Child safety

Child safety is an important aspect of the early years agenda and affects the whole of the workforce. It is now recognised that unintentional injury is one of the main causes of childhood death and is the most common cause of emergency hospital admissions in children under 15 years of age, thereby contributing significantly to quality of life and outcomes for children.

Child safety and inequalities in the early years

Rates of hospital admission and deaths resulting from unintentional injuries are highest among Scotland's most deprived children.

A range of interventions can increase awareness of dangers and improve child safety.

Quick links:

What are health inequalities?

The World Health Organisation defines health inequalities as "differences in health status or in the distribution of health determinants between different population groups."

For a fuller discussion, please see Inequalities in the early years.

Policy context

Activity in this area is consistent with commitments and priorities detailed in the Early Years Framework and the National Parenting Strategy, Equally WellAchieving our Potential, the Curriculum for Excellence, a range of NHS Scotland's Quality Indicators and is relevant to Scotland's national practice model for child-centred services - Getting it Right for Every Child (all external links).

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child enshrines the right of children to be protected from injury and negligent treatment (Article 19) and requires signatory states to ensure children and parents are educated in child health and prevention of accidents (Article 24).

The Scottish Government has also set 15 national outcomes including:

  • Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed
  • We have improved the life chances for children, young people and families at risk
  • We live our lives free from crime, disorder and danger

For more information on evidence-based health improvement and the work of NHS Health Scotland, see: A Fairer Healthier Scotland (external link).

How do inequalities relate to unintentional injuries in children?

Unintentional injuries are one of the leading causes of death and disability in young children. They can occur in the home, at school, on the road and during play and recreation. Children under 5 years of age are most at risk from injuries in the home than in other areas.

As children grow and develop they are exposed to a range of hazards that may increase the risk of experiencing an unintentional injury.

While the pattern of risk factors associated with unintentional injury in children is dependent upon the setting in which injury occurs and the type of injury, the risk of unintentional injuries increases with age (more liekly in younger children), gender (more likely in boys) and low socio-economic status / socio-economic deprivation.

(ISD Scotland - Unintentional Injuries Report 2010 (external link); Evidence Summary: Public health interventions to prevent unintentional injuries among the under 15s (PDF Download - 589KB)).

Preventing unintentional injuries in the home

Given children’s vulnerability to environmental hazards, it is important to minimise their exposure to these in their home, surrounding neighbourhoods, nurseries and child care facilities.

Children under five years are more likely to experience injuries in the home (e.g. falls, burns and scalds, and poisoning) than in other locations.

Barriers to preventing injury in the home

  • Faulty or poor equipment.
  • The cost of installing and maintaining equipment.
  • Living in accommodation that cannot be modified (e.g. rented accommodation).
  • A lack of professional knowledge about policy or home safety support services.
  • Policy and legal barriers, e.g. the poor enforcement of legislation.

Effective interventions to reduce unintentional injuries

Efforts to prevent unintentional injuries should balance the potential risks against the benefits that children experience, particularly in outdoor play and leisure activities.

Those delivering interventions should always be mindful of situations where mothers (or other primary carers) lack the autonomy to make major household changes or decisions about household purchases.

These include:

  • The provision of home safety advice.
  • Free or discounted appropriate safety equipment that is supplied and fitted (e.g. smoke alarms, safety gates) to families at high risk of unintentional injury.
  • Education and information about general child development.

Factors that enable effective injury prevention programmes in the home include:

  • Strong policy drivers and legislation (e.g. around child resistant containers).
  • Partnership and collaboration between service providers in low-income communities.
  • An understanding of the reasons behind a family’s failure to comply (e.g. living in a home that they are not free to modify).
  • Promoting and encouraging the safeguarding role of mothers.

Evidence Summary: Public health interventions to prevent unintentional injuries among the under 15s (PDF Download - 589KB), Early Years Effective Interventions Paper (external link)).

Providing information and support to parents

The 2012 Health Scotland paper, Exploration of the information support needs of parents(external link), was the result of in-depth work with 132 parents from across Scotland.

It found that parents preferred 'personal, empathetic support from individuals in dealing with their specific needs for information and support on child health and parenting'.

Three overarching themes emerged:

  1. Parent information/support is undermined when parents feel marginalised
  2. ‘Trust’ shapes how information is sought, received and used
  3. Parents respond most positively to personalised information and support.

Among its recommendations, the report emphasises the need for:

  • continuing professional development for staff to enable them to present more personalised information and support
  • alternative formats, products and services that more fully take account of the needs, views and preferences of young mothers, fathers and parents with literacy issues
  • increased opportunities for face-to-face peer support and virtual social networks.

A Pathway of Care for Vulnerable Families (0-3) (external link) sets out key contact points and interactions for those working with vulnerable families of younger children.

Child protection, abuse and neglect

This section deals with unintentional injury.

For information on abuse and neglect, please see our section on Abuse, neglect and gender-based violence.


back to top

Articles in this topic

  • Article

    2016 BMJ Awards commendation for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

    2016 BMJ Awards commendation for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

    • When was this last updated? 6/14/2016
  • Article

    Blind Cord Safety

    Guidance for blind cord safety. A RoSPA campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of loose blind cords.

    • When was this last updated? 12/13/2013
  • Article

    Child protection guidance

    This guidance sets out principles of how all services working with children and their families should work together to ensure the protection and well-being of children in Scotland.

    • When was this last updated? 5/22/2013
  • Article

    Child safety and the early years workforce

    Various ways for the early years workforce to prevent childhood injury.

    • When was this last updated? 5/22/2013
  • Article

    Child Safety Week 2016- Action Pack

    6-12 June is Child Safety Week 2016. Each year Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) produce an Action Pack for partner organisations. It is full of ideas on running events and activities for Child Safety Week. Download it now -

    • When was this last updated? 4/22/2016
  • Article

    Children's Traffic Skills

    The Rotterdam Norms give recommendations for children's traffic skills according to age.

    • When was this last updated? 5/22/2013
  • Article

    How can I help address inequalities and prevent child injuries?

    How can I help address inequalities and prevent child injuries?

    • When was this last updated? 12/13/2013
  • Article

    Liquitab detergents

    Early Years professionals should be aware of the importance of storing chemical items, such as laundry detergents, in a lockable cupboard, out of the reach of children, both within their establishment and to raise awareness with parents.

    • When was this last updated? 1/20/2014
  • Article

    Preventing accidents for families with low literacy

    Preventing accidents for families with low literacy

    • When was this last updated? 9/10/2015
  • Article

    Summer safety made easy

    The Child Accident Prevention Trust brings you essential safety messages to share with parents and carers. This article offers simple reminders to help keep this summer fun.

    • When was this last updated? 7/22/2015
  • Article

    World Report on Child Injury Prevention

    The World Health Organization’s World Report on Child Injury Prevention (2007) demonstrates that all initiatives to improve child mortality and morbidity, as well as the general wellbeing of children.

    • When was this last updated? 5/22/2013


Professional support materials

Information for the public

  • External Resource


    ChildLine is a 24 hour counseling service for children and young people up to and including 18 in the UK provided by The NSPCC.

    • When was this published? 9/20/2013
  • External Resource

    Go Safe Scotland

    This website provides resources for working with early years children regarding fire, home, outdoor, water and digital safety.

    • When was this published? 11/30/2014
  • External Resource

    Good Egg guides for safety in the home and car

    This website contains information for parents about keeping children safe and preventing injuries, at home and in the car.

    • When was this published? 9/27/2010
  • External Resource

    National Child Protection line

    This helpline is for anyone who is worried about the safety or wellbeing of a child.

    • When was this published? 5/6/2013
  • External Resource

    Ready Steady Toddler!

    A website for the public with information, tips and advice for bringing up toddlers.

    • When was this published? 9/30/2010
  • External Resource

    Road Safety Scotland: Go safe with Ziggy

    This website provides learning materials, stories and games for children, designed to help them learn about road safety. It also offers teaching resources for parents and educators.

    • When was this published? 9/27/2010
  • External Resource

    The Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT)

    The Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) is the UK’s leading charity which aims to reduce the number of children killed, disabled or seriously injured in accidents that can be prevented.

    • When was this published? 12/13/2013
  • External Resource

    Violence reduction posters and leaflets

    The Violence Reduction Unit has a range of posters available which are free to download and can be amended, leaflets targeting parents and children are available which details simple, everyday ways for parents to help to reduce the risk of violence in a child’s life.

    • When was this published? 5/23/2013
  • External Resource

    With Scotland

    With Scotland is a national resource for the benefit of everyone involved in protecting children. The Multi-Agency Resource Service (MARS) and the Scottish Child Care and Protection Network (SCCPN) have joined forces to develop stronger connections between child, adult and public protection.

    • When was this published? 4/15/2013
  • External Resource

    You and your little child

    Book for parents with learning disabilities with children aged 1 - 5 years. This book is available free of charge to Early Years professionals in Scotland from NHS Health Scotland as an alternative to Ready Steady Toddler! To order contact

    • When was this published? 2/15/2011