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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 July 2007, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
'Cotton wool' childhood challenge
Adventure playground
Children need to be able to play outside, says Mr Balls
Children should be allowed to throw snowballs and play outdoors and should not be "wrapped in cotton wool", Schools Secretary Ed Balls has said.

Mr Balls, launching a consultation on child safety, said parents needed to identify real dangers without preventing children from "exploring".

But he warned that poorer children were much more likely to be hurt in accidents than wealthier counterparts.

"Children can learn from risk and parents must find a balance," he said.

Mr Balls, the children, schools and families secretary, says he wants a "common-sense" debate about how to improve the safety of children.

Real threats

"We want children to be protected from any sort of harm and abuse - but this does not mean that we should wrap our children in cotton wool," he said.

Ed Balls
Schools Secretary Ed Balls wants a "common sense" approach to risk

The nature of risks to childhood had changed, he said.

Traffic deaths among children had fallen since the 1990s, he added.

But parents might not be aware of other growing risks, such as their children finding unsuitable material on the internet.

Surveys suggested that, while 46% of children said they had given out personal information on the internet, only 5% of parents were aware that this had happened, said Mr Balls.

The consultation, Staying Safe, also provides a breakdown of the dangers that have caused children injury or death.

This suggests that, despite parental fears about the threat from strangers or violent attacks, such random incidents are extremely unusual.

Among children aged between one and 14, by far the most common causes of death were cancer, congenital illness and road accidents.

Pneumonia, drowning and epilepsy were all more likely to be a cause of death than murder.

Among children who have died through injury rather than illness, the largest number have died as a result of road accidents.

The schools secretary also said accidents and injuries in childhood were much more likely to affect the most deprived families and neighbourhoods.

And he suggested that initiatives such as Sure Start should be engaged in "outreach" work to give advice about improving home safety, such as fitting smoke alarms and stair-gates.

In families where parents are long-term unemployed, children are 13 times more likely to die from "unintentional injuries".

In the poorest postcodes, children were three times more likely to be hit by cars than in better-off areas.

Household accidents were also disproportionately more likely to affect the poor with children with unemployed parents 37 times more likely to die in a fire than children in professional families.

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