If you have determined that there is no distribution program available for your community, and you want to develop your own, you will need to find a child passenger safety technician to serve the program. See Module 8  for more information on what a CPS tech is, does, and how to become a CPS technician. If you already have a certification yourself, or a CPS tech partnership, then great! You are ready to develop your program.

When starting your own car seat distribution program, you will want to:

  • Determine the need for seats.
  • Set goals and objectives for your distribution program.
  • Decide what type of distribution program is the best fit (cost sharing or free).
  • Determine what type(s) of car safety seats to distribute.

How to Determine the Need for Seats

As with other community programs and services, you will first need to assess the needs of your community. This process can be similar to determining your target audience for media in Module 7

Step 1. Collect Your Own Data

To really know and understand the depth of your community’s need, the best approach is to conduct a child safety seat vehicle observation survey and collect data.

Did you collect data in Module 4? If yes, review the community data you collected. Who is not using seats? Is it booster-seat-age children? Grandparents? This is your population in need.

When planning your child safety seat vehicle observation survey, include these three key questions to help you determine need and barriers to access.

  1. Do you currently own a child safety seat for this child passenger? (Ask only if child is not using a child safety seat).
  2. Where did you get the child safety seat?
  3. Do you know where to get help if you cannot afford to purchase one?

How community members respond to these questions will help guide your efforts as you establish your community’s needs.

Remember that data is not just numbers! The conversations you have had with parents, schools, and other programs will also be very helpful in assessing your community’s needs.

Assessing Responses to Question #1

If lots of people answer “Yes” to question #1 – that is, people have seats but are not using them, then access to a seat is not necessarily a problem. Your efforts might be better spent on media, policy, and educationIf you are a tech, focus on reaching out to your tribe, showing people how to use their car seats, and hopefully convince them to use them regularly.

Assessing Responses to Question #2
NativeCARS.org - Klamath CARS Logo example

Klamath CARS sticker example

If you have a distribution program, you will want to note how many people say they received their seat from the tribe or from the program when asked question #2. This will let you know if the seats you are distributing are being used. Alternatively, you can put a sticker on the seats you distribute to easily identify the seat and note in the observation if you see the seat being used. Likely, most of the people you


interview will have purchased the seat new from a store. But, if many people say that the seat is a hand-me-down or they got it from a secondhand store, or even a dumpster (Yes, we heard this several times!) this is a sign that your community would benefit from a distribution program.

Assessing Responses to Question #3

Responses to Question #3 will help you to get an idea about how well-known your program is in your community, or identify resources that you might not be familiar with. If you have a program and people are not aware of it, you will want to increase awareness in your community, either through media or networking with other programs.



Step 2. Establish Goals and Objectives

Your goal may to be to establish a highly functioning car seat distribution program to serve the needs of your community, but this goal is broad and open-ended. You will have to be S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) with your plans in order to achieve your goals.

Your community’s need will determine your activities. If grandparents need seats, set a goal to distribute seats to them. You might partner with the senior center or places frequented by elders. Or, if you need to get booster seats into the community, you might hand out information on your distribution program at the elementary school.

Review Module 6 for more information on making data-driven plans.

Here are some example goals for a distribution program:

Example goal 1: In the next four months, distribute 25 seats to non-parent caregivers who demonstrate need. (You can set need criteria as income-based, or on transport-based, for example, the need to transport children multiple times per week.)

Example goal 2: Give out coupons for a CPS tech child safety seat fitting at Head Start and the elementary school with fall school materials.

Example goal 3: Write a grant to the Indian Highway Safety program to apply for funding for child safety seats. Or find more information on grant funding from the Indian Highway Safety program here.

To meet goal 3, you may divide your work into separate objectives. For example:

  • Objective 1: Establish community baseline child safety seat use through observational surveys
  • Objective 2: Get a tribal resolution to apply for Indian Highway Safety program funds
  • Objective 3: Work with tribal police to fill out and submit the grant application



The great thing about SMART goals or objectives is that the evaluation component is built into the goal. Did you meet your goal?

  • Goal 1 evaluation: Distributed 15 booster seats and 13 convertible seats to non-parent caregivers who met the need criteria.
  • Goal 2 evaluation: Distributed 20 coupons to Head Start and 100 coupons to elementary school. Five coupons were redeemed for seats.
  • Goal 3 evaluation: Submitted grant for child safety seat funding and received $2500 to purchase seats.


Step 3. Decide What Type of Distribution Program Is the Best Fit (Cost Sharing or Free)

There are many types of distribution methods, some of which are listed below. There are pluses and minuses to each style. Ultimately, it comes down to what is the best fit for your community.

Free vs. Cost Sharing

Some programs give out car seats for free.  Others offer a sliding scale or a minimum donation for a seat.  Sometimes, FREE can be a bad, four letter word. It devalues what people are given, and some individuals are not as likely to use it or take care of it.

Installation and Inspection Fees

Some programs charge a car seat installation or inspection fee at events.  This revenue can be used to purchase new seats and help the distribution continue.

Rear-facing Child Safety Seat Voucher

Some hospitals and mother-to-be programs may hand out a voucher for a free rear facing child safety seat upon completion of their program. These programs often provide vouchers with a short time frame in which they can be redeemed once they have been obtained.

Specialized or Adaptive Child Passenger Safety Restraints Loaner Program

Some children have physical or behavioral conditions that make the use of specially-designed restraint systems necessary. Since special needs seats are so expensive and only used for a short period of time, a distribution site may have a loaner program in which a seat is loaned out for the duration needed and then returned.  In general, specialized or adaptive child passenger safety restraints are designed specifically for children with special health care needs and are not available at retail stores. They are ordered through a local equipment vendor or in some cases directly from the manufacturer. Specialized restraints tend to be more expensive than conventional restraints and securing funding can be challenging. Special needs car seat loan programs are available through some hospitals, local Easter Seal affiliates, health departments, and Safe Kids coalitions. Third-party payers including Medicaid may cover the cost of specialized restraints when sufficient documentation of medical necessity is provided.

For more information, go to:


Crissy’s Experience

“We chose to have one of our criteria for receiving a seat to be a $20 donation instead of having free seats or $5 seats. We decided that $20 wasn’t too much to ask for from families but still made parents think and treat their purchase better, that increment gave them ownership of the product and hopefully would make them value their purchase.  Some of the free seats that our parents had been given in the past with the MCH program or WIC program had been puked on and thrown away, left outside, gotten dirty and garbaged, etc.  We didn’t want this seat distribution program to be treated the same way where people think they can junk one and get a new one with no problem. We really try to educate the parents and let them know that the covers can come off and be washed and the seat is back to new again.  Car seats are investments and they should grow with your child until they exceed the height or weight requirements listed on the seat”.

“After having the program for a year and a half now we have never had a problem with someone not being able to pay for the seat.  Some people have even donated more towards their new seat since the $20 donation is just a minimum.  We unfortunately learned the hard way about taking checks, so now we only accept cash.  This car seat distribution program has helped lots of single parents, low income families, grandparents, foster families and tribal programs like TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), CPS (Child Protective Services), ECDP (Early Childhood Development Program) and the Children’s Home. It’s crazy to think where these families would have been had they not gotten a seat from us.”

Step 4. Determine the Type of Child Safety Seat to Distribute

The type of child safety seat and the manner in which you distribute safety seats to your community will depend on your audience and funding source.  You will have to weigh the pros and cons of distributing each type of seat, or combination of seats.  You may want to consider:

An all-in-one seat might be an expensive investment up-front, but it’s “once and done.”  It will be essential to know if your target audience prefers these types of safety seats and will use them.

A combination seat, then booster seat is a popular set-up for many distribution programs. One drawback of this is for parents who really like or need the infant carrier seats.

Backless boosters are inexpensive and take up very little space for programs with limited storage space. But, some parents place low value on backless boosters. A good idea would be to pair the distribution of these with education on how backless boosters work to minimize injuries in the event of a crash.

Types of Seats
  • Infant Car Seat (Rear-Facing only): This seat is small, portable, and can only be used rear-facing. People like to use them as infant carriers, but babies outgrow them quickly.
  • Convertible Seat: This seat can change from rear-facing to forward-facing and allows the child to stay rear-facing longer.
  • Booster Seat with High Back: This type of booster seat is designed to boost the child’s height so the seat belt fits properly. It also provides neck and head support and is ideal for vehicles that don’t have head rests or high seat backs.
  • Backless Booster Seat: A backless booster seat is designed to boost the child’s height so the seat belt fits properly. It does not provide head and neck support. It is ideal for vehicles that have head rests.
  • Combination Seat: As a child grows, this seat transitions from a forward-facing seat with a harness into a booster.
  • All-in-One Seat: This seat can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat (with a harness and tether) and to a booster seat as a child grows.


Resources for Information about Child Safety Seats

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

NHTSA has many excellent car seat resources on their website, including finding the right seat for your child’s age and size, finding a car seat that fits in your make and model of car, installation tips, educational videos and other materials. You can also sign up to receive recall alerts for your specific child safety seat.

SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.

A national, non-profit organization dedicated to child passenger safety www.carseat.org provides reproducible posters, fliers, bookmarks, bumper stickers, and has educational videos and car seat recall lists. Some materials are also available in Spanish.

To learn more about finding funding for car seat distribution programs, go to the next section.