What is “Forgotten Child Syndrome”?

This is not the first time such a drama has taken place in France. When it comes to unintentional forgetfulness of a child in a car, scientists call it “forgotten baby syndrome.”

A 14-month-old baby was found dead in a car in Saint-Nazaire on Monday. Forgetting the baby’s presence in the car, his father went straight to work and left the baby in the car. The mother warned at the end of the day, when she went to pick up the little one from day care. Help was called for, but unfortunately it was too late for the baby.

This is not the first such drama in France. Last October, the same thing happened to Martinique’s parents. And every time the same question arises: how is it possible for a parent to forget their child in the car?

An almost always identical scenario

Neurologists and psychologists have been working on this for several years and talking about “forgotten child syndrome”.

“Forgetful child syndrome defines the phenomenon of forgetting a child in a parked car,” the researchers explained in an Italian study published in 2020, citing “significant responses to parents, family and society.”

In France, the Consumer Safety Commission issued a statement in 2009 stating that the syndrome associated with “forgetting a child in a motor vehicle” is “almost always characterized by a uniform view of parents who are at work, nanny their child.” Or forget to throw it on the crutch “.

The child – most often a child under the age of three – is discovered several hours later, suffering from severe dehydration, hyperthermia or hypothermia, depending on the weather, which can cause emotional damage, but also significant brain damage. In some cases, this leads to infant death.

“Thermal regulation of young children does not adapt to extreme temperatures”, as explained in the 2009 opinion. In extreme heat, “their organism’s water reserves are low and their ability to sweat is reduced. In one go, their body temperature can rise three to five times faster than in adults.”

“Not the work of indifferent or neglected parents”

With this syndrome, we are talking about the unintentional forgetfulness of the person in charge of the child, not the child being left voluntarily in the car while shopping or taking certain steps.

Some statistics currently exist on this subject. The Consumer Safety Commission records that between June 2007 and August 2009 in France, there were 26 accidents involving children left in cars, resulting in seven deaths. Most of them were children under 3 years old. In these 26 cases, 11 are due to complete supervision by those responsible for the children Descending A forgotten baby syndrome) and 14 of the so-called “voluntary” situations.

An April 2020 study published in Pediatrics and Child Health stated that “37 children die each year from hyperthermia inside a parked car in the United States.”

“Most cases are due to caregiver forgetfulness (about 55%), where about 13% are due to intentional neglect of children and about 28% occur when children get into unlocked vehicles.”

Concerning involuntary forgetfulness, “in most cases, these episodes concern adults whose mental and cognitive functions are completely intact,” notes the Italian study. “In most cases, it was not the work of indifferent or neglected parents,” also wrote in 2016 Conversation David Diamond, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, said.

“Habit Memory” and “Expected Memory”

Louis hypothesized that this type of failure was “the result of a competition between the brain’s ‘habit memory’ systems” – that is, recorded routines, such as going to work – “and its ‘expected memory’ system”, i.e. what we should do in the future. , Memory of the things that need to be done next. And in some cases, according to his observations, “habit exists in the memory system.”

“In the case of a child who has to be dropped off by his nanny or cr কche, forgetting affects the ‘expected’ memory,” the Consumer Safety Commission noted.

It is a memory “especially fragile, its informative content is low, but its implementation is complex. It thinks on the one hand, conceives an action and does not survive, even if it is by routine elsewhere, and on the other hand. This operation should be performed when matching.

“We want to say ‘this kind of thing won’t happen to me’, but it can happen to anyone because at that moment the father is in a state of hypnosis, the state of the auto pilot where it is unconscious which controls. And that’s why he can’t really realize it.” , Explained BFMTV Ilana Wasarskajan, Clinical Psychologist on Thursday.

“This dad, he forgot his child like he forgot himself,” he continues.

According to David Diamond, this memory of the future can be changed for a variety of reasons: a change in the parent’s routine, for example, a normal route, or a change in the child’s behavior that day, which is calmer, for example. Than usual or falling asleep.

Among responsible adults, “stress and sleep deprivation are important,” he notes, “because they tend to favor the brain’s memory system towards habit-based activity and impair processing. Potential memory.”

What steps to take?

In early 2009, the Consumer Safety Commission called on government authorities to improve information on the risk of your child getting lost in a car and the danger to the child.

Communication campaigns have been launched in some countries to avoid other disasters. In 2019, a law was passed in Italy – after the death of several children in a car – making it mandatory for parents to have car seats when the driver leaves the car to remind them that the child is still on board. There are many such systems today.

The Israeli Ministry of Health thus raises an application on its site that detects when the driver leaves the car, or a complete battery of the sensor system warns the person who leaves the car that the child is still on board.

On its site, Rainfrey County Family and Children’s Services (Ontario, Canada) recommends opening your backpack to keep your bag or laptop in the back of the car, next to the baby, before leaving the car. On the other hand, if you ever see a child getting into trouble in a parked car alone, do not hesitate to contact emergency services.

Salom Vincendon BFMTV journalist

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