, car seat manual, car seat, and child. It is also helpful to have up to date height and weight for the child.
Time: Expect a check to take between 30 and 90 minutes depending on any issues with compatibility of the seat and the car. It may also take longer if you have more than one seat or vehicle being checked. When you make the appointment, plan the appropriate amount of time in your schedule. If you are an expectant parent, plan to meet with the technician about a month before your baby is expected. If you are attending a check event that is first come first serve, the wait time can be substantial.
Paperwork: You can expect to fill out anywhere between 1 and 4 pages of paperwork. As technicians, we need to be able to document the work that we do, especially when working independently. This helps us notify a parent in case of a recall on the seat they have and helps us keep track of the checks we have done.
Checklist: This is generally included in the paperwork portion. The technician will go through a series of questions about your current seat, making sure that is appropriate for the child, that it is not expired, and that it has not been recalled, or used in a way that should not.
Hands on: A technician will do more than show you how to install your seat and check your installation. They will make sure you are able to install your car seat by yourself. A technician is not an installer. Expect to get in the car and wrangle the seat so that you can do it yourself.
Next Steps: After discussing what is currently the best practice scenario for your child and how they are safest now, the technician should also discuss the next steps for your child. Which type of seat they should move to, when, and how to tell when the seat is outgrown, when it needs to be converted from rear to forward facing, and beyond.
Safety pointers: Other topics a technician should cover are things like projectiles, non-regulated products, jackets, and safety in and around vehicles. After all, there is more to being a CPST than just car seats!
Questions: We love them! Never be afraid to ask a technician a question. If you don’t understand something, ask while we are in front of you. You should be comfortable with all the information given and understand it. Feel free to take notes, ask if you can take pictures or videos, and definitely ask questions until you are satisfied.
Money: Most technicians work on a volunteer basis. Some private companies or government entities employ CPSTs, but the services they perform are generally free. Check with the technician prior to the appointment. If you feel like the service offered is worth something; gift cards, coffee, or donations to CPS organizations are generally welcome. If you have no money, but have appreciated the service, a sincere thank you and hug really do make a technician feel great. If you are attending a Check Event that offers discounted seats, check prior to the event for the cost of the seat.
Activities or a babysitter: Many carseat checks have waits, even if there are appointments. Every caregiver has questions and needs help. The technician will give you the same focus, but it may mean you need to wait a little longer than expected to be seen. If you have a child with you, it may help to bring another person who can focus on your child while you are learning about the car seat. Or bring coloring books, toys, or other favorite items for the child to play with; some snacks, and some drinks. If you are expecting, please feel free to ask where the restrooms are before, during, or after the check. Many of us are parents, and we know how the end of pregnancy goes! If your baby has been born and is too little to leave with someone, or you don’t have anyone with you, many technicians consider it a job perk to hold your baby for you after we’ve educated you about your seat, and you’re now doing the hands on portion. Don’t be afraid to ask the tech to hold your baby for you.
When you are done with your appointment you should be able to install the seat yourself. All your questions should have been answered and you should feel that your child is safer than when you came. If there is anything you forgot to ask, don’t hesitate to follow-up with a call or email!