What gets in the way of a balanced approach?
Many adults, especially those with memories of childhoods spent largely out of doors, will need little convincing of the benefits of allowing children to take some risks. Yet there is clear evidence that adults limit children’s play too much, because of their anxiety about giving children the chance to take risks.
The HSE recognises this problem. In 2012, it published a high-level statement that aimed to counter misunderstandings. It said that the reasons for confusion include ‘fears of litigation or criminal prosecution because even the most trivial risk has not been removed.’ Fear of litigation is the key factor, rather than the actual number of legal cases. In fact, playgrounds do not lead to many accident claims, and there is no evidence of a dramatic increase in numbers.
The HSE statement added: ‘there can be frustration with the amounts of paperwork involved, and misunderstanding about what needs to be done to control significant risks.’ Others have suggested that media scaremongering is also partly to blame.
Whatever the causes of excessive risk aversion, there is now a shared view that the way to tackle the problem is to promote a more balanced, thoughtful approach to managing risk. The Play Policy Implementation Plan states that, what is needed is to ‘respond positively by extending the range of environments and opportunities available for children’s play, while continuing to have due regard for their physical and psychological wellbeing.’