The childcare sector is awaiting the deliberations of the Irish Goverment body “Pobal” on a grant scheme called the NCIP Grant. So in advance I got to doing some research on preschool insurance risks for outdoor play.
I spoke with Richard Webb of www.playsafety.ie - he inspects public play parks throughout the country and is also an active member of www.playireland.ie -an Irish charity that promotes outdoor play specifically with children that have various challenges.
Richard kindly pointed me in the direction of an excellent article on the risks and benefits specifically of playground play, but in fact the contents apply to all outdoor play. Full Article here.
In summary there is growing concern about how safe are public playgrounds. However the UK evidence details that of the two million or so childhood accident cases treated by UK hospitals each year, less than 2 per cent involve playground equipment.
In fact participation in sports like soccer, widely acknowledged as ‘good’ for a child’s development, involves a far greater risk of injury than that of playground play.
So how do you evaluate play ground risk ? You can’t eliminate it. The article poses a truth that if we as children didn’t take any risks none of us adults would have ever learned to ride a bike. Playgrounds (both public & home based) aim to manage risk, not eliminate it.
So what are acceptable and unacceptable risks? Three factors are central to determining whether or not the level of risk is acceptable or tolerable:
1. the likelihood of the child coming to harm;
2. the severity of that harm on the child;
3. the benefits, rewards or outcomes of the activity.
Judgements about the risk of a child-centred robust physical activity are not formulaic. Reasonable human judgement is a requirement. Specifically we need to make judgements about acceptability based on an understanding of the balance between risks and benefits.
For example a child hanging upside down by the legs from monkey bars
1 The likelihood of the child coming to harm in my opinion is reasonably high for a toddler
2 The harm incurred if they fell is also quite high - broken arm concussion etc
3 The benefits are greater co-ordination and leg strength
To me as a parent I would stop my toddler engaging in this activity. However lets look at a toddler paddling on the water edge at the beech under parent supervision.
1 Likelihood of harm is low but the parent may become distracted with another child so a possibility exists
2 The harm incurred is a possible drowning.
3 The benefits are sensory development - self expression etc
In this case although the risk is death, as a parent I am willing for the child to continue as the likelihood is so low.
We perhaps also need to add a cultural dimension or to put it more simply, you need to add in the child / attending adult’s perception of that risk. For example walking along the hedge of a field populated by cows can be interpreted by child and adult alike in two ways.
- country children / adults could see it as a very low risk activity - they are familiar.
- city children / adults could see it as a very high risk activity ie they are not cows – they see them as bulls ie they are unfamiliar and are therefore terrified.
So we are summarising that play should be evaluated on the severity of impact if the risk should take place, the likelihood of that risk taking place and the developmental benefits of that outdoor play.