The newspaper headlines have sadly been shouting out at us for about a month now, since the hotter weather had us discarding our coats and heading to rivers, seas, streams and worryingly quarries.
Children are literally dying.. quite a few of them. They are not recognising the power of currents to pull you under in seconds. They are not heeding warning signs and even adults who may live inland are ignoring signs about tides and getting cut off and being rescued by coast guards.
I live right next to the sea on the N Wales coast. Having 4 sons, albeit there are 10 years between numbers 1 and 4, is no mean feat to feed and occupy during the school summer holidays. We haven't always lived by the coast, and my older sons early years were spent in Liverpool, so I have experience in occupying them in an inner city environment too. Once you add on the cost of buying the new school uniforms in August for the coming year, many parents do not have the money to constantly fund 6 weeks of fun days out. The larger the family, the worse it is.
Our local swimming pool charges £3.50 per child for a morning or afternoon swimming session of 2.5 hours. Times that by a few children, money for lockers and a drink afterwards, and maybe bus fare for teenagers and there goes £20 at least. Those families who live inland and are not as fortunate as my children in having a beach on the doorstep, may seek out the river for a cheap day out and a picnic. While parents juggle the childcare rota perhaps with relatives over the 6 weeks, it is perhaps easier to keep a tab on younger children. But what about the kids aged 12+? I know at that age we went off in a group to either the river or canal for the day and had a paddle if it got too hot. Ringing in our ears were the do's and don't s surrounding what we could get up to near water, and what was downright dangerous. Our parents trusted our ability to think for ourselves, and not to swim in the river, but to paddle about near the bank. Times have changed since the 70s/80s though. Stranger Danger has leapfrogged sage advice on the dangers of water in my opinion from parents.
Many councils run summer activities. But most of these are aimed at 5-11 year olds and after this age kids are "too cool" to participate anyway. My town council came up with a good idea to give free swimming to children who live here. You have to register at the town hall with a parent, complete a form and then you get a swimming pass for that day. However, the problem comes when the kids may want to go tomorrow and you have to go back to town with them and get another pass. Bit of a pain if you have to be at work before the Town Hall is open!
Lack of money to spend on summer outings, leads to hanging around and boredom for many children aged 11+. Coupled with the heat, rivers and canals are attractive places to cool down and so the trail of accidents occurs. Quarries are particularly dangerous places, as the water is deep and freezing cold. Already this summer there have been upwards of 10 preventable deaths of children reported in newspapers, as they did not understand the danger of currents. Many more have gone unreported.
The Government have already announced plans to allow schools to cut down the summer holiday. This is not the answer however. Why not use the schools,to co-ordinate summer activities? Youth Centres are being closed yet would be invaluable at this time of year as would dedicated PlayWorkers. Teenagers need dedicated facilities for,their age group only. They do not want to be in facilities where there are 5 year olds. Volunteers and parents themselves could perhaps help out on odd days to keep a facility running. Apart from the usual sports, pool, snooker, why not ask parents/grandparents to pass on a skill - cooking cupcakes, painting a room, replacing a plug, organising a party with a theme...Give young people skills needed to transfer to adult life.
The Government are fond of "Big Society". Children in families on low pay or on benefit need Youth Centres, Playschemes and more input, not less. Investment in our kids is a benefit to the whole of society. Instead of waking up tomorrow and learning of more needless deaths from drowning, ask yourself Mr Cameron, what your Government can do to inspire kids during the summer break? I know paying their parents a Living Wage would be a start so they could afford the odd summer outing or two, but heavy investment in Youth Centres is also needed.
Lack of disposable income is causing many of these summer deaths of children. Too high a price to pay.