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Balancing rights and risks: the impact of health and safety regulations on the lives of children in residential care

Milligan, I.M. and Stevens, I. (2006) Balancing rights and risks: the impact of health and safety regulations on the lives of children in residential care. Journal of Social Work, 6 (3). pp. 239-254. ISSN 1468-0173

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This study explored the effect of health and safety policies relating to children in residential establishments and their impact on the opportunities of young people to enjoy activities like visits to the beach or hillwalking. Data were gathered by analysing one health and safety policy, interviews and questionnaires with managers and basic grade staff in five authorities across Scotland, and focus group discussions with 24 young people in care. The policy which was analysed for this study had been adapted from a wider health and safety policy used in schools. Its application to residential units restricted activities for children in care. Unit managers were concerned about the restrictive impact of the policies and procedures. Young people described a limited range of activities and questioned their relevance and scope. Basic grade staff were the only group to report that health and safety guidance was positive. However, reasons for this appeared to be related to staff prioritizing safety over the potential benefits of activities which may carry a small degree of risk. It is argued that health and safety guidance must be specific to the circumstances of small,‘homely’ residential care settings. Attitudes to risk must be informed by the developmental needs of children, and guidance should be reviewed to reflect this.