Saturday, June 30, 2007

Define a hazardous activity

I have been making the final arrangements for this year's summer camps for 8 to 13 year-olds. The teams of volunteers have been checked and trained, the funding has been arranged, the venue booked and the applications have been flowing in steadily. Just as I thought I could relax, I've received an email to say that the terms of our usual insurance cover have been changed and all hazardous activities will be excluded.

These camps used to be held in fields, with the kids crammed into very basic tents. The children helped prepare the food (with real knives) and cook it on primus stoves (real matches and flames). They boiled kettles and washed the dishes. They grew up and many of them come back as volunteer helpers, using the skills they acquired on camp. Nowadays we hire school boarding facilities with comfortable beds in bedrooms with en-suite facilities. Hired staff come in to cook and wash up. The grounds are secure and every activity is assessed using the strictest Health and Safety criteria. In recent years we have given up many of the activities that children used to enjoy e.g. trips to adventure playgrounds - risk of bus crashing, risk of child being injured on a ride or slide, risk of child being lost, risk of paedophiles in park etc. For similar reasons, the kids are no longer allowed to go into the village shops and they are not allowed to be in a room or any area of the campus unless two adults are present.

So, I look at what remains of our itinerary to see what might constitute a threat to the life, limb or welfare of the 47 youngsters for whom I will be held responsible. There are trees in the grounds - should I ban tree-climbing and the usual making of dens? There is an outdoor swimming pool which the children use every afternoon, under the supervision of qualified lifeguards but, I suppose the water could be considered to be hazardous. We have lots of art and craft activities, am I to forbid 13 year-olds to use scissors (all blunt-nosed and child-safe); should we remove all staplers, pins, glue and paint brushes as potentially dangerous? Perhaps we should remove all the knives and forks from the dining room for the same reason.

I take the care of children very seriously and I look after every child for whom I am responsible as if it were one of my own. I used to feel that in loco parentis was the highest degree of responsibility one could aspire to, but the insurance companies don't agree. The fear of litigation has led them to restrict insurance cover to the most banal and unadventurous pursuits. This is frustrating for the children and the volunteer helpers.

I wonder what today's youngsters are learning about life? That every adult is a potential threat to your safety? That you shouldn't extend yourself in any way, don't take risks, don't solve problems, don't dream or invent? Doesn't anyone know that for a twelve year old the greatest hazard is being twelve? I'm not sure that I want to organise any camps for 2008.


  1. Ge, I thought America was the most litigious place on Earth. Your children have my sympathy. I think they are learning that their lives are not their own responsibility, that there is always someone else to blame for any of their misfortunes, and that they should be paid for them.

  2. As we have discussed before, Duck, it is the perception of danger, rather than any real risk, that puts unreasonable limitations on our lives.

    I have been relieved to see that most people are refusing to be intimidated by the car bombs in UK and are going about their business as usual. It's time that we all cried 'enough' to politicians and insurers!

    Another instance of this stupidity: I was diagnosed with cancer in January 1995, the prognosis was bad but, three operations, a year of chemotherapy and 5 years of other unpleasant treatments and I'm still here and getting along fine. Tell the insurers that! I can't get travel insurance or health cover, even when I ask to be covered for non-cancer related events or illness.

    Sorry, as you can see, I'm feeling pretty mad right now.

  3. I'm confused. Doesn't England have national health insurance?

  4. Yes, we have the national health service, and it has served me very well indeed. I used to have private cover so that i could see the consultant of my choice and have a private room rather than the public ward. Also, the NHS doesn't cover medical costs if you go on holiday overseas. (I'm not planning to be ill, I just want the same choices as everyone else!)

  5. Hello Monix. This is my first-time to you blog and feel obliged to offer a random distraction. I'd know you anywhere by your pinny. You do look like my mum! How is that? Crinny

  6. Dearest Crinny, at last, welcome! I may RESEMBLE your mother but please let it be understood that I am in no way old enough to be such!

    Come back soon xx


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!