Home / Insights / Blog / Keeping Children Safe: Raising Awareness During Child Safety Week

Keeping Children Safe: Raising Awareness During Child Safety Week

Keeping Children Safe: Raising Awareness During Child Safety Week

The frequently trotted out phrase in response to a disaster is, “women and children first”. The origin of the phrase appears to date back to the mid 19th century when HMS Birkenhead sank off the coast of South Africa in 1852. When the ship foundered the commander ordered his soldiers to stand fast and allow the women and children to make use of the lifeboats. Although most of the soldiers and sailors died, all the women and children survived.

Whilst the status of women has changed over the last century and some attitudes may have altered, society would probably like to think that children continue to be given priority over all other members of society and that their safety is always paramount.

Unfortunately that is not the case and children, the most vulnerable in society, are not treated fairly in all instances. As a solicitor specialising in serious harm and injury to children I am alarmed at the risk of child accidents and thereafter the lack of full support. I share the aim of The Child Accident Prevention Trust to stop children being killed, disabled or seriously injured in accidents.

There are a number of examples to illustrate the risk of child accidents and that safeguarding updates are not being taken seriously.

Road Traffic Accidents and Children

There is good news that over many decades the number of road casualties and fatalities has dramatically fallen. This has been across the board. The total reported child casualties has fallen, with provisional figures showing a fall of 12%, to 15,920, for the year ending June 2013, down from 18,166, in the previous reporting period. Those killed or seriously injured was also down, by 11%, to 2080.

The fear is that we will become complacent with such progress and reduce our efforts to see the casualties fall further. An example of this is the resistance to reducing the speed limit in many urban areas from 30 mph to 20 mph. Lowering urban and residential speed limits to 20 mph has been found to decrease child pedestrian accidents by up to 70% (Transport Research Laboratory). It is therefore surprising that the notion of reducing speed limits is not more widely embraced.

There is perhaps a lack of appreciation of the effect that a road accident can have on a child. The risk of child accidents, perhaps a brain injury, can have a life-long impact, with repercussions beyond the child, impacting on the wider family. Clearly good rehabilitation following serious brain injury is essential. Therefore, it is troubling to read that the NHS in England faces a funding gap of up to £2bn in the next financial year. This is bound to impact on children and if there is any doubt about that outcome, we only have to turn to the recent news that cuts in mental health services for children are being made. More than half of councils have cut or frozen budgets for children and adolescent mental health.

The Chief Executive from the Young Minds charity described the cuts as “deeply distressing”. It is argued that these services have been chronically underfunded for decades. Although Government ministers emphasise their commitment to young people’s mental healthcare, one has to doubt if that is case, based on the research undertaken by Young Minds.

Protecting Children in School From Paedophiles

The response to the Soham tragedy in 2002 was dramatic. From what may be argued was a relaxed attitude to child abuse, we saw the introduction of a new criminal record check system designed to protect children from the iniquitous behaviour of paedophiles.

There are many people actively engaged in providing child safeguarding updates, to ensure that children remain protected. However, despite actions taken in response to the Soham tragedy there are still paedophiles gaining access to our children in schools. The “Safe from Harm” report published by Malcolm Underhill, a Partner at IBB Solicitors, revealed 9000 allegations of abuse of children in schools, over a three-year period. It can therefore be suggested that child safeguarding updates were not being responded to. It is appreciated that abuse of children can cause long term psychological harm. Therefore, making cuts to mental health services, which already have insufficient resources to support children, is extremely concerning.

If society fails to care for their children, the effects will be felt in financial and non-financial costs for decades to come as damaged children are unable to play a full part in society.

Asbestos in Schools and the Risks to Children

The risk of sexual abuse is not the only harm that children may encounter in schools. In addition to risk of child accidents, there are also illnesses from toxic materials.

It was once thought that the risk of exposure to asbestos was restricted to those working in heavy industry. However, there has been a growing appreciation of the risk to others, particularly those in schools. Despite this knowledge as to the toxicity of asbestos, there are still over 4000 deaths each year. It is further estimated that over the next 20 years, there will be approximately 100,000 deaths from asbestos. Therefore, it is imperative that all involved are alive to child safeguarding updates, to ensure children are safe from harm.

Around 75% of state schools in Britain contain asbestos. The condition of asbestos deteriorates over time and therefore the danger of asbestos fibres being inhaled is real. Teachers, assistants, technicians, cleaners, caretakers and children are all at risk.

This risk has been known about for many years, but the view of the HSE, even now, is that asbestos is best left untouched. They do not recommend automatic removal. This cannot be right as asbestos will deteriorate and pose fatal risks. Indeed, the HSE accepts there is a risk of pupils damaging material containing asbestos.

Britain should be ashamed of having the highest mesothelioma (asbestos) incidence in the world.

Consequently, people will disagree with the HSE’s approach, but concur with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Health and Safety, which regarded the risk to staff and children as a “time bomb in our schools”. If the Government adopts the HSE line, there is a risk of that bomb exploding in the faces of politicians but causing more direct damage to school staff, children and their families. How can such a state of affairs be tolerated?

We must adopt a pro-active approach to asbestos management. All stakeholders must remain alive to child safeguarding updates, to ensure that children are safe in all environments. Importantly, as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Health and Safety recommended, we must have a phased removal of asbestos from our schools.

Risks of child accidents is one of the biggest killers of children in the UK. As highlighted above there are others risk from toxins and human behaviour too. Therefore, we should all play our part, alongside the Child Accident Prevention Trust and other stakeholders to ensure that the publicity secured during Child Safety Week is followed through for the next 12 months and beyond.

Our goal is to obtain justice for victims of the negligence by others, by securing compensation that reflects their pain and suffering, as well as related financial losses including loss of earnings, treatment costs and specialist care costs. Call our personal injury and clinical negligence experts in confidence on 01895 207835. Alternatively, email us at PI@ibblaw.co.uk.