A Different Way of Looking at Child Safety
How to create a risk management plan for your family

Dan Dawson
Prevention Educator University of Illinois Extensionn

The recent shootings at Virginia Tech may cause families, especially those with college age children to wonder how this tragedy could have been prevented. I remember heading off to college not many years after riots on college campuses. When asked if she worried about me going away to college, my mother, who had three younger children still at home, replied, “If she can’t take care of herself by now, she will never be able to.”

But this magazine is not directed to those in charge of college campuses. It’s for families. As a professional whose work deals with groups of children, it seems appropriate to share some of the principles we use to ensure the safety of groups of children. Parents have invaluable experience in overseeing and supervising their own children. But thinking about children’s safety from a different perspective may prove insightful.

Risks are situations that allow the possibility for harm or loss. That loss can be to people, property or an individual’s good reputation. Risk management implies planning ahead to minimize the potential for negative outcomes. You can not eliminate risk completely – getting out of bed increases the risk for stubbing your toe, but staying in bed for an extended amount of time can also cause health problems. So we can’t avoid it altogether.

The best way to minimize risks is to look them straight in the eye and manage them. How do you do that? 1) Identify potential risky situations. 2) Determine how frequent each particular situation is likely to happen and how severe the consequences, should the situation occur. 3) Decide if and how you’ll retain, reduce, transfer or eliminate a particular risk.

You probably already unconsciously follow these steps when, for example, you send your 5-year old out the door to play. You’ve already identified the risk of traffic and know the potential for harm is very severe, so you put up a fence that he can’t get through. You’ve retained some risk, since you do let him go outside by himself to play, but you’ve reduced the risk substantially since it’s pretty unlikely he’ll get through or around the fence. When you cross the street, you also reduce the risk by holding his hand. You have transferred some risk by having health insurance that includes accidents. You have not completely eliminated the risk of being hit by moving vehicles, since it is conceivable a car could come crashing through the fence.

Of the strategies identified above most ideas of dealing with risk fit into the reduce category. Check below to see if there are any new ideas to add to that check list you already have in the back your mind.

  • Know who is watching your children when they are not in your care. Organizations who work with children screen their employees and volunteers.
  • Survey the play area for safety. Repair or eliminate risks identified.
  • Choose activities that are age and developmentally appropriate.
  • Establish rules related to the location or the activity.
  • Make sure the child has had training or experience with the activity.
  • Alter the way the activity is conducted.
  • Have access to a phone, know emergency numbers and make sure you can describe the location to emergency personnel.
  • Make contingency plans for emergencies.
  • When your child is far away, make sure you have given written permission to give medical assistance.
  • Plan for weather-related risks.
  • Keep a first aid kit well stocked and understand how to use the equipment.


More information

Judith M. Taylor, Youth Development Educator, University of Illinois Extension, Springfield Center, 217-782-6515, or