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Preventing accidents in children under five

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Every parent wants their child to stay safe, but with many potential risks in the home to think about, accidents can happen easily and when we least expect them.

Unintentional injuries are one of the main causes of premature death and illness for children in England. Every year in England, 60 children under the age of five die from injuries in and around the home, which is one in twelve of all deaths of children aged one to four.

There are also 450,000 visits to A&E departments and 40,000 emergency hospital admissions in England each year because of accidents at home among under-fives.

There is also a strong link between child injuries and social deprivation - children from the most disadvantaged families are far more likely to be killed or seriously injured due to accidents.

And children from the most deprived areas have hospital admission rates 45% higher than children from the least deprived areas.

Preventing accidents is part of PHE’s priority to give children and young people the best start in life, and is also a high impact area for early years and health visiting professionals.

Whilst the latest data indicates that the number of unintentional injuries are decreasing, one child death that could have been prevented is still one too many.

We’ve produced a new guide with the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) that equips all staff who work with children under five to help reduce the number of deaths and injuries – so whether you work for a health service, early years education, play schemes, nurseries or are a childminder, this guide will help you help parents and carers keep their children safe from injuries.

A serious accident has the potential to cause life-changing disability and disfigurement. A toddler who gets a severe bath water scald will require years of painful skin grafts.

A fall at home can result in permanent brain damage. As well as the immediate physical impact, the injuries can have longer term effects on school readiness, education, employment, emotional wellbeing and family relationships.

There is also a financial impact of unintentional injuries. The economic cost to health and social care services is estimated at £36m a year for emergency hospital admissions alone.

The lifetime social care cost for just one child who suffers a severe traumatic brain injury at age three is £1.19m.

Fortunately, there is a great deal that can be done to reduce unintentional injuries among young children.

Preventative work can be low cost, with a tremendous return on investment in terms of preventable years of life lost and disability adjusted life years.

Supporting frontline staff

All staff who work with children in early years settings are ideally placed to help reduce childhood accidents. Through their contact with parents, they can equip them with a better understanding about child development and can help them to anticipate risks.

The guide we’ve produced with CAPT outlines injury issues for the under-fives, providing data, safety advice and safety messages for parents which can be communicated to parents.

It encourages all professionals delivering the Healthy Child Programme to make the most of their contacts with parents. It also advises that the Making Every Contact Count (MECC) approach is suitable for work on injury prevention.

The guide builds on an earlier report from PHE that outlines three key action areas for local leaders, commissioners and service managers:

  • Focus on tackling the leading, preventable causes of death and serious long-term harm to the under-fives.
  • Offer support and training to the early years workforce to strengthen its central role in helping to reduce unintentional injuries.
  • Provide leadership via focused planning and commissioning, and mobilise existing services, including partnership working across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Regional launch events

The new guide will be launched in March at four regional events hosted by the Child Accident Prevention Trust for  managers of public health, all early years staff and health visiting services:

The events will explore effective service delivery, so that evidence-based interventions are integrated into early years service specifications, and frontline staff are supported to build safety advice into routine contacts with parents.

Unintentional injuries to children under five are a serious and costly health issue. PHE’s resources suggest a number of approaches to reduce that burden.

I encourage frontline staff, and local leaders, commissioners and service managers to get involved in this programme of work.

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