'Cotton wool kids' must be taught how to take risks

A SHIFT towards a generation of "cotton wool kids" who have their outdoor activities restricted should be reversed, according to new guidance.

Children should instead be encouraged to take appropriate risks during activities to tackle a growing "risk-averse" culture, which undermines healthy development.

The Children's Commissioner and the Scottish Institute for Residential Childcare issued the guidelines, entitled Go Outdoors.

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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."

The guidance is aimed at professionals looking after children in residential care, as well as teachers supervising pupils outdoors.

The commissioner's 2007 Playing It Safe report highlighted examples of children not being allowed to swim at the beach unless staff stand nearby with a rope and risk assessments being carried out every time a child wanted to ride a bicycle.

Mr Baillie added: "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 calls on carers to encourage appropriate risk-taking and says "complex and repeated" risk assessments for outdoor activities are not needed.

Parental consent is also unnecessary in order for a child to participate in routine activities.

An average of three deaths occur on school trips a year, compared with between seven and ten million adventure activity days, the guidance points out.

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

The Health and Safety Executive does not require "complex forms" for everyday outdoor activity, and has consistently "refuted the myths" associated with its role in restricting activities.

Paper-based risk assessments have also emerged in recent years as a key factor in preventing children from doing activities.

"Risk assessment procedures appear to be the main block to spontaneity and normality in activities," the guidance says.

"While practitioners should work to keep young people safe, this need not be at the expense of a 'normal' life."

Children's minister Adam Ingram said: "Outdoor play offers a range of benefits to children and young people. It helps their health, wellbeing and development, including building their social skills, self-confidence and self-esteem."

Jennifer Davidson, director of the Scottish Institute of Residential Childcare, said: "This guidance comes not a moment too soon.

"All children, but especially those in care, should be able to experience and enjoy outdoor activities without staff fearing being blamed or sued in the case of something going wrong."

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Meanwhile, a separate report has found that the UK is lagging behind other European countries by failing to recognise the role that grandparents play in looking after children.