Children’s development is being harmed because they are cosseted in “cotton wool” and prevented from doing anything risky, according to official guidance just published.

By Simon Johnson, Scottish Political Editor
Published: 11:00AM BST 08 Jun 2010
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The guidance, titled Go Outdoor, calls on carers to encourage appropriate risk-taking Photo: REX FEATURES
The advice, for teachers and other state-employed professionals, attacks Scotland’s “risk-averse” culture, which it claims prevents youngsters from learning important life lessons.
It states that those in charge of children’s welfare are too afraid of being taken to court if anything goes wrong and argues that much of the bureaucracy around outdoor activities is unnecessary.
Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner, who helped produce the guidelines, said: “How can a child learn to prevent or avoid accidents, and become wiser in the process, if they’re not given the chance to take risks and put their learning into practice?
“A risk-averse and bureaucratic environment, which leads to cotton wool kids, breaches children’s rights and undermines healthy development.”
A 2007 report by the commissioner, titled Playing it Safe, highlighted children banned from swimming unless staff stood nearby with a rope, and youngsters prevented from cycling without a risk assessment being conducted.
“Professionals working in childcare and education don’t want to see young people’s lives restricted in this way but fear of litigation has got in the way,” Mr Baillie concluded.
The guidance, titled Go Outdoors and produced by the commissioner and the Scottish Institute for Residential Childcare (SIRC), calls on carers to encourage appropriate risk-taking.
“Complex and repeated” paper risk assessments for outdoor activities are not needed by the Health and Safety Executive, while parental consent is also not required for routine events.
An average of three deaths occur on school trips a year, compared with between seven and 10 million adventure activity days, the guidance points out.
“While the death of any child is a tragedy, the fact is that accidental deaths are highly unlikely,” the report states.
“Risk assessment procedures appear to be the main block to spontaneity and normality in activities.
“While practitioners should work to keep children and young people safe, this need not be at the expense of a ‘normal’ life.”
Jennifer Davidson, SIRC director, said: “This guidance comes not a moment too soon.
“All children, but especially those in care, should be able to experience and enjoy outdoor activities without staff fearing being blamed or even sued in the case of something going wrong.”
Liz Smith, Scottish Tory education spokesman, said: “We’re in danger of calling a halt to extra-curricular activities because of our litigious society.
“If we stop children taking part in these activities, we’re going to deny them some of the life skills and lessons they need.”
Adam Ingram, Scottish children’s minister, said outdoor play helps children’s health and development, while also building their confidence and self-esteem.

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