Seattle's Child

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Anchor it campaign

Even small dressers can cause injury or death to children if they are not properly secured. Anchor it!

Anchor it! A mother turns a tragedy into advocacy

Anchor all furnishings, TVs and appliances to the wall.

The morning of June 11, 2014, changed Crystal Ellis’s and her family’s lives forever. She and her husband had just become parents for the second time – to daughter Caitlynn, now 9. 

That morning, they woke to a quiet house and assumed their first child, Camden, who was almost 2, was catching some extra Zzzs. 

“Camden was usually up by 8:30, but with a new baby up all night, it wasn’t surprising that he was maybe sleeping in. He had just graduated to a toddler bed, and this was his second night sleeping there,” says Crystal Ellis. 

But Camden wasn’t sleeping. At some point in the night, the toddler got up and opened his dresser. The three-drawer, 30 ¾-inch piece of furniture tipped over on top of Camden, pinning him down and cutting off his oxygen. 

Camden Ellis is part of the Anchor it! campaign

Camden Ellis before his death in 2016 due to a dresser tip-over accident. Photo courtesy Crystal Ellis.

A family changed forever

Ellis, who lives in Kenmore, remembers the moments after Camden’s dad went upstairs to wake him for breakfast with a knife-edged clarity. 

“My husband screamed for me, and as I ran into Camden’s room, I couldn’t even believe what I was seeing. My beautiful, blue-eyed baby boy was still.”  

“Thirty inches,” says Ellis, still amazed that such a short piece of furniture could cause such devastation. “My son was 34 inches tall. He became entrapped as the dresser tipped over.” As his parents watched in stunned disbelief, paramedics were able to restart Camden’s heart and transport him to Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“For the next four days, as Camden lay in a coma, we prayed and cried and wondered how this had happened to our baby boy,” recalls Ellis. “We celebrated his second birthday in the PICU, surrounded by balloons and cards and carefully wrapped presents that he would never be able to open. And then, we had to come to terms with the reality that he would never recover. I thought I was having a heart attack, as the doctors told us that Camden was gone.” 

Ellis and her husband made the heartbreaking decision to remove him from life support and release his organs to help seriously ill children. “The way the timeline worked out,” she says, “we had to say goodbye on Father’s Day, June 15th. Our lives will never be the same.”

Grief turned to action

Ellis now has two daughters (the youngest, Caiya, is 6). But what happened that June, and the grief of their loss, will stay with her family forever.

“Losing a child is something I will never ‘get over’ or ‘move on’ from in my lifetime,” explains Ellis. “I feel very fortunate for the amazing grief therapy the Seattle Children’s Hospital Journey Program offers. They cared for Camden in his final days and have continued to care for me and his sisters. I also feel fortunate that I have been able to work through my grief with advocacy.” 

Since Camden’s death, Ellis has worked hard to warn other parents about the risk of tip-over accidents — a leading cause of child injury and death in the United States. It’s why she became a founding member of the national advocacy group Parents Against Tip-overs (PAT) and continues to push her family’s story out through the organization. 

Thousands of children are injured annually

According to a 2021 study published in the journal “Injury Epidemiology,” more than 5,000 children are injured or killed each year when unsecured televisions, appliances, and, especially, clothing storage units like dressers tip over on top of them. U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) data shows 199 tip-over-related child fatalities between January 2000 and April 2022. The majority of tip-over injuries and deaths happen to children under age 6. As the holidays draw near and many families consider furniture and large electronics purchases, PAT is working with the CPSC to push out the message “Anchor It! Even when you’re watching!” to raise awareness about tip-overs and urge families to secure all furniture safely—most kits for securing most furnishings cost under $20.

Anchor it campaign

CLICK HERE TO WATCH “Anchor It! | Even When You’re Watching” a Public Service Announcement from the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission

New anchor-it safety standard approved

In September, the CPSC adopted a new mandatory safety standard to protect young children from tip-over injury and death. That means clothing storage (dresses, etc.) must now undergo stability tests that reflect “real world” factors that can cause tip over, including multiple open drawers, drawers holding clothes, forces from a child standing on or pulling on the furniture, and the effect of carpeting. 

CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric said in a press release that the new standard “will significantly reduce tip-over-related deaths and injuries and provides peace of mind to families across the country.”

The new mandatory furniture safety standard applies to dressers and other clothing storage furniture that are 27 inches or taller and manufactured after September 1, 2023. As part of the new rules, dressers and clothing storage furniture must include a warning about tip-over dangers and an anchoring kit. Many anchoring kits are available for less than $20 for items purchased before September.

Anchor it! Get on top of it before they do.

Photo courtesy CPSC.

‘I wish those messages had reached my family’

“I also feel very fortunate that I have been able to work through my grief with advocacy,” says Ellis. “I work every day to help spread safety messages to prevent this tragedy from happening to other families. I wish those messages had reached my family. I want parents to know and understand that this can happen to them, even when they’re watching their children. Tip-overs happen in just moments, and most happen without a single sound.” 

They happen to even the most diligent parents. The Ellis’ thought they’d baby-proofed their home thoroughly. They anchored tall bookcases, their china cabinet, and TVs.

“I think parents do the best they can to baby-proof their homes, to keep their kids safe,” she says. “We had installed baby gates and cabinet locks and corded blind winders. We had our car seat inspected for proper installation. We kept the crib away from the window and kept cords out of reach. We knew about drowning prevention and fire safety, poisoning risks, the dangers of amber necklaces, and the importance of practicing the ABCs of safe sleep. We listened if it was mentioned in a new parent class or by another mom.” 

“We took new baby classes and joined mom groups,” Ellis says. “No one warned us that our son’s 30-inch tall dresser could take his life when unanchored. I never thought that this little, lightweight dresser would be capable of killing my son. [But] we have found that weight, pricepoint, and height do not inherently make a dresser better or more stable. I cannot emphasize this enough: you cannot tell by looking at a dresser how stable or unstable it will be when a human interacts with the unit.”

How to keep kids safe

Ellis, Parents Against Tip-overs, and the CPSC offer the following guidelines for protecting kids from tip-over accidents:

Anchor it. Anchor TVs and furniture, such as bookcases and dressers, securely to the wall: “Do not wait until your kids are walking or next weekend or next year,” says Ellis. “Make the time and do it today.”

  • Ask a retailer for proof of the date of manufacture. Products manufactured before September 1, 2023, are not required to meet the new CSPC safety standards. Avoid purchasing those items. Says Ellis: “I would not buy a new product manufactured before that date.”
  • Use sturdy furniture: Televisions should only be placed on furniture designed to hold a television, such as television stands or media centers.
  • Secure your TV: Televisions not wall-mounted should still be anchored to the wall.
  • Mount flat-screen TVs: Mount flat-screen TVs to the wall or furniture to prevent them from toppling over.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to secure TVs and furniture properly.
  • Store heavier items on lower shelves or in lower drawers.
  • Keep TV and cable cords out of reach of children.
  • Keep large electronics low and stable. Always place TVs on a sturdy, low base, and push the TV back as far as possible, particularly if anchoring is not possible.
  • Recycle older CRT televisions. If purchasing a new TV, consider recycling older ones that are not currently in use. If moving the older TV to another room, be sure it is anchored to the wall properly.
  • Secure top-heavy furniture: Existing furniture can be anchored with inexpensive anti-tip brackets. New furniture, such as dressers, are sold with anti-tip devices. Install them right away.
  • Remove tempting objects: Avoid displaying or storing items, such as toys and remotes, where kids may be tempted to climb to reach them. Keep decor items, books, toys, or other items that might be alluring to young children away from furniture, electronics, and appliances.
  • Test the anchor: It is essential to test the anchor after installation and periodically over the unit’s life.  
  • Report injuries and fatalities from tip-overs to saferproducts.gov. “This is an invaluable resource for researching new product purchases,” says Ellis. 
  • Search for safety reports at saferproducts.gov before buying. “By searching the database, you can eliminate some of the most problematic products when considering new or used purchases for your family,” Ellis explains.

Ellis says childbirth and parenting educators could make a huge difference in spreading the message by adding anchoring information to the list of topics they share with new parents:

“I think parents do the best they can to baby-proof their homes, to keep their kids safe,” she says. “We had installed baby gates and cabinet locks and corded blind winders. We had our car seat inspected for proper installation. We kept the crib away from the window and kept cords out of reach. We knew about drowning prevention and fire safety, poisoning risks, the dangers of amber necklaces, and the importance of practicing the ABCs of safe sleep. We listened if it was mentioned in a new parent class or by another mom.” 

Anchor it campaign

Kenmore mom Crystal Ellis with her son Camden and her then-newborn daughter Caitlynn. Camden died in 2016. Photo courtesy Crystal Ellis.

Do it anyway

Ellis says she recognizes that anchoring “is not the easiest child-proofing to install properly.” Parents often need multiple tools for most kits, including a drill and a stud finder. Furniture may not have a clear place for a secure attachment. Wall composition and baseboard heating can also be an obstacle, as are cement walls, metal studs, unlevel flooring, and renters’ risk of losing their deposit for putting holes in the walls of their unit are all obstacles to anchoring. 

Do it anyway, she and the CPSC urge. 

“I want to reach as many people as possible,” Ellis says. “I know I will not convince everyone, but at least the information is now available. I wish I had known. 

“I would do anything to change the reality of what happened to Camden and our family, but advocacy helps me to make sure that his legacy is more than his death,” she says. “I work every day to help spread the safety messages to prevent this tragedy from happening to other families.” 

More at Seattle’s Child:

Baby, it’s cold out there! Safety tips for newborns and infants

Newborn syphilis is on the rise

Helping a Child with Pet Allergies Live with a Dog or Cat

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.