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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 08 June 2016

Agenda: Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, Queensferry Crossing, Named Person Policy, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time, Child Safety Week 2016


Contents


Child Safety Week 2016

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00070, in the name of Clare Adamson, on child safety week 2016. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 6 to 12 June has been designated Child Safety Week 2016 by the Child Accident Prevention Trust; notes that the theme will be Turn off Technology and the week will aim to highlight the risks of accidents being caused by people being distracted, such as when using a mobile phone while crossing the road; understands that accidental injury accounts for one in 20 of all childhood deaths in Scotland and one in eight of all emergency hospital admissions for children, and recognises the work of organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, in promoting safety awareness for Scotland’s children.

17:41  

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I am delighted to lead this evening’s debate on child safety week 2016 and I thank my colleagues across the chamber, many of whom are new faces, for their support, which has allowed it to go ahead. I welcome to the public gallery members of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, which promotes child safety week, and other members of the proposed cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness.

As well as having many new faces in the chamber, we have a new face in the Presiding Officer’s seat and a new minister to respond to this evening’s debate. I congratulate both Ms Fabiani and Ms Ewing on their appointments. What is not new is that Clare Adamson MSP is on her feet in the Parliament talking about safety issues, but I make no apology for that. I hope that I have the minister’s forbearance for the frequent and many responses that will be demanded of her over the new session of Parliament.

Why such persistence on my part? For me, safety, and especially child safety, is a social justice issue. Unintentional injury is one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity throughout life, and for children it remains the leading cause of death. Recent ISD Scotland statistics show that children and adults in the most deprived areas are most likely to have an emergency admission—it is 19 per cent more likely for children and 40 per cent more likely for adults. In addition, the most recent statistics show that one child death in 12 is caused by unintentional injury. That is why I welcome the efforts of the Child Accident Prevention Trust to promote safety awareness in child safety week.

I hope that members will take an opportunity to stop by the CAPT exhibition in the Parliament this week and, if they are very brave, to take the Bitrex challenge. There is a wealth of information in the exhibition about how to support and promote child safety.

The theme of this year’s child safety week—turn off technology—highlights the dangers that arise when parents, carers and young people are distracted by mobile technology or music on earphones. In a recent survey by the Child Accident Prevention Trust, one parent in four admitted that their child has had an accident or near miss while being distracted by using a mobile phone, and more than two thirds of parents—69 per cent—said that they are distracted by their mobile phone, with more than three quarters confessing that they usually check texts and posts as soon as they come in through mobile notification systems.

That is a startling statistic, and we know that such behaviour is rubbing off on children. One in six children and young people suffers an accident or near miss, for example by stepping out into the road without looking, while they are on their mobile phone—and in the London area the proportion rises to almost one in four.

Child safety week will equip families with knowledge about the risk to children of serious accident and about simple steps that they can take to prevent accidents. The Child Accident Prevention Trust is undertaking a number of different events throughout Scotland and visiting nurseries, young people and families to share its message and its toolkit for child accident prevention, which is available on its website.

Many people have commented on the importance of the issue. Dr Clarissa Quinnell, a junior doctor at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Accidents often happen when we’re distracted and mobile phones are increasingly to blame—whether it’s a teenager stepping out into traffic while instant messaging or a baby grabbing at a hot drink or biting into a liquitab while their parent is replying to a text.”

The cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness has covered many of the issues. Many professionals know only too well the devastating and life-limiting consequences for young people that accidents can have. For example, a young toddler might instinctively grab hair straighteners, suffering burns that restrict the use of their hand for the rest of their life.

I come to this debate from experience. Dr Quinnell mentioned young people who step out into traffic. In 2006, my 15-year-old niece Mhairi stepped out into traffic around the barrier at a crossing and was killed. I do not know whether she was listening to music or had her mobile phone in her hand, but I know that all the research tells us that teenagers have immature brains and that their approach to risk taking is not developed as an adult’s is, so they are vulnerable in such situations.

That is why, tonight and on every occasion that I can do, I stand up to urge parents and carers to heed the safety messages that come from CAPT and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which is also represented in the public gallery this evening. I urge people to heed the Government’s great messages about road safety and safety at home. I urge people to heed what trading standards staff, the Electrical Safety Council and all the other people who are expert in the area say, so that we can seek to protect our young people, our children and our families from the devastating effects of unintentional injury.

17:47  

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

Presiding Officer, it is a great honour to stand and give my first speech to this chamber. With your forbearance, however, I will say a few words about the Lothians the next time I am called to speak, because given the short time that we have for this debate I do not want to take anything away from the importance of the subject matter.

I congratulate Clare Adamson on securing this debate on her motion on the Child Accident Prevention Trust’s child safety week 2016, and I welcome people from the cross-party group and elsewhere. I know from reading reports and talking to colleagues that Clare has a long-standing interest in child safety and a good record of raising the matter in the Parliament.

The theme of this year’s child safety week—turn off technology—is particularly current, given the widespread use of smartphones, iPhones and other technologies. As we are all aware, new technologies can be useful and enjoyable and can make our lives easier, but it is right to highlight that they are sometimes distracting and even dangerous. That was recognised when the use of mobile phones while driving was banned, and many workplaces have guidance on the use of mobile phones during the working day.

The campaign is useful, because it draws attention to the risks of an adult becoming distracted by technology while looking after children and young folk, and it focuses on how to prevent avoidable accidents.

I understand that the trust published results of a survey that found that two thirds of people in Scotland said they had been distracted by their phone, and 40 per cent of younger parents admitted that their child had experienced an accident or near miss while they were using their phone. The survey also discovered that around one in eight people has suffered an accident or near miss themselves when using their phones, such as stepping on to a road without looking.

The survey demonstrates the importance of the trust choosing to focus on technology. With regard to the findings on young people being distracted from their safety when using phones, it confirms the importance of road safety campaigns that are aimed at them.

It is welcome that the trust says that its safety week is about

“helping families make informed decisions ... rather than wrapping children up in cotton wool.”

It seems that sometimes families are bombarded with hundreds of messages on how to best parent their children. While many of these are undoubtedly useful, it can sometimes become overwhelming and the message gets lost in all the noise.

Working alongside families and community groups might help to ensure that this message reaches parents and offers practical solutions. We need to look at how we do car seat checking for children, how we provide first aid training for parents and how we give smart tips on how families can be empowered to look after their children. Those are important and sometimes difficult issues, and we need to get the message out.

I thank Clare Adamson once again for bringing this issue to the chamber. I congratulate the Child Accident Prevention Trust for its hard work in organising this week, and I wish it well today and in the future. [Applause.]

17:52  

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Clare Adamson on securing an early members’ business debate in the new session on a subject that is close to her heart.

The vast majority of parents love their children unconditionally and would do anything in their power to try to protect them from harm. Indeed, nobody prepares you for the love that you are going to feel for your child and neither do they prepare you for the fear that comes with it.

Quite easily the best day in my life was 20 years ago when my son Vann was born, and I can still remember that as if it were yesterday. When he moved up my stomach to latch on and breast feed, it was quite simply magical. Then the worry started. Was be putting on enough weight, would I crush him in bed during the night feeding him, would a wasp get into his pram when we went for a walk?

Then he was toddling. Even with stair gates and electrical socket covers and constant watching, that is still a worry. One of the worst days of my life was when he tumbled downstairs at my mum’s; thankfully he was unharmed.

Then there were the school years. Should he be allowed to walk on his own, should he be allowed to cycle, should he be allowed to go away to Kilbowie outdoor centre for a whole week? That was a life-changing experience. Vann came back with increased confidence and he seemed to have grown up in a week. There were dangers of course, but they were minimised by staff and supervision.

During those primary years, there were all sorts of dangers, not least the possibility of being bitten by a snake or a tarantula during an Animal Man mini-zoo birthday party. That did not happen, and it is a very safe, fun and informative thing for people to do.

One big problem for me was ensuring that my son was watching age-appropriate movies and playing age-appropriate video games. Too many of his friends’ parents seemed to think that “Grand Theft Auto”, for example, was appropriate for 12-year-olds.

Then we come to the teen years—swimming, rugby, football—with all the accompanying injuries. I spent quite a few hours over the years at the accident and emergency department at Monklands general hospital with various breaks and sprains.

All sorts of dangers could arise, and you have to hope that your child, while pushing the boundaries and gaining new experiences, will be careful and will keep safe. Unfortunately, that does not happen in all cases. Last Friday, I awarded prizes at the Waysiders Drumpellier Rugby Football Club midi and mini section dinner. We spent a minute applauding the memory of a young player who had lost his life by drowning. We cannot overestimate the importance of teaching children about the dangers of water from a young age.

Sadly, children living in the most deprived areas of Scotland are at greater risk of death and injury from preventable accidents. The Child Accident Prevention Trust website points out that the growing up in Scotland study advises that family adversity is significantly associated with children experiencing three or more accidents requiring medical attention during the first five years of life. The website also reports that professionals are keen on the fun elements of child safety week as it helps them to get safety messages across effectively, particularly to vulnerable families. Further, it helps to build resilience by reminding parents about what they can do.

As Clare Adamson pointed out, this year’s theme is turn off technology. That can cover a range of dangers to be aware of—for example, online threats such as bullying; unsuitable games, which I have mentioned; and, of course, crossing roads while listening to music on mobile phones. I hope that raising awareness through debates such as this one can not only help with the turn off technology theme but encourage projects and groups that work in deprived areas, including many across the Central Scotland region, to sign up to child safety week and help to narrow the inequalities gap in child safety.

No matter how much we want to care for and protect our children, accidents happen. However, by being aware of dangers, we can help to keep our kids safe and minimise the risks. Of course, as parents, we will always worry. My son is away just now on his first trip alone to visit a friend of his who is at uni in the United States. Even though he is 20, I am still as anxious as I was when he was two and I hope that he is not crossing roads with his mobile on.

We can only hope that we have made our kids aware of obvious dangers. We can try to anticipate the threats to their health and safety, and child safety week helps parents to do that by raising awareness of serious childhood accidents and how to prevent them.

Once again, I congratulate Clare Adamson on securing the debate—I believe that the debate can only help in that aim of raising awareness.

17:56  

David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I thank Clare Adamson for securing the debate.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

That is a quotation from Nelson Mandela and it encapsulates the importance of child safety in our society.

In Scotland, a small number of children do not live past their first birthday. Some of those deaths, unfortunately, are through accidents, which are often preventable. Such accidents generally happen when we are disengaged, preoccupied and inattentive. We are all members of a community and we all play a role, whether as parents, teachers, police officers or community members, in ensuring that all children in our communities are safe. As community members, we hold that position of trust.

I welcome the opportunity to speak about this year’s theme—turn off technology. I thank the Child Accident Prevention Trust for inviting the public to sign up for a free child safety week toolkit and for providing practical resources and countrywide events to inspire families to participate in safer practices.

Accidental injury accounts for one in 12 of all childhood deaths and one in eight of all emergency hospital admissions for children. The figures are especially high in areas of deprivation. The toolkit is a way of encouraging communication between parents and children on the use of safer technologies. It provides picture books on how to use technology safely that will appeal to younger children as well as information packs targeted at adults on what to do if their child is in a technology-related accident. That is especially important for children under six, who are most at risk of accidentally swallowing small objects.

By putting away our smartphones, computers and tablets and keeping electrical appliances out of reach when we are around children, we can devote our full attention to our younger children to ensure their safety.

Regardless of where they live, every child needs and deserves the same level of safety. I am proud of the many services relating to child safety in my constituency. The Fife child protection committee aims to provide a safe environment for every child. Abuse of children can take many forms, including physical neglect as a result of technology. Technology is an integral part of the life of both parents and children, whether at home, school or work. The child protection committee provides information on the risks that those technologies can pose to children as well as the resources that are available to minimise those risks.

Barnardo’s has a strong presence in Fife with its child and family support services, providing eight different services ranging from the provision of a family carer to children’s rights and mental and physical wellbeing. The Kirkcaldy area works with a range of organisations such as the Playfield institute, Victim Support Fife, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, the Internet Watch Foundation and NHS Fife. Fife care services provide safety advisers to visit homes with children under five or vulnerable adults, identify areas of danger and give advice on how to make homes more child friendly through the safer use of technology.

The theme for 2016 is turn off technology. In 2015, more people died globally from taking selfies than from shark attacks. By simply turning off notification sounds on smartphones when returning home from work, setting aside a limited time for computer use, and ensuring that electrical appliances are out of reach, parents can create a safer environment for their children. That not only allows parents to devote more attention to their children but teaches children that they are the focus of attention and encourages quality family time in the home. Parents also set an example for young people by avoiding texting or using phones while driving.

Most important, the accusation that technology is destroying the art of conversation might hold some truth. Children look to us for guidance and as role models; therefore it is up to us and our communities to provide them with images of safety. Child safety week is a truly educational campaign, targeting both adults and children. Last year, child safety week events and activities reached more than 9,000 children, young people, parents and carers across Scotland. With the greater enthusiasm shown this week, we can keep more children safe from accidents.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Clare Adamson for bringing this motion before Parliament today. It is such an important issue. I wish child safety week continued success for its future, as every child deserves to live in the safest environment possible.

18:00  

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

I, too, add my thanks to Clare Adamson and put on the record the fact that it is her dedicated and attentive service to this issue that encouraged me to join the associated proposed cross-party group.

I was shocked when I read the statistic that one in 20 of all childhood deaths in Scotland is preventable. New technology in modern society has brought with it new challenges. While, back in the early noughties—as goofy as it sounds—I had only my Sony Walkman and an S Club 7 tape to contend with as a distraction, young people now have the world at the swipe of their fingertips and Spotify holds the entire back collection of almost every hit. That is why I welcome the excellent work that the Child Accident Prevention Trust has done in addressing this very modern issue through its focus on turning off technology during its designated child safety week.

Being distracted by our phones is something that we are all guilty of—adult or child—and particularly now, with the change in rules here in this chamber. In all seriousness, I often find myself behind the wheel of my car, wondering whether the pedestrian with the large cup of coffee in one hand and a phone in the other is going to look up before stepping out in front of me. Of course, as I am a careful driver, my foot hovers on the brake, and nine times out of 10 there is no need for any action. However, one can see just how many people take a driver’s full concentration for granted, and that is a worry.

Such an issue must be addressed primarily through education. We cannot simply wait for the worst to happen to shock our young people. I recall vividly—although it was not in my constituency—an incident in 2009 in which a teenager in East Ayrshire sadly passed away. It is thought that he had become distracted by either his mobile phone or a music player. Through the excellent work of voluntary organisations, we can try to prevent such incidents from happening to other people.

Child safety week is not limited to technology. RoSPA, along with other organisations, has done much to promote child safety through its campaigns to stop drink-driving, its instrumental role in bringing about the ban on using hand-held mobile phone devices in cars and the introduction of a cycling proficiency test. Those practical solutions have gone a long way towards championing the safety of Scotland’s young people.

As a former junior road safety officer at Moffat academy, I was pleased to see the efforts of Thornhill’s Wallace Hall primary school in my Dumfriesshire constituency, which has recently appointed junior road safety officers from among its pupils. Those four pupils have made great efforts to keep parents and carers parking in the right places and to raise money for equipment that will encourage safe driving in and around the school premises.

I want to highlight the efforts of a local initiative, operation safety, which have led to the establishment of an annual child safety event that is attended by children and young people from across Dumfries and Galloway. The event, which is run in conjunction with the police, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service, gives pupils the opportunity to experience real-life situations in a relaxed but educational way. Such efforts have the power to change young people’s lives for ever and they are exactly the sort of thing that I hope that the new minister will encourage across Scotland.

I thank Clare Adamson again for securing the debate and I thank the many organisations that work hard on the issue all year round.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Annabelle Ewing to wind up the debate.

18:05  

The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs (Annabelle Ewing)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. This is the first time that I have had the opportunity to speak in the chamber since your elevation, on which I warmly congratulate you. I hope that that will give me brownie points in the next five years.

I sincerely thank Clare Adamson for bringing this important debate to the chamber. She has been a strong, persistent and determined campaigner on accident prevention issues. The cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness was set up in 2013 further to her initiative. At lunch time, I had the pleasure of briefly attending the proposed CPG’s inaugural meeting of the new parliamentary session, and I was encouraged to hear—unless I picked it up wrongly—that the group has some 160 members, which is fantastic. That shows the importance of the work that the CPG will deal with.

As we have heard, this week—from 6 to 12 June—is the Child Accident Prevention Trust’s child safety week across Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Every year, child safety week is a flagship community education event in Scotland that raises awareness of serious childhood unintentional injuries and how to prevent them. I am pleased to acknowledge that the Child Accident Prevention Trust responded to concerns that were raised in Scotland about the timing of child safety week by agreeing to move it from the end of June to the beginning of June to ensure that it did not clash with what tends to be a busy end-of-term programme in schools in Scotland.

We have heard that child safety week generates positive media coverage, which is useful in delivering the practical child safety messages that the campaigns are intended to convey. It acts as a catalyst for hundreds of community safety events and activities, which reach tens of thousands of children and families across Scotland. The repeat of last year’s earlier timing enables our schools and children to be more active participants in the various activities, which is to be welcomed.

We have heard that this year’s child safety week theme—turn off technology—offers an opportunity to raise awareness among families across the board. Today, the use of technology—especially smartphones—is universal. We have to accept and work with that. We know how easy it is to become distracted and particularly how easily children become distracted when they are engrossed, which diminishes their focus on safety. That point was well made by Jeremy Balfour in his first speech in the chamber, which was fine and considered, if I may say so.

Unintentional injuries happen all too often when we are distracted; they can happen quickly and take us by surprise. Child safety week puts accident prevention into a context that families can relate to. It makes starting conversations a bit easier and avoids any perception that people might have of being talked down to. It also gets children involved in the debate, which is important. It gets across the message in an engaging and fun way that shows how to build basic safety into busy lives.

As Elaine Smith said, parents will do anything to keep their children safe. I am sure from what she said that parents constantly do risk assessments—I do not know how many they do per day, but it is quite a lot. Parents are ready for the message, and we can encourage them to work with organisations such as the Child Accident Prevention Trust to see what small changes they can make in how they go about their daily activities to protect their most precious asset—their children.

As well as providing a good way to engage with parents, child safety week helps to forge long-term partnerships for unintentional injury prevention between a wide range of sectors, including early years and childcare, health services, road safety, the police, education, fire and rescue services, statutory services and local community organisations. That was referred to by Oliver Mundell, who I am pleased to hear has experience to bring to the CPG from his role as a junior traffic officer—if I have got that title right.

The term “unintentional injury” is, I believe, preferred to the word “accident”, as the latter could perhaps be deemed to imply that events are somehow inevitable and unavoidable. On the contrary, a high proportion of such incidents are now regarded as being entirely preventable.

Although unintentional injuries can occur among any age group, children are particularly vulnerable. This morning I had the pleasure of visiting Bright Sparks nursery in Edinburgh, where I took part in child safety week activities. They included one of the picture books to which David Torrance referred—an excellent book called “Stop and Go”, which I had the privilege of reading to the wee people there, who thoroughly enjoyed it. One young boy pointed out to me that people should not use their phone when they cross the road, because they would not be able to see the cars. That summed up with total clarity the message that we are trying to get across.

I also took the Bitrex taste test. For those members who do not know, Bitrex is a chemical by-product that is developed in Scotland and is, I am told, harmless to humans. It can be used to coat industrial household products that could present a risk to young children. For example, Clare Adamson referred to liquitabs, which are washing machine capsules that frequently come in nice, bright colours, which are of course very attractive to young children. The idea is that such products are coated in Bitrex. Its taste is so bitter that when children bite into a liquitab, they automatically spit out the poisonous liquid. Having taken the test today, I can assure you that Bitrex is very bitter indeed—I needed five Miniature Heroes chocolates afterwards to recover, and I still have a bit of the taste. I am pleased to hear that the trust is here all week, so I strongly encourage all members to take the Bitrex test. It sends an important message and it is an important example of how we can develop and adapt products to protect our children.

The messages that are being promoted in child safety week are very important indeed. We all have a role to play and I, as minister for community safety, am always keen to work with all members. My door is always open. Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas, and I look forward to working with members of the proposed CPG on accident prevention and safety awareness.

I thank Clare Adamson for bringing this important debate to the chamber in these early days. I look forward to working alongside all members to see what we can do to improve child safety and awareness in Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, minister. Please, all go carefully.

Meeting closed at 18:13.