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Waiting for the council

November 3, 2011

Better do it yourself

A curious story in the Evening Standard today.  Read it here. The mother of Giovanni Peddie, a 14 year old boy who fell to his death from a tower block in April, is blaming the local council for not fitting proper window locks.  Nothing too surprising in that.

But Luanda Peddie who, with her husband Tony, a mature student studying social work, has four other children aged between 11 months and nine, is also reported to have said; “Nothing has been done to fix the windows since.”

If true, that is an incredible indictment – of the Peddies.   Have Luanda and Tony really not fixed the window themselves?  In six months?  Are they so lacking in gumption that, even after losing a child to a tragedy like this, they cannot pop down to Homebase and buy a window catch?  I do hope poor Mrs Peddie has been misreported, and that her husband has fitted some window locks.

But it set me thinking.  People used not to expect the council to keep them safe.  And they were wise not to.  You can’t rely on the council.

I’m reminded of a lovely research trial done in Nottingham a few years ago by my colleague Denise Kendrick.  Denise randomly allocated families living in council houses to receive “a standardised safety consultation and provision of free and fitted stair gates, fire guards, smoke alarms, cupboard locks, and window locks”.  An equal number of control households did not get the advice or the guards.

She then counted the number of children seen with injuries in hospital or general practices over the subsequent two years.  There was a trend towards more injuries in the home safety advice and guards group!  The difference could have occurred by chance.   Except for injuries treated in primary care which were statistically significantly increased by the safety advice and equipment!  It was published in the BMJ.  Read the full report here.   It’s a lovely piece of research.

Nor is it an isolated finding.  There have been many such trials, and they have been reviewed many times.  Overall there is no reduction in childhood injury from the nanny state fitting safety devices in the home.  No effect.

The reason is presumably that parents behave differently when the devices are fitted.  The are more likely to leave children unattended I guess, and the kids climb over the guards.  Something like that.

Of course councils still provide safety devices.  Councillors don’t have to pay for them, they want votes, and they want to be seen to be doing something. Similarly health visitors and social workers are all paid a nice salary to give them out.  But we should not fool ourselves into thinking the do-gooders are making life safer.  They’re not.

If you want to keep your children safe, do it yourself.

Jim Thornton

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