play and risk

Parents and the professional play and care staff in out of school care have to get the balance right for children and young people in terms of play and risk; a balance which takes into account every child's own age, or stage, of development and what is needed for them in terms of stretching their limits and broadening their horizons. This includes children and young people with disabilities and additional support needs, and a challenge to parents to not impose undue restrictions on their children and young people's range of activities, in order, for example, to keep their clothes clean, or by being overprotective in terms of not allowing any form of risk. As much as possible services should ask parents to provide old clothes and all weather protective clothing(or services could try to provide protective clothing themselves) so children can be out playing in various weather situations and can enjoy things like muddy or messy play, climbing and scrambling, without worrying about damaging their school uniforms or best outfits.

Health and safety laws and regulations are sometimes presented as a reason why certain play and leisure activities undertaken by children and young people should be discouraged. Such decisions are often based on myths or misunderstandings about what the law requires. The HSE has worked with the Play Safety Forum to produce a joint high-level statement that gives clear messages tackling these misunderstandings. HSE fully endorses the principles in this Statement.

"Children need and want to take risks when they play. Play provision aims to respond to these needs and wishes by offering children stimulating, challenging environments for exploring and developing their abilities. In doing this, play provision aims to manage the level of risk so that children are not exposed to unacceptable risks of death or serious injury."

This statement makes clear that:

  • Play is important for children's well-being and development
  • When planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits
  • Those providing play opportunities should focus on controlling the real risks, while securing or increasing the benefits - not on the paperwork
  • Accidents and mistakes happen during play - but fear of litigation and prosecution has been blown out of proportion
last updated: 07/07/2023