Youth Services Law

Showing 4 posts from February 2015.

Convincing Parents That Resilience Requires Risk and Failure

Protecting Children SmallOne of the hardest parts of encouraging children to take age-appropriate risks is overcoming parents' hard-wired instinct to protect their children from everything negative.  We must communicate to parents the benefits of risky play, and reassure them that we are not exposing their children to unwarranted danger. Fortunately, we have help with the current emphasis on teaching children resilience.

Fortunately, we can channel our protective instincts into actions that can help our children. According to the American Psychological Association, “The primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.”

Continue reading Convincing Parents That Resilience Requires Risk and Failure ›

Encouraging Safe Risky Play

Child Superhero LadderIt's not enough to just recognize the benefits of risky play for children.  We must valuate risks against a complex background of statutes, government regulations, and industry standards of care. Below are some examples of areas where we have to follow government mandates or industry standards, regardless of what we individually may think:

  • Physical plant
  • Sports safety rules
  • Adult supervision – important guidelines are state licensing rules (if any) and industry standards.
  • Staff screening – resources at Centers for Disease Control.

In areas where you do have leeway to allow risky play, follow some very important principles to be sure that the risks are reasonable:

  • Always follow the safety standards in the field. For example, never shirk the skills tests for swimming. Be certain that your staff knows the proper standards, and monitor them to be sure they follow them.
  • Be sure that the risks are age-appropriate. For most activities, there is a consensus among experts about the age at which children have the dexterity to start learning new skills and handle the risks of various activities. Know that consensus and follow it.
  • Have supporting data outlining the psychological benefits of age-appropriate risky play and the dangers of too much safety. You cannot pull this out after the fact; you need to have at least some of it on your website and other promotional material from your first contact with parents and their children.

Following these principles will not immunize you from complaints, but they will help you defend your decisions to anxious parents.

Too Much Safety Puts Kids at Risk

Bubblewrapp GirlA growing body of research argues that it is possible to keep kids too safe. As the New York Times recently noted about safety-first playgrounds, “Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries – and the evidence for that is debatable – the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.” One safety expert, Joe Frost, has said that adults mistakenly believe “that children must somehow be sheltered from all risks of injury. In the real world, life is filled with risks—financial, physical, emotional, social—and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development.”

The process, according to Dan Kindlon, a child psychologist and Harvard lecturer, is similar to how a child’s immune system develops. “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle.” Without that low-level exposure at early ages, researcher Chris Segrin notes, children have lower coping skills and “an exaggerated sense of entitlement . . . which is a near lethal combination of personality traits."

We cannot, and should not, avoid the reality that some element of risk is essential to helping children overcome any fears they may have. When children gradually expose themselves to more risks, such as climbing higher in a tree, say researchers, they are using the same techniques that therapists use to help adults conquer phobias. Those same researchers said, ""[I]t is suggested that we may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play." In other words, if children don’t face those risks and gradually move upward, they will always be trapped within their fears.

Of course, as with immunizations, we do not want to expose children to high risks before they have the ability to handle them. The next question, and the subject of my next post, is how to let children test their limits while avoiding serious danger.

Can You Require Vaccinations?

VaccinationThe recent news about measles outbreaks has prompted several clients to ask me whether they can require children to be vaccinated before enrolling them in their facility.  The short answer is, "Yes, probably."  I know, lawyers can never give a straight answer, but in this case, the law is not all that straight.

Georgia law requires vaccinations for all children entering school or attending a day care center.  It allows only two exceptions -- medical necessity and religious objections.  Other states allow an exception for philosophical objections to vaccines. However, most of those laws only require public schools to accept the exceptions.  The laws allow private schools and day care centers to accept the exemptions, but do not require them to do so.  In general, then, private facilities can place whatever requirements they want on the children they enroll.

There are, however, important limits on that general rule.

Continue reading Can You Require Vaccinations? ›

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