Risk and Challenge

The term 'cotton wool kids' is often used to describe children being overprotected from any form of risk or challenge and this then having a corresponding negative impact on children's ability to make informed decisions and also build resilience. As already discussed in the ‘Health and Safety, and Insurance' section of this guide, the Health and Safety Executive released a statement about promoting a balanced approach to risk and play which stated that although risks must be minimised, there may also be benefits for a child who faces risk or challenge- by overcoming challenge or risk the child is able to learn and develop. The Care Inspectorate in 2015 also released a statement about risk in play which states:

“The Care Inspectorate supports care service providers taking a positive approach to risk in order to achieve the best outcomes for children. This means moving away from a traditional deficit model that takes a risk-averse approach, which can unnecessarily restrict children's experiences attending registered services, to a more holistic risk-benefit model. For example, we encourage services to use risk assessment to support children to enjoy potentially hazardous activities such as woodwork using real tools, exploring nature and playing in the mud and rain. We do not expect written risk assessments to be carried out for daily play activities.“ ('My World Outdoors', Care Inspectorate, 2016, p18)

With this 'risk or challenge positive' approach in mind, services are encouraged to undertake risk benefit assessments which in addition to identifying the risks (and how these can be managed) they also identify the benefits to a child participating in the activity. So in the past services might have shied away from allowing children to climb trees or cook over controlled open fires, but are now offering children these opportunities. We would encourage all services to adopt risk benefit assessments and also involve children in the assessing process.

If a service has been historically risk-averse we would recommend that staff, children (and parents) build gradually towards taking greater risks- the process only works if staff, parents and children are confident at each stage of the process. So for example, we would not advocate that a service immediately starts offering saws, hammers and nails, fire building etc without a) gaining the appropriate skills and, b) addressing any fears or concerns that anyone may have.

Grounds for Learning have risk benefit assessment templates for activities such as tree climbing and fire play; these are freely available to download from their website.

last updated: 07/07/2023