Parents are well aware of the idea of using some type of protection to keep important things safe.
After all, we build our homes thinking about fire protection, with firewalls and smoke detectors, plug our computers into surge protectors, and use virus protection software on our computers.
The same type of protection, usually grouped into a layers of protection plan, can also help keep your kids safe.
Layers of Protection
Using a layers of protection approach to child safety means using more than type of child safety technique, barrier, or warning, as a protection against a specific hazard. That way, if one protective layer breaks down, then one of the other layers of protection will still be in place to keep your kids safe.
Of course these layers of protection aren't meant to keep your kids safe forever. They can buy you some time though if your child gets away from you for a few moments.
Although often used in connection with the pool safety campaigns of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it was mentioned as early as 1992 by Mark Widome, MD, who is on the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence & Poison Prevention.
Dr. Widome advised that "parents ought to appreciate the importance of applying multiple injury prevention strategies to a single category of risk, to provide children with layers of protection."
Layers of Protection for Water Safety
The concept of using layers of protection is often easiest to see when you think about water safety.
Consider some common drowning accidents:
- A 23-month-old in Redford Township near Detroit, Michigan, drowned by getting out of the house (the family was visiting friends) and climbing a ladder into an above-ground pool that only had about two feet of water in it.
- A 3-year-old drowned in La Plata, Maryland during a birthday party while several other people were in the pool. When some started to get out of the pool, they noticed the child at the bottom of the deep end of the pool.
- An 8-year-old drowned in a busy community pool near Indianapolis, IN.
To help prevent these types of drownings, the CPSC and the AAP recommend a layers of protection plan for water and pool safety, that includes:
- close, constant, direct supervision of small children near water, whether it is a lake, pond, in-ground pool, spa, large portable pool, small wading pool, bathtub, or even a large bucket of water, etc.
- closer "touch supervision" whenever an infant, toddler, or older child who is a weak swimmer is in the water, meaning that you are within an arm's length of the child at all times.
- installing a climb resistant isolation fence (a 4-sided fence that doesn't allow direct access to the pool from inside the house) around backyard pools with a self-closing and self-latching gate.
- adding a door alarm so that you know if your kids get out of the house and into the backyard, especially if your house makes up one of the four sides of the fence around your pool. A gate or pool alarm might also be useful.
- making younger children wear a coast guard approved personal floatation device if they don't know how to swim well and not just air-filled arm floaties. They should wear their personal floatation device whenever they are by the water, even if they are not swimming.
- teaching kids to learn to swim, especially once they are 4-years-old, keeping in mind that knowing how to swim does not make your child drown-proof.
- learning CPR, having a floatation device, and a telephone by the pool in case there is an emergency.
- emptying buckets of water, the bathtub, small kiddie wading pools, and other things with water when you are not using them.
How do the layers of protection work to reduce the risks of a drowning?
Consider a house with a fully childproofed pool. It has a 4-sided fence with a self-closing and self-latching gate. The door leading to the backyard is childproofed so that the twin toddlers who live in the home can't open it. During a recent pool party, they even have a designated adult watching the kids in the pool.
When that person has to go to the bathroom, she asks someone else to take over. The new watcher isn't as responsible though and gets distracted when he gets a phone call (one layer gone). One of the twins who had been inside, decides she wants to swim again. She walks to the backyard right through the door that someone had left open (another layer gone), through the open gate (yet another layer gone), and jumps into the pool without anyone seeing her.
The gate to the pool had been propped open during the party because people got tired of opening it every time they went from the pool to the house, and unfortunately, this breakdown in pool safety is a common way that kids drown. Fortunately, because the parents were using a layers of protection plan, the child was still safe, as she was still wearing her personal flotation device.
Layers of Protection for Home Safety
How can the layers of protection protect your kids at home?
For one thing, you can simply get rid of some of the things that are unsafe around kids, such as poisonous plants, unused household cleaners or poisons, and recalled products.
Next, add a few extra layers of protection when childproofing the house, since you can't be expected to supervise your kids every second of the day:
- install child-resistant door knob covers so that kids can't get into rooms that are hard to child proof, like the bathroom
- set the temperature of your hot water heater to 120 degrees, so that if your child does get into the bathroom and turns on the water he won't get burned
- store household cleaners and other poisonous substances in a high, out of reach location and then put a child-resistant lock on the cabinet for an extra layer of protection
- place TVs and other appliances on stable furniture that won't easily tip over, but as an extra layer of protection, anchor both the TV and furniture to the wall
- lock your car so that your kids can't get back in (hot cars, especially getting trapped in the trunk, is a common hidden danger for kids), and then secure your keys for an extra layer of protection
The layers of protection idea can even apply to car safety, In addition to an age appropriate car seat, booster seat, or seat belts, and keeping your kids in the back seat until they are at least 13-years-old, you can add to your family's safety in the car by not getting distracted talking on your phone or texting.
What extra layers of protection can you add to other risks in and around your home?
American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Prevention of Drowning. PEDIATRICS Vol. 126 No. 1 July 2010, pp. 178-185.
Widome, Mark D. Injury Illiteracy. Pediatrics 1992; 89:6 1091-1093.