Here are some of the questions I’ve already been asked about this campaign, and my answers. If you’re new to the page, this is a good place to start.
Why do you want to fence playgrounds?
To provide young children with safe places to play in public, and to improve access for other children or families who may find it difficult to utilise unfenced public play spaces.
Isn’t that just absolving parents and caregivers of the responsibility of taking care of their kids?
No – the buck always stops with the supervising adults. However, children are denied the freedom to run around and enjoy themselves if the perceived risks of nearby traffic, dogs, open water, and other hazards prevent parents and caregivers from being able to leave them to play in peace.
Isn’t this just something that parents of younger children need to worry about?
Although Kiwi Play Safe primarily focuses on playgrounds for younger children, there are many circumstances where parents or caregivers may find it challenging to view unfenced playgrounds. Examples include:
- parents of multiple young children;
- in-home caregivers who typically supervise two to four young children;
- parents of children with special needs
- disabled parents;
- pregnant parents or caregivers; and
- grandparents supervising their grandchildren (either formally or informally).
Surely we don’t need to fence ALL playgrounds?
I agree: playgrounds for older children probably don’t need to be fenced (although I struggle to see the downside of fencing playgrounds as a general rule). I am primarily interested in fencing playgrounds aimed at younger children: the under-fives. An easy way to know whether a playground is intended for this age group is by looking at the equipment provided: if there are baby swings and small slides, it’s safe to say that the playground designer expected young children to use it.
Doesn’t this just sanitise playgrounds and remove all risk?
Risk is an essential part of play for younger children, and good playgrounds should (and do) provide it. However, the element of risk should come from within the playground – not from the area surrounding it. Kiwi Play Safe is not opposed to risk in play: it is opposed to unnecessary exposure to risk in the environment where play takes place.
But wouldn’t it be a huge job to fence ALL playgrounds with that kind of equipment?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the playgrounds won’t all be fenced in a day, either! I’d be satisfied with more fenced playgrounds for younger children – particularly as many suburbs and towns currently have NO fenced playgrounds for younger children. Ideally, no family with young children would be further than a five – ten minute drive of a good fenced playground. In a perfect world, we’d all be within walking distance of a fenced playground.
How would a council choose which playgrounds to fence first?
Councils are very good at figuring out things like this, so I don’t want to insult them by implying that they can’t devise their own strategies, but my suggestion would be to develop a risk assessment framework that took into account the target demographic for whom the playground was designed, and the presence of nearby risks (traffic, open water, dogs in the area, etc), and then ranked unfenced playgrounds and fenced them gradually.
What about shade sails in playgrounds? Surely that’s just as important?
I think shade sails in playgrounds are a very good idea, and I hope that other people who have been campaigning for them – such as Maria Foy at Happy Mum, Happy Child – have every success. It’s a hugely important issue, and the simplistic advice given as a substitute for shade sails (“put more sunscreen on your children”) is really not enough. From a pragmatic perspective one of the reasons why we need shade sails at playgrounds is because the summer sun makes play equipment too hot to use, which makes the playground itself an under-performing Council asset. You’d think that our local councils would prefer it if we could actually use the community facilities in which they invest our rates. However, I also understand why shade sails are a tough sell: they deteriorate, and can get vandalised, so they represent a sizeable investment.
I view fencing playgrounds as another important way that councils can ensure the public actually uses the facilities with which they’re provided. I have heard so many stories from parents about playgrounds that they actively avoid, because they’re too close to busy roads. Fencing playgrounds make them into useful – and used – spaces. And durable metal fencing with child-proof gates are physical assets that do not deteriorate easily, are difficult to vandalise, and require minimal maintenance: in other words, they represent a good return on investment.
How about campaigning for more public toilets by playgrounds?
Again, I agree that it would be great to have more loos by playgrounds. However, I can also recognise that adding public toilets represents significant capital expenditure for councils, and also incurs ongoing maintenance costs.
There is always room for other people to join with me (and with Maria and her shade sail campaign) to work with councils and improve our playgrounds. I’ll take care of the fencing battle, and anybody who wants to weigh in on the toilets should feel free!
Won’t it cost a lot to fence playgrounds?
Yes, there will be an initial cost involved for each playground. And I know that councils are already stretched thin, and that rate-payers don’t want to see their annual bills increased. However, all councils have priorities: this campaign is asking them to reassess how their prioritise the quality of public space provided within the community, and the value they place on the safety of young children.
Also, my background is in corporate-community engagement and community investment, and I have plenty of ideas for public-private partnerships to spread the cost.
If you have any unanswered questions please contact me via the ‘Kiwi Play Safe’ page on Facebook, or email me at kiwiplaysafe[@]gmail.com – or get in touch via the Contact page of this blog.