Kansas City, MO,
10:19 AM

Charlie’s Legacy

Making Homes Safer for All Children

You can fix a hole in the wall…but you can’t fix a hole in your heart.

“I had never heard these words prior to November 2007,” said Brett Horn, father of Charlie Horn. “Had I heard them, they likely wouldn’t have made an impact on me at the time. But the past 12 years of repeating these words and other child safety tips is the only way I can still connect with my son, Charlie.”

The past 12 years of Brett’s life have been an answer to the question: what do you do when the unimaginable happens? For Brett and Jenny Horn, the answer has been to dedicate their lives to help protect as many children as possible.

Charlie’s story

Charlie was a happy two and half year old - a triplet and one of four young children in the home of Brett and Jenny Horn. Brett and Jenny were educated, hard-working parents who appeared to have it all figured out.

As with most young families, their suburban Kansas City home was a busy place, full of dirty diapers, daily messes and toys everywhere you turned. They child-proofed their home in all the usual ways: they installed outlet covers and baby gates, raised blind cords up out of reach, secured cabinet doors and drawers, and covered sharp corners of coffee tables.

But an unexpected danger remained.

“We got the call no parent ever wants to get,” said Brett.

After waking from a nap one day, Charlie was tragically killed when a short child’s dresser, only 30” high, tipped over on top of him. There was an audio monitor in his room, but there was little or no crashing sound for their nanny to hear. Any sound Charlie made was buffered - trapped between the dresser and the floor - while his brother was still asleep in the same room.

The pain of losing a child is immeasurable. For the Horns, it was magnified by guilt, believing they could have prevented their son’s death.

“Had I taken the time out of my busy schedule to educate myself further about all home dangers to children, would Charlie still be alive?” asks Brett.

A House of Hope

In the midst of tragedy, Brett and Jenny found strength in caring for their three other children and use their experience to help others.

“The first thing we wanted to do was hide away from the world, but we had three other children we needed to raise and be parents to,” said Jenny. “We knew immediately we wanted to help families in some way, which is why we shared our story.”

The support and response they received to their story prompted the founding of a nonprofit, Charlie’s House. This facility is dedicated to educating families on home safety, including the risks and the accompanying safety measures that can prevent injury.

“At the time of the accident our family and friends began looking up tip-over accidents on the internet, and we were shocked by the number of children hurt and killed by this type of accident.”

The work of Charlie’s House, which has been supported by Charlie’s Grandfather Mark Plush, a retired State Farm agent, and with philanthropic support from the insurance company, has grown quickly. In the first year alone, the organization shared 10,000 furniture safety straps with families. They also assisted in passing a resolution in the Missouri state legislature to urge the enacting of federal safety standards for tip-prone furniture.

Since then, Charlie’s House has worked with many local, regional, and national safety and medical organizations on safety awareness initiatives. Annually, the organization has distributed more than 100,000 safety items and resources via online orders and local events. The Physician’s Alliance program, started by Charlie’s House in 2012, provides safety information to pediatric physicians’ and specialists’ offices to share with families.

There are many potential hazards in and around a household, and Charlie’s House shares information on all of them. This includes a checklist of simple home safety measures. Many risks from tipping furniture can be addressed by tethering furniture to the wall with special straps or brackets (available at many home stores) which are attached to wall studs. Drilling just a few small holes in the wall can make a big difference in the safety of one’s home.

Building for the future

The next big project ahead for the Horns and Charlie’s House is an actual house – a Safety Demonstration House. This simulation facility, open to the public, is expected to host over 80 events in the first year and provide tours to more than 1,500 individuals. Scheduled to open in early 2020, this one-of-a-kind facility will allow thousands of parents, caregivers and children to tour and learn about the many household threats and alternative safety ideas to help reduce risk. For example, visitors will walk through a kitchen, family room, bathroom, nursery and other living areas where potential problems may occur. Interactive areas will allow children to participate with hands-on activities to make the learning experience impactful.

“Once complete, Charlie's House will be the first safety demonstration home in the nation. A place where parents and caregivers can come to learn how to properly childproof their home,” said Brett.​

The work of safety awareness is never-ending. But Brett, Jenny, and the team that has grown to support Charlie’s House sees signs of progress. In 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released a statement indicating a reduction in ER visits for furniture tip overs from one every 24 minutes to one every 30 minutes.

A busy life of meaning

With three active kids - Jack (16), Brigit and Will (14 - Charlie's triplet siblings) - the Horn household is still a very busy place. The work of Charlie’s House has opened Brett and Jenny’s lives to a larger world of safety advocacy.

“In many ways, we have moved beyond the tragic accident into so many other arenas, where we are accomplishing our goal of preventing accidents to children in and around the home,” said Brett. “Twelve years later, there isn't a week that goes by that we don't hear from another family or media outlet about how our story may have helped prevent other accidents. It very much still keeps us connected to Charlie.”

“To Brett & Jenny, it’s about Charlie, but to you, it’s about Sam, or Emmie, the children in your lives,” said Jenny. ”What Charlie’s House represents is safety in the home.” Brett adds, “While it will always be named after our son, Charlie’s House isn’t about Charlie Horn… it’s about your Charlie.”


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