A number of the articles this week touch on different aspects of safety.

On the positive side, Kathleen Lane mentions the South African innovation of Safe Parks, where play is supervised by trained child and youth care workers, who are ready to help children with family problems as well as encourage their play. Keith White talks of the importance of ritual and the security which it can offer children.

Looking at the risks and dangers facing children, Norman Lamb speaks of the mental health problems which young people may face, and the lack of suitable resources to address them. Valerie Jackson bemoans the threat posed by the over-testing of little children in their earliest years of education. Chris Durkin warns of the child protection systems which may fulfil statutory expectations and requirements but which do not necessarily meet children’s needs. The RNLI warns of the dangers of tombstoning, and the Child Accident Prevention Trust urges parents to take greater care in preventing accidents involving children.

In the news, as we write, there are the cases of a teenager shot to death in his bed at home, mistaken for his brother in a crime-related incident, and of a young girl swept to her death in a canoeing accident.

It is a fundamental wish to keep children safe. Faced with the threats of violence, accidents, ill-health, drugs, pressures of daily-living and society’s expectations, what can we do?

First, we can take a balanced look at the whole scene. It is right for contributors to this magazine to highlight problems, and the issues do need to be addressed, but they are set against a background where a lot is going really well. You hear of the crashes, not the millions of motorists who got home safely. For those involved in crashes, road safety mechanisms can mean the difference between life and death; those who did not crash probably never gave a thought to their airbags waiting to spring into action. Similarly, most of our children are safe most of the time. To judge by the media, one might think that no one is safe, but the impression is false. On some things we need to act, but we do not need to panic.

Secondly, it is inevitable that children face risks, but if we do all the right things, they should usually be able to cope. If they learn how to cross the road, they will be a lot safer than if they don’t. If they take the right equipment on activities with an element of danger, they will cope better. If they are shown by example how to cope with social pressures, they will have a greater chance of surviving and succeeding.

Thirdly, it is a good thing, throughout children’s development, if they are stretched a little and challenged by risks that enable them to learn how to cope with dangers. Feather-bedding, keeping children at home, stopping them from doing anything with an element of danger in it – these will only leave children unable to cope, without skills and techniques to deal with risks, and perhaps fearful and under-confident. It is a question of matching the challenge to the age of the child and the stage of development – the first time walking unaided, or the wheels taken off the fairy cycle, or the occasion for going to a late party – and of providing the right sort of support, preparation, and back-up in the event of problems.

Fourthly, and finally, we have to squarely acknowledge that there will always be risks to which we as parents or professionals have no answer. Learning how to cross the road safely does not shield a child from a car which suddenly mounts the pavement. Learning how to sail a dinghy does not give protection against a tsunami. To cope with the effects of experiences of this sort, it is the earliest upbringing that is most important, in which a child is reassured that s/he matters, engendering a sense of self-worth and self-confidence. If they have to face life in the aftermath of disasters, it is the early investment in their lives that will be most important. Properly equipped, children cope against amazing odds.

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