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Children can often be harmed in accidents. Most of these can be prevented. What parents do to keep children safe in Australia may be different to your homeland. It’s important that parents:
- make their home and yard safe for children
- make sure that children are well supervised
- help children learn how to keep themselves safe.
In Australia, accidents are the biggest cause of death and injury for children under 15 years. Most injuries to young children happen at home.
Make your home safe
Make your home and yard safe by:
- removing things such as sharp objects that could hurt children
- keeping medicines and poisons locked away
- putting up barriers to unsafe places such as swimming pools or open fires
- keeping emergency numbers near the phone.
One of the best ways to keep children safe is to keep a close watch on them at all times. If you can’t be with your children, make sure they’re with someone you trust.
Teach children about safety
Telling children about danger is not enough. Very young children don’t understand they can be hurt. Show children how to do things safely. Always do things the safe way yourself so they learn from you.
The most common things that cause injury or death of children are:
- road accidents
- burns and scalds
- choking and suffocating
Parents can be taken to court if a child is harmed from being left alone or not well supervised. The Police or Families SA can remove children from the home or other places where they are in serious danger.1
In some cultures children are cared for by older brothers and sisters. If you leave children with someone, you must be sure they know what to do in an emergency.
They need to know:
- where you are going, when you will be back and how to contact you
- the address and phone number of the house in case they need to get help
- to call 000 for police, fire or ambulance in an emergency.
Smoking is harmful to health. If you smoke around children they breathe in the smoke and this harms them. The best thing you can do for children is stop smoking. It’s also best to stop if you or your partner is pregnant.
Quitting can be hard to do. People often try many times before they stop for good. Call the Quitline on 13 78 48 for help.
It is against the law in South Australia to smoke in a car if there are children under 16 years oldwith you.2
Under Australian law, drivers can be fined and lose points from their licence if anyone in the car is not restrained properly.3
This means that:
- adults, including pregnant women, must wear a seat-belt
- babies up to at least six months of age must be in the back seat in a rearward-facing restraint or ‘baby capsule’
- children from 6 months to 4 years must be in either a rearward-facing baby restraint or a forward-facing child safety seat with an in-built harness
- children under 4 years must travel in the back seat of the car. Children between 4 and 7 years must travel in either a forward facing child safety seat or a booster seat
- children between 4 and 7 years must only ride in the front if younger children are taking up all places in the back seat.
All child restraints must meet Australian Standards. If using a restraint that is not new make sure it meets the Standard, that it is less than 10 years old and is in good order.
Driving with children
- you always stop the car when you need to attend to a child
- there is nothing loose on the dashboard or seats that could hurt a child if there is a crash
- you secure big or heavy items
- your child gets in and out of the car on the footpath side, away from the traffic
- the child-proof locks are turned on so children can’t get out of the car when it is moving.
Leaving children in cars
It’s dangerous to leave children or babies alone in a car, even for a short time. Parked cars can quickly get very hot. Children can die.
Teach children road safety
It takes time for a child to learn how to be safe on the road. Don’t expect them to get it right all the time until at least 10 years of age. It’s important to:
- always keep a close watch on children near traffic
- hold the hand of children under 5 when crossing roads
- teach children aged 5 to 9 years to cross roads using the ‘stop, look, listen and think’ rules. Set a good example and do this yourself. Explain road signs and where it is safe to cross the road
- never call your child from the other side of the road
- never leave your child alone in the driveway. When moving
- the car secure them in the back seat.
Safety on bikes
When children are using bikes, make sure they:
- know the road rules
- ride a bike that is safe and works well
- wear a helmet – this is the law. Make sure helmets meet the Australian standard
- are supervised on bikes until they are at least 10 years old
- only ride in daylight and wear bright clothes
- don’t ride with a second person on the bike.
These safety tips also apply for roller skates, scooters and skateboards.
Most children who drown are under 4 years old. Children can drown in a home bath, swimming pool, rain water tank, river, dam, fish pond or at the beach. Even things with just a little bit of water are a risk. Make sure you:
- always keep a close watch on children around water, and don’t drink alcohol
- get rid of hazards, for example leave baths or buckets empty when not in use
- put fences around swimming pools. These need to meet Australian laws4
- teach children how to swim but still watch them all the time
- learn to swim yourself and learn how to resuscitate. Quick action in the first few minutes can save a life.
- fall off furniture
- fall off play equipment
- be dropped by someone holding them
- fall over when running.
Don’t leave young children alone on a bed or change table when changing nappies, in a high chair, or when playing on outdoor play equipment.
Children can be harmed by eating or drinking poisons at home. Keep cleaning or garden products, cigarettes, alcohol and medicines in locked cupboards or where children can’t reach them. Never store cleaning products or other harmful substances in drink bottles. Children may drink them by mistake.
If you think your child has swallowed something harmful, call the 24-hour Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26. It helps to have the poison bottle with you when you call.
Children are often burned by hot tea or coffee, hot foods, hot tap water, or by heaters or fires. Keep young children away from these. Teach them not to touch or go near stoves, heaters, hot water and flames. Don’t have hot drinks near you when holding your baby.
Reduce the risk of a fire in your home by:
- practicing a fire safety plan with the whole family
- keeping matches and lighters out of the reach of children and making sure cigarette butts are put out
- having smoke alarms near the sleeping areas, and checking them often
- staying in the kitchen when there are pots cooking on the stove
- not leaving candles burning
- checking that the electrical wiring in the house is safe
- putting a guard around open fires or heaters.
Babies and young children can choke on small or hard pieces of food. Foods such as raw carrots, celery sticks or apples should be grated, cooked or mashed. Keep foods such as popcorn, nuts, hard lollies, corn chips or whole grapes away from young children. Sausages and frankfurts should be cut into small pieces and tough skins removed.
Children love to put things in their mouth. It is one of the ways they learn. This means small objects are a big risk, including toys with small parts and small button batteries. Button batteries can be in TV remote controls, watches, games or children’s toys. They can cause internal burns within 2 hours if they get stuck.
Take your child to the Emergency Department of your nearest hospital if you think they have swallowed a button battery or other small object.
Babies can sometimes die in their sleep. Keep babies safe by:
- sleeping them on their back, not on their tummy or side
- making sure their face and head is not covered
- keeping them smoke free before and after birth
- sleeping them in a cot next to your bed for the first 6–12 months. Don’t sleep with them on a bed, lounge chair, couch or bean bag
- using a safe cot that meets the Australian Standards. Make sure it is away from any blinds with cords, that the mattress is a snug fit and the bedding is tucked in well.
At times children are harmed or die as a result of physical or sexual assault, or from neglect by families. Child abuse and neglect is against the law.
If you think your child is in danger, call the Police on 000 or the Child Abuse Report Line on 13 14 78.
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. The sun can burn you in less than 15 minutes even if it is cloudy or not very hot. Sunlight through the glass of car windows can burn too.
The sun is most harmful from September to April. During these months:
- keep your children in the shade where possible, especially between 10 am and 3 pm
- make sure they wear a shady hat and loose, cool clothing that covers their skin
- use small amounts of sunscreen (30+ SPF) that is labelled “for toddlers or children”.
We all need some sun on our skin to get enough Vitamin D for strong and healthy bones. In summer, people with fair skin need a few minutes of sunlight each day on their face, arms and hands. This should be before 10 am or after 3 pm. In winter people need about two to three hours a week of sunlight on their face, hands and arms.
People with dark skin or those who cover themselves for religious or cultural reasons may not get enough Vitamin D from the sun. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about your child’s Vitamin D levels.
Pets can be a big part of family life in Australia but there can be risks. Keep a close watch on children under 5 when they are around dogs and cats. If you can’t do this it’s best to keep pets and young children apart.
Don’t let dogs or cats sleep in a young child’s room. They could smother the child.
1 Children’s Protection Act 1993
2 Tobacco Products Regulation Act 1997
3 Road Traffic Act 1961
4 Minister’s Specification SA 76D; Swimming Pools Safety Act 1972