Published February 20. 2014 4:00AM
New business picks up the slack after L+M closes its Safe Kids program, to help foster child safety
Waterford - Kelly Murphy received the shock of her life last September when Lawrence + Memorial Hospital suddenly laid off the entire staff of Safe Kids New London County, an organization that taught parents the proper way to install car seats.
"My daughter went to college on a Monday, and this happened on a Tuesday," the Waterford resident said. "They just came in and said, 'We're cutting your program.' ... There were 17 families scheduled for installs that night."
The layoff affected Murphy and two other employees at L+M as well as 18 per-diem workers, and at first she remembers being in shock.
"It was like somebody had taken your baby away from you in the delivery room," she said.
This had been her life for a decade, and she was more than an employee - she was a proselytizer for a cause who spoke in favor of state legislation that now requires car seats for Connecticut children until they reach both 7 years of age and 60 pounds.
But, after meeting with laid-off colleagues Esther Pendola of Groton and Jason Cioci Waterford, the hurt and confusion turned to action. And in October, the three former Safe Kids employees formed The Safety Group, a business on Rope Ferry Road devoted to educating the public and safety personnel about proper car-seat installation.
"The car seat is the only baby-registry item that is required by law," Murphy said. "With car seat installation, you have to do it all the time or you lose it."
The Safety Group has one regular client - the Consumer Reports testing site in East Haddam, where the three co-owners install car seats whose performance is then checked and analyzed by experts for the nation's leading consumer magazine.
The business partners also install car seats for parents either at customers' homes or in the parking lot at their one-room office on Rope Ferry Road as well as teaching emergency personnel and others how to do proper installations.
Office installations are done for as low as $25, while fees of up to $125 are charged for home visits.
"We pretty much do what we were doing at the hospital on a smaller scale, and we have to charge," Murphy said.
But The Safety Group so far has not been able to provide one critical service that it was able to offer at L+M: free or reduced-price car seats for parents who would not otherwise be able to afford them. This could be rectified, however, if the partners are able to win a Fedex Small Business Grant through an online contest that ends Feb. 23 and can be accessed from the website www.thesafetygrp.com.
The grant would be used, Murphy said, to offer no-cost seats to those in need.
"The bottom line is to keep all kids safe," Murphy said.
Safe Kids New London County has not disappeared, Murphy noted. The program has been turned over to the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, but the new coordinator works part time and the program therefore doesn't have nearly the reach it once had when two full-time and one part-time employee were assigned to it.
Murphy, who also has a part-time job as Waterford's community safety educator, said her new business caters to a need. After all, she said, car crashes nationally are the biggest killer by far of children under the age of 15.
But the transition of a nonprofit-oriented group to a business enterprise has been an eye-opener, she said. Startup fees add up, not to mention insurance, bookkeeping costs and marketing materials such as brochures that she drops off to pediatricians and obstetricians.
But she points to a pediatrician known as the Car Seat Lady who made a similar business work in New York City. She has been an inspiration to The Safety Group, which cites statistics showing only one in five car seats nationwide are installed correctly.
"There's nobody like us here," Murphy said. "We're the professionals."
Name: The Safety Group LLC
Principals: Kelly Murphy, Esther Pendola, Jason Cioci
Address: 101 Rope Ferry Road, Waterford
CAR SEAT TIPS
Birth-1 year: Always should ride in rear-facing seats
1-3 years: Stay rear facing as long as possible until reaching the top height or weight limit of the seat, then switch to forward-facing car seat with harness
4-7 years: Stay with forward-facing car seat with harness until reaching top height or weight limit, then switch to a booster seat.
8-12 years: Stay with booster seat until a child is big enough to fit a seat belt so that the lap belt fits snugly across the upper thighs. Shoulder belt should be snug across the shoulder and chest. Riding in the back seat is recommended.