There's a threat that may be hanging in homes all across the country: a popular window treatment that even its manufacturers agree should be nowhere near young children.
For years, parents have heard about the dangers posed by window blinds and the cords that can strangle children, but the roman shade, a big seller for major retailers, can also be deadly.
The window covering has fabric cascading down the front, and only one cord to worry about, or so the mother of 20-month-old Joseph thought. With his crib near the window, Joseph was nearly killed when he wound up with his head between the fabric and the string during a naptime this summer.
"I was shocked when I saw the cords back there," Pam Kulpins said. "Because when you hear safety rules involving window treatments, you hear, 'secure those loose cords.' So, it never occurred to me to look at the back."
That may be because the warning tags come only on the front, hanging on the pull cord, and sometimes attached to the rail. It's a voluntary rule required, but not enforced, by the window covering industry.
"We never, not in a million years, thought this would be our story," Shane Kirsch said, whose daughter, Lilah, was killed in April of this year in an accident at her Connecticut home.
With her 3-year-old brother asleep in the same room, and her mother down the hall, Lilah died by quiet strangulation on the inner cord of a roman shade that was within reach of her napping place. It was one day after her first birthday.
"She had the inner cord of the roman shade wrapped around her neck," Kirsch said.
"We didn't see the inner cords as dangerous because we weren't looking at them," Laurissa Strouth said. "They were on the other side of the blind."
Linda Kaiser, who heads the group Parents For Window Blind Safety, said parents don't realize the dangers because the window covering industry doesn't make them known. The group is trying to change that, and tells the tough story of the numbers: children killed in accidents with window covering cords, including one death very near to her heart.
"I lost my daughter," Kaiser said. "When you lose a child this way, grief just overwhelms you."
Kaiser's traveling demonstration doesn't pull any punches, and shows how easily a child can become wrapped in the shade.
"Cords kill kids. There is really no way to make a roman shade safe," Kaiser said.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission says standards and regulations introduced in 2001 made window coverings in general much safer for children, but still names the persistent problem in its top five hidden home hazards. There have been at least 81 deaths in the past seven years, a consistent average of one death every month. The team that works with the CPSC is continually looking at potential risks, and roman shades, with the cords that might be exposed, is one of those risks," Chen-Yen said, adding that the industry is reanalyzing standards for roman shades.
In the meantime, Chen-Yen said the industry recommends that the product not be used in children's rooms.
Kaiser said the industry has done a lousy job at getting that word out.
"I would like them to be completely honest with the public; tell them that there is no way to make these cords safe for these children."
Because children will grab whatever they can, and parents can't catch every little thing.
Published at 6:28 PM CDT on Jul 16, 2009 | Updated at 2:48 PM CST on Feb 11, 2010