Let kids take risks to learn about accident prevention

11th June 2010 at 01:00
Out of the seven to ten million adventure activity days taken a year, three deaths are recorded, yet carers are reluctant to allow their charges to enjoy the outdoors. New guidance could change that

New guidance has been published aimed at tackling the risk-averse culture that sees children - particularly those in care - miss out on outdoor activities.

Go Outdoors! is designed to debunk safety myths and give clear advice to childcare staff afraid of being sued or blamed if an accident occurs on an outing. It also has lessons for others working with children, including teachers, say the authors.

The report, published this week, has been issued by Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People and the Scottish Institute for Residential Childcare.

It follows up on the commissioner's 2007 publication, Playing it Safe, which highlighted examples such as young people not being allowed to swim at the beach unless staff stood nearby with a rope, and carrying out risk assessments every time a child wanted to take a bicycle ride. It pointed to a lack of understanding of what is legally required and led to a flood of requests from local authorities for clarification of their responsibilities.

Go Outdoors! makes three key points:

- residential care providers should encourage appropriate risk-taking, recognising the positive effects of play and activities for young people in care;

- there is no need to complete complex and repeated risk assessment forms for normal, outdoor activities;

- parental consent is not required for a child to join in routine activities.

The report adds: "While the death of any child is a tragedy, the fact is that accidental deaths are highly unlikely."

According to the Health and Safety Executive, there are approximately three deaths (from any cause) out of all school trips in the year, estimated at seven to ten million adventure activity days.

Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, said: "How can a child learn to prevent or avoid accidents and become wiser in the process, if they're not given the chance to take risks and put their learning into practice?

"A risk-averse and bureaucratic environment - which leads to `cotton wool' kids - breaches children's rights and undermines healthy development.

"Professionals working in childcare and education don't want to see young people's lives restricted in this way, but fear of litigation has got in the way.

"The new guidance offers a common-sense approach to health and safety, while recognising the huge benefits of play and outdoor adventure which are so vital for young people's physical health, mental well-being and social development."

The Minister for Children and Early Years, Adam Ingram, said: "Outdoor play offers a range of benefits to children and young people. It helps their health, well-being and development, including building their social skills, self-confidence and self-esteem.

"Looked-after children deserve the same chance as their peers to experience the joys and benefits of playing in the outdoors, and this guidance will help support and promote that, while also giving the necessary reassurance and advice to professionals."

Go Outdoors! covers outdoor activities such as short outings, bike rides, visiting parks, the beach or the countryside. It does not cover specially- designed facilities which have their own guidance (for example, go- karting) or specialised adventure activities (for instance, kayaking, climbing or sailing); nor does it cover holidays, although the broad principles are still relevant.

emma.seith@tes.co.uk

www.sccyp.org.uk.

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