Youth Services Law

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.

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