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Sadly, more than 800 children aged one to nine die each year in the UK. One in eight of these deaths are caused by accidents. Last year, over 45,000 under-fives were admitted to hospitals across England, Scotland and Wales as a result of accidents, and almost three quarters of these accidents happened at home.
During the first five years of a child’s life, they develop at a faster rate than at any other time in their lives. The quality of a child’s early experiences is crucial for healthy brain development. Keeping children safe, both emotionally and physically, is an important factor in this.
What is a safe environment for children?
A safe environment for children is one where any potential risks to them are minimised. It is an environment which promotes their physical and emotional well-being and ensures that their needs are met. Creating a safe environment for children is an ongoing process that requires constant monitoring and adaptation to their changing needs and abilities as they progress and develop.
Although accidents are preventable, they are still the leading cause of death, ill health and disability for children in the UK. There is also a strong link between deprivation and the risk of death throughout childhood.
Where are safe environments for children?
There are some key things that should be considered when thinking about creating a safe environment for children.
- Childproofing the area – this helps to prevent accidents and injuries and can include things like securing drawers and cabinets, putting in window guards or locks, and ensuring any electrical outlets are safe.
- Ensuring physical safety – this includes ensuring that the physical environment is free from hazards. This includes poisonous or toxic substances or sharp appliances. This can be achieved by ensuring anything hazardous is out of reach of children and ensuring the use of safety gates and appropriate locks wherever possible.
- Ensuring a clean environment – regularly clean and disinfect the environment to prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of illness. This is particularly important in areas where children play, eat and sleep.
- Ensuring there are adequate safety devices – this includes fire detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and that the environment is free from mould or damp.
- Transporting children safely – this includes using age-appropriate car seats and safety belts and following all other transport safety advice.
- Being prepared for accidents and emergencies – this includes having a first aid kit with all of the necessary medicine and other equipment to hand, including taking these with you on holidays and day trips. It also involves knowing where the nearest hospital or medical centre is.
- Adequate adult supervision – this is not only important for their physical safety but also for their emotional well-being. If you are caring for a child, you should be knowledgeable about child safety and you should be present and attentive while they are in your care.
- Establishing rules and boundaries – set clear rules and expectations. Teach children what is safe and what is not. For example, they should understand the importance of not touching electrical outlets or playing with sharp objects. This does not replace adult supervision as children are curious and will always attempt to push boundaries; however, teaching children what is not safe and providing appropriate adult supervision is key.
- Educating children about how to have safe interactions with others – this will involve role-modelling safe play to babies and young children. With older children once they have language, conversations can begin about safe adults, what is appropriate/inappropriate and body autonomy. It is important to reassure your child that they can come to you with any problem, that you are there to help them and that they will always be believed. It is important to teach children how to say no if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Teaching children about having safe interactions with their peers is also important, in terms of safe play and how to manage conflict.
- Teaching children about emergency procedures – this includes educating your child about emergency procedures, such as calling 999 in case of an emergency or having an emergency exit plan in case of a fire.
- Internet safety – this includes not allowing children to have access to the internet or smartphones/tablets until they are old enough to understand some of the safety issues.
What is a safe environment for children at school?
In order to safeguard children whilst in education, all staff, volunteers and governors are expected to comply with the requirements of the current Department for Education guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education, which is reviewed and updated annually.
It is vital that the classroom is a safe space for children. Arranging the classroom environment so that it is a safe space is one important way to promote safety.
Some ideas to promote a safe learning environment in schools are:
- Labelled boxes and storage units help to keep the area tidy – these will help to prevent clutter from building up and prevent tripping hazards.
- Easy to reach, low, open shelving to prevent toys and other equipment from falling on children.
- Providing children with activities that are stimulating so as to avoid them becoming too physically active indoors.
- Clearly defined areas of interest and scheduled times for groups of children to access the areas will help to prevent running and collisions.
It is important to also consider the condition of the materials which the children have access to.
This includes ensuring that:
- There are no missing or broken parts.
- The sizes of the individual pieces are not too small which can be a choking hazard for small children.
- There is no rust or peeling paint on the equipment or inside the room.
- There are no loose nuts or bolts.
- There are no sharp edges, rough surfaces or splinters in wooden furniture or equipment.
- There are no visible cracks in the equipment.
- All points of electricity are safe and childproofed.
- Furniture or large play equipment is stable.
In a classroom, it is not only the indoor space that needs to be kept safe, but also any outdoor space needs to be safe for children to explore and needs to be free from hazards. This is particularly important if the space is a shared community space or if any other people have access to it.
The outdoor space should be monitored and checked for:
- Debris – which can include glass, cigarette ends, litter, or building supplies.
- Animal excrement.
- Surfaces that may be too hot or cold for children to touch safely.
- Natural objects that could cause harm. This includes sharp rocks, stumps, roots or branches.
- Water, ice or snow that may pose a risk of accidents.
- Any exposed power lines or utility equipment.
- Any unsafe insects – which could include anthills, beehives or wasp nests.
- Any holes or ditches in the floor or uneven ground.
- Any other foreign material.
It is important to inspect both the indoor and outdoor areas every day before the children arrive.
When the children are on site, constant and appropriate levels of supervision, depending on their age and abilities, is the best way to ensure that safety levels are continuously monitored. It is important to continuously monitor the environment throughout the day and make any changes to the environment where this is necessary. While a safe environment is important, the most important thing in ensuring safety is adequate supervision, especially for young children.
It is important throughout the day that:
- Any spillages are cleared up immediately.
- Good hygiene of the room and the children is maintained.
- The area is tidied up after each activity before moving on to a new one.
- Certain areas are set out for different activities to avoid any accidents with materials/equipment.
All schools must appoint someone within the school to ensure that the health and safety responsibilities of the school are being met, and that risk management is being continually assessed and updated. Risk assessments are necessary as they demonstrate that the school is taking action to meet the statutory requirements for health and safety. For further reading about how to create a risk assessment in schools, please see our knowledge base.
What is a safe environment for children at home?
Creating a safe environment for your children at home is essential for their development and well-being. Creating a physically safe environment where they can play and explore, free from hazards, is a key part of ensuring a safe environment for children at home.
A safe environment at home also includes children having a home free from abuse and neglect, ensuring appropriate boundaries and supervision, and creating a home where children feel loved, valued and respected.
It is important to create a home environment that:
- Is calm and free from excessive conflict.
- Models healthy, loving, respectful adult relationships.
- Has loving boundaries. Children need boundaries and these need to be implemented in a loving, respectful way. Children do not need consequences or punishments for their behaviour.
- Ensures that they feel loved and cared for no matter what. This means providing love and affection consistently and never withdrawing this as a way to set boundaries.
- Ensures that they know they can come to you with a problem and you will help them and not punish them for making a mistake.
- Models the behaviour you would like to see from your children.>
- Is consistent with rules and boundaries that are important to keep you all safe, while not being rigid in your approach. This means that there is room for flexibility if this meets the needs of your child.
- Fosters open conversations with your child about body autonomy and sex and relationships, appropriate to their age. This means that they will feel able to talk to you and ask any questions they may have without feeling any shame or embarrassment.
- Encourages discussions about online safety with your child, which is vital in this digital age. This also includes not allowing your child to have access to social media until they are able to understand some of the risks associated with it and being cautious about unsupervised internet use.
- Encourages open conversations with your child about their mental health and well-being. It is important to show children that experiencing difficult emotions is normal so that it is more likely they will come to you if they ever experience any anxiety or depression.
Other safety environments for children
Apart from at home, school or a nursery provider, there are other environments that should be safe for children. These are usually places that are set up to accommodate children and have all of the necessary safety checks in place.
Some examples of these include:
- Public parks and playgrounds – these should be designed in a way that they are safe for children to access. However, this does not mean that they are always safe places as they are not usually staffed or checked regularly. This means that there could be hazards, for example glass or other dangerous materials on the floor. As they are open to the public, as with anywhere, there could be other people there who are unsafe. Your child should always be supervised appropriately, according to their age, when attending a public park or playground.
- Libraries – these are usually safe and supportive places for children. Children can enjoy the different books on offer and some libraries offer reading groups for children to attend or story time sessions. You can find your nearest library here.
- Community centres – often organising specific activities for children, community centres are usually a safe place for children where they can engage in sports, art classes, music classes, or other activities designed for children. These classes are run by adults who will have had to undergo the necessary checks to work with children. Community centres are usually a positive and inclusive environment where children are able to explore and have fun in a safe environment.
- Play centres and sports centres – these centres are required to have the necessary safety checks in place, enabling them to cater to children and families.
Why do children need a safe environment?
A safe environment is vital for a child’s physical and emotional health and development. Development is how children grow physically and emotionally and learn to communicate, think and socialise. In the early years, a child’s main way of learning and developing is through play and interactions with their parent or main attachment figure.
Positive experiences including warm, loving and responsive relationships in the first five years of life are crucial for child development. Ensuring their safety, both emotional and physical, is an important part of this process. For further reading about the child development stages, please see our knowledge base.
There are a number of reasons that children need a safe environment in order to thrive, including:
- To protect their physical safety in order to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.
- To promote their social development. A safe environment allows children the opportunity to develop important social skills.
- To promote their cognitive development. A safe environment is crucial for brain development in children.
- To promote their capacity to learn and achieve academic success. When children feel safe and secure, they are more likely to thrive in a learning environment.
- To protect their emotional well-being. A safe environment provides children with emotional security and stability, ensuring that their emotional well-being is prioritised.
- To nurture confidence and self-esteem. When children feel safe and protected by safe adults, this enhances their confidence in exploring the world around them and promotes their self-esteem.