Outrage of the Day: Coffee Banned from Mother’s Group for “Safety”

Hi Readers! Here’s one to get your blood (and water) boiling, direct from The Mirror, in England. – L.

Mums have been told they cannot have a cup of coffee while looking after their toddlers at a children’s centre – because it’s against health and safety rules.

Council officers told the group to change its name from Coffee and Play to Baby Play – and swap biscuits for fruit and breadsticks as snacks – because it’s against health and safety rules.

No children have been hurt in the five years the group has been running but the council said hot drinks were dangerous – even in special safety flasks.

How I remember the months when I was home on maternity leave and our giant Manhattan apartment complex had a community room. What brought many of us down there was the joy of having someplace to hang out with our kids (and by kids I mean “other adults”). What kept us sane was: Free coffee!

I don’t doubt that coffee presents a hazard. I just think that NO coffee presents TWO hazards: 1 – Insane parents. 2 – Insane law creep. When we start taking age-old, pretty darn safe practices and squinting at them them through the danger microscope, we will start outlawing everything normal and good, including moms drinking coffee….

Oh wait. – L.

Arrest this dangerous hussy?

Outrage of the Season: No Winter Recess, Safety Ground Cushioning “Too Hard”

Hi Readers! We are so concerned for our kids’ safety, the apparently the safety of our safety precautions isn’t safe enough, either. Read on.  – L

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Dear Free-Range Kids: It’s been a beautiful week in upstate New York, with temperatures nearing 60 mid-week. But students in my school district cannot play on their school playgrounds.

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In January, the Saratoga Springs School District announced that all school playgrounds would be closed until sometime in April, since the cushioning material under climbing structures is frozen and therefore deemed unsafe.
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Ironically, the safety material we installed–and I’m sure it wasn’t cheap–is unusable for up to five months of the school year. According to our district safety specialist, there is no approved playground surfacing material that is safe to use during freezing weather. If a school has outdoor space without climbing structures, they can use that for outdoor time (for instance, a basketball blacktop), but my 9-year-old daughter’s school does not. So that means she has “classroom recess” day after day. She’s given up on trying to find some way to play, and she sits at her desk and finishes schoolwork. They have a brief (less than 5 minute) recess in the gym before lunch, and they have gym class twice a week. But otherwise, they have no outlet for their energy.
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After Girl Scouts this week, the adult leaders were exhausted–they couldn’t figure out why the girls were bouncing off the walls, unable to sit still and do an activity. It seems pretty clear to me that the loss of recess is the culprit. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the classrooms day after day, and I feel very sorry for the classroom teachers. If they cannot invent–and supervise–an indoor activity (Zumba videos on the SmartBoard?), their students will be increasingly restless, irritable, and unable to concentrate.
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After a difficult discussion at a PTA meeting, our principal has promised to try to come up with alternatives to playground play. But the district will not budge on re-opening the playgrounds while it is still winter. Keeping students off the playground may prevent one or two falls, and I’m sure it reduces liability. But it creates far more risks than it avoids.
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It’s time to restore balance to our safety policies. Yours — A Saratoga Mom
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Lenore here again: Readers, has anyone out there researched this? Is  standard playground safety cushioning truly  UNsafe in cold weather — like, less safe than blacktop? Or do the manufacturers warn that it is, so no one can sue them if a kid falls down? Anyone familiar with this issue and can give us some insight or solve this district’s problem? 

Since when do we let kids play outside in the winter?!?

Making Up Halloween Fears

Hi Readers! Sometimes I think that in our uber-safe society, poor scribes are locked in a room and told they can’t come out until they dream up some new worry — no matter how far-fetched — to caution folks about. (My current fave is the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s apple bobbing cautions, below.) That’s why I love this column from Spiked-Online, a great, British site filled with all sorts of surprising info and opinions. It’s by Nathalie Rothschild, a freelance writer based in New York. Visit her personal website here, and find her on Twitter @n_rothschild.

THE HORRORS OF HALLOWEEN ADVICE by Nathalie Rothschild

Americans are really into Halloween….but some are taking the mischievous tradition of scaring the bejesus out of one another a tad too seriously.

ABC News warns that ‘while this is a time for little ones to have fun, parents shouldn’t let the kids’ enthusiasm drown out common sense. There are many hazards associated with Halloween.’ Face paint can trigger allergies, costumes can get caught in car doors or catch fire, masks can slip over the eyes, young children can choke on treats, cut their fingers off while carving pumpkins or be kidnapped by strangers.

Scary, indeed.

Halloween is apparently a highlight not just for candy-crazy, fun-loving kids, but also for every health-and-safety-obsessed organisation in the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise parents to ensure their children go trick-or-treating in groups or with a trusted adult, that they carry flashlights and that they walk, not run, between houses. Adults should limit the amount of treats kids eat and check them for choking hazards before the kids start gorging them. Kids should only be allowed factory-wrapped candies and should avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers. Their costumes should be flame-resistant and, to be on the even safer side, kids should not walk near lit candles.

The National Fire Protection Association says each house should have two clearly marked exits in case of an emergency. Battery-powered or electric candles are preferable, but if you do insist on lighting candles, they should be kept at least one foot away from decorations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes small children should never carve pumpkins. ‘Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.’ Trick-or-treaters should stay on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk. If no sidewalk is available, they should ‘walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic’.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology warns of the hidden dangers of buying decorative contact lenses without a prescription. There is apparently no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ contact lens. ‘Lenses that are not properly fitted may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea.’

he US Food and Drug Administration says ‘partygoers and partythrowers’ should avoid juice that hasn’t been pasteurised or otherwise processed. Before bobbing apples, a traditional Halloween game, thoroughly rinse the apples under cool, running water to reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on them. ‘As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.’

The American Red Cross has published 13 (nearly) rhyming tips for a safe Halloween. For example, ‘If you visit a house where a stranger resides, accept treats at the door and, please, don’t go inside.’

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission offers this helpful image as guidance for proper costume wear:

The Halloween safety tips lists go on, but you probably get the drift.

Why are these organisations so scared of Halloween? Or, rather, why are they so scared of letting parents use their common sense, of allowing people just to let loose and to have some respite from the worries, rule-making and diet-watching that are already part of their and their children’s everyday life? Whenever the public sees an opportunity to relax and have fun, health-and-safety obsessives see an opportunity to scare them back into submission. It’s not necessarily sinister, though, it’s just their creepy, intuitive reaction to stop people from experiencing fun overload.

Sure, all these dangers are a possibility – decorations can catch fire, apples could be covered in bacteria and masks may temporarily obscure kids’ vision. But pointing out the obvious, over and over, and exaggerating the risks behind these things won’t make people feel safer. It just helps turn what is a harmless holiday into a nightmarish, control-freakish night of health-and-safety horror. – N.R.

A Note from the “No Boys Can Help with Toddlers/No Men Can Change Diapers” Pastor

Hi Readers: Here you go! The dot-dot-dots are his, not mine. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am the Pastor of the church with the policy that is quoted in this blog post. [The one below this one.]  And I found you through the significant traffic to the church website through this blog.

A group that claims to appreciate helmets for their children, but sees no need to run background checks or have a Safe Haven policy is not facing reality.  I am not a fear-monger.  My children DO ride to the store on their own.  But statistics show that child abusers go to places with least resistance and are more likely to be someone with whom the child is well acquainted.  I will NOT allow my church to be a Safe Haven for sex offenders and just as in anything . . . safety and convenience are always a trade-off.  I hope you can understand how your blog came across as condescending and  offensive to someone who is doing the best they can to protect children from potential abuse as well as volunteer workers from false accusations.  The diaper and teenage thing was a stretch for me personally, but at the recommendation of my insurance company and the thought of potentially stopping abuse, I saw it as a worthwhile compromise.  Unfortunately, we have a group of 6 ladies that meet regularly in a recovery group for abuse.  I don’t know what you do for a living, but as a blogger you get to say whatever you want and have strong opinions.  As a Pastor I get to work both sides of the equation trying to protect the kids . . . while trying to provide hope and healing to those whose lives have been shredded by abuse . . . by the way,  I am not a sexist . . . but I used to play one on TV . . .

My Response:

Hi Don! Thank you for writing. I do appreciate that you are trying to keep the kids at your church safe. What worries me is that your policies go too far, without making the kids any safer. In doing so, they spread the “Worst First” thinking that is festering in our society: The idea that we should automatically think the Worst possible scenario First, no matter how unlikely, and proceed as if it’s fact. (Which is what insurance companies do.)

Thus your No Men Changing Diapers rule seems to proceed from the idea that because there are some creeps who get turned on by diaper changes — a small group, to be sure — now NO man should ever help change ANY child in church. That is overkill. It’s treating ALL men as monsters, which is terrible for the men as well as for any boys who want to grow up to be upstanding adults but now see they will never be trusted.

The same thing happens when we treat all teen boys as jerks, or worse. Older kids of both sexes have been taking care of their younger siblings since the dawn of time. It is only at this particularly terrified moment in time that we see all adolescent males as potential pervs at worst, incompetent lugs at best.

How is preventing males from changing diapers and teen boys from helping toddlers serving the best interests of anyone, including the kids, who now may have no nursery or Sunday school, due to a lack of volunteers? And similarly, how is treating two family members as if they are a cabal of kiddie molesters bettering the world?

I hate child abuse. I hate any abuse. But it seems as if a simple “two people in the room” rule would serve you very well, without these other, excessive, demeaning caveats — or so sez me. In the meantime, here are a few responses I very much endorse that came from readers when you wrote your comment in the post below. (And here the dot-dot-dots ARE mine):

  1. pentamom, on May 13, 2011 at 01:47 said: Dear Don: … Insurance companies don’t design policies to balance wisdom and risk; they design them to eliminate risk entirely, as far as possible. Churches have more concerns than that. It is good to wisely incorporate policies that protect kids; it is not good to forget that not a single decision or recommendation of an insurance company is done out of love for people or what is actually best for them overall — children included.

    Library Diva, on May 13, 2011 at 01:47 said: Don, don’t you resent that your insurance company has badgered you into policies that you don’t really support? ….  As a man, doesn’t it bother you that society seems to consider your entire gender a threat to children

    Abuse does terrible things to people’s lives, and it’s good that there’s been more awareness of it. But it seems unbalanced in the extreme, where we now treat ANYONE who has an interest in spending time with children as some sort of sick pedo. Fighting back against this “worst-first” thinking is part of what the blog’s about, so that someday insurance companies won’t be so concerned by the possibilty of false accusation lawsuits that they destroy community in the manner that’s happened to you.

  2. Uly, on May 13, 2011 at 02:18 said: Don wrote: “The diaper and teenage thing was a stretch for me personally, but at the recommendation of my insurance company and the thought of potentially stopping abuse, I saw it as a worthwhile compromise.”

    WHY is it a worthwhile compromise to do something that makes no logical sense, unfairly maligns a portion of the population (preventing them from learning useful parenting skills), and alienates members of your own church? WHO is being protected by this?

    Okay, it’s Lenore here again: I do thank you for writing in, Don. It is always good to get a dialog going. And I’m glad your kids go to the store! — L

Oh Those Nefarious Retirees, Trying to “Help” the Church Nursery

Hi Readers: Here’s a letter from the front lines of (excessive) child saftey, and how it is changing society.  — Lenore 

Dear Free-Range Kids: With your recent posts about risk adversity, I wanted to tell you about a horrendous trend that is starting to appear in churches: husbands and wives are no longer allowed to work together in children’s ministry.

One would think that a husband/wife team would be exactly what a church would want in helping to nourish youth.  But it seems that insurance companies and risk-adversity have gotten the better of people’s common sense.  Basically, the idea is that since spouses can’t testify against each other, we need someone else in the room.

This happened to a church I used to go to.  It was medium-sized — small enough that we were fairly short on nursery and children’s volunteer staff.  In one of the nurseries, a retired couple had been watching the children for a long time, and everyone was happy with them, and they enjoyed the chance to be together with children.  But under the new policy, they couldn’t be together unless there was a *third* person to watch them.  So, they were told they couldn’t watch the nursery together anymore.  And so they just stopped working there.

Here’s a link to a “Safe Haven” policy that is not from the church I mention, but is an example of the anti-family, pro-paranoia policies that are creeping in everywhere. Here’s the really bad part of the policy:

All workers in nursery through three years old shall not be from the same family.

Teenage boys will not be permitted to work in the nursery or toddler areas.

Only adult women shall change diapers and help toddlers in the restroom. When taking children to the restroom, the door shall be partially open.

Thought you might be interested. — Jon

Jon, I am. I am interested to know that teenage boys are, as a group, not allowed to work with young kids. I guess thousands of years of older siblings looking after younger siblings matters not when “Worst First” thinking creeps in. The “worst” being: He’s male, he’s young, why would he want to have anything to do with a child unless, of course, he’s a pervert? Get him away!

Then there’s the idea of only women changing diapers. Sometimes it feels like the easiest way to roll back feminism is to insist, “We DO believe in equality. But think of the children!”

As for the elderly couple leaving the church where they are no longer trusted and cherished, I don’t blame them. But it’s funny that when we “Think of the children!” we end up not…thinking of the children. — L.

I hope that there are another two adults (one unrelated) watching this man at all times!

How to Make Parents Feel Angry & Distrusted

Hi folks! Just a reader’s follow-up note to the post below this one on mandatory fingerprinting for Little League volunteers:

Dear Free-Range Kids: The school district where we live is requiring that all parent volunteers be fingerprinted starting next year.  If you want to help in the classroom at all (which the teachers heavily rely on), you have to pay $20 and be fingerprinted.  Same applies for field trip chaperones or moms and dads wanting to go to the Valentine Party for 15 minutes.  My husband takes work off annually to do a presentation at school for kids about bike safety…he will now have to PAY to do this. I think it’s beyond ridiculous and unfortunately the schools are going to lose a lot of free help, including mine.  As others have said….when there are no longer willing adults to support these activities maybe the rules will change. — A Reader

Obsessive Compulsive Pre-K Disorder

Hi Readers! Well, I was miffed a while back about the rules against BRANCHES at the school in New Jersey. But the rules at THIS pre-k make Jersey seem like the garden state! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: At my pre-school we can fail inspection if the children take off their jackets and put them in their cubbies before washing their hands unless we sanitize all of the cubbies afterwards. The reason being that their dirty hands would contaminate the cubbies. Never mind that those kids were just rolling in the grass in their jackets that they just touched with their now-clean hands to put away inside their cubbies!

Also if a child is playing in the sand box he must wash his hands before he can touch a bike or ball.

Also children must be directly supervised at all times even while using the bathroom. At one center I worked at, we’d send the kids in alone or in pairs from the playground to the bathroom which we could see from the playground. But at my current school, we wouldn’t dare. – Anon