Parents often can't prevent children injuring themselves, but they can take out insurance policies to provide help and compensation. Every year nearly one million children are injured in and around the home, requiring a trip to hospital. A further 4,000 pupils are injured each year during schools' sporting and extra-curricular activities, with rugby players particularly at risk. Yet only 10 per cent of the 12.6 million children in Britain are comprehensively covered for accidents.
Parents never like to contemplate that their child could be permanently disabled in an accident, but according to Margaret Morrissey, public relations officer of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, it is something they should certainly insure against.
The NCPTA promotes Holmwoods Class Cover, a personal accident insurance policy for children, which pays up to Pounds 200,000 for an accident resulting in permanent disability. Holmwoods insures more than 750,000 children, 400, 000 from the independent sector and 350,000 from state schools. Many independent schools offer accident cover as a small premium on top of school fees.
Margaret Morrissey's support for insurance is largely due to personal experience: "I have two children and both of them have been injured. If you have a daughter who rides horses or a boy who plays rugby then you should be covered."
Her daughter Joanna lost half her thumb when it was whip-lashed by rope attached to a rearing horse. She received Pounds 1,000 in compensation through Holmwoods. Her son Jonathan had his throat cut when he was attacked by youths in Swanage, Dorset, the nearest town to the family home. The wound required 13 stitches and plastic surgery. Jonathan received Pounds 4,000 from Holmwoods, including an interim payment within a week of the incident.
"At that moment it wasn't a question of money, but knowing the support was there if we needed it," Margaret Morrissey explains. "If his injury had required alterations to our house we would have been covered for that. It would have compensated for time I may have needed to take off work. It would have covered for home tuition if he had needed to stay away from school for any length of time. As it was, he recovered quickly but it meant we could buy Jonathan things to cheer him up."
She believes many parents assume that for accidents at school, they are protected by local authority insurance. But unless parents can prove negligence by a third party, children are not covered.
Holmwoods has been providing schools insurance since the 1920s, covering the buildings, contents and liabilities of schools such as Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Roedean, and, more recently, sixth-form colleges, city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools. It has offered personal accident insurance since the 1980s.
Its Class Cover policy includes all amateur sporting and leisure activities 24 hours a day, not just at school. There are, however, several other products on the market. Norwich Union offers the Teddy Bear Contract which provides a maximum of Pounds 100,000 for permanent disability and costs Pounds 25 per child per year. Insurance broker Willis Corroon has introduced Child Guard, a policy which produces lump sums in the event of a disabling accident, and provides a 24-hour family support service, covering legal advice and expenses, emergency childcare, counselling and medical help-lines.
Holmwoods, on the other hand, believes that the insurer's chief job is to provide maximum financial assistance.
Parents need to make careful comparisons. It costs Pounds 19 a year to insure a child on Holmwoods' Plan A which pays up to Pounds 100,000 (Pounds 28 for Plan B which pays up to Pounds 200,000) and Pounds 38 for two or more children (Pounds 56 for Plan B). Cover for legal expenses involves an annual supplement of Pounds 9.25.
Child Guard's more extensive policy costs more: Pounds 38 each year for one child for up to Pounds 100,000 (Pounds 54 for Pounds 200,000); Pounds 54 for two children (Pounds 85); Pounds 70 for three children (Pounds 116); to a maximum of Pounds 102 for five children (Pounds 179).
The pay-outs for injuries differ as well. For example, a child on the lower cover with Holmwoods will receive Pounds 10,000 for the loss of a big toe, with Child Guard the pay-out is Pounds 3,000. The loss of one thumb triggers payments of Pounds 25,000 from Holmwoods, Pounds 17,500 from Child Guard. Holmwoods pays Pounds 100,000 for total loss of sight in both eyes and Pounds 50,000 for one eye, whereas Child Guard promises Pounds 75,000 in either case. However, Child Guard's cover is slightly more generous for facial disfigurement. Both policies provide funds for tuition cover in the case of prolonged absence from school.
Holmwoods' whole-school schemes cost parents in the independent sector between Pounds 4 and Pounds 5 termly, while state school parents are charged Pounds 6 per year. Given the havoc that can be caused to a family's finances if a parent has to stay off work to care for an injured child, that seems a sensible investment.
Case Study: Money to put aside
Ian Leyland was heading for a try when he was brought down and kicked in the eye during a school rugby match. A pupil of Exeter School, he was taken to hospital with a badly swollen eye. Although he didn't need stitches, he still has problems with the iris and may suffer from glaucoma in future. Ian was covered by Holmwoods which paid out Pounds 1,400 compensation.
His mother, Janet, was thankful for her son's insurance. She says: "He may need to have treatment in future and we now have the money put aside to pay for it. The injury could easily have been much more serious and at least we were not faced with the financial anxiety of not being able to care for him properly. Children play dangerous games so this kind of insurance is crucial. "