Risky Play and the Law

Schools and sports programs have a long-established Standard of Care that has been developed to support children’s well-being while mitigating risks. Many school programs limit children’s movement and opportunities because educators are afraid of injuries, and fear that supporting healthy risky play may leave them liable in the case of an injury or incident. 

The Informed Consent and Risk-Benefit Assessment processes learned here together, and the strategies for supporting risky play offer a clear path for supporting risky play and active outdoor movements, and they demonstrate prudent care of a child. Should an incident arise and be called into question, an educator would be able to share: 

  • Informed Consent signed by a parent
  • The daily Site Risk-Benefit Assessment
  • The Seasonal Site Risk-Benefit Assessment
  • The Program/Experience Risk-Benefit Assessment relevant to the play that was happening

These documents demonstrate your Duty of Care, and your Standard of Care for that play experience. We’ll let lawyer Aron Bookman share more about your responsibilities in the eyes of the law. 

This podcast was originally posted on CNAC’s website as part of Thrive Outside — an online resource hub created to support parents, caregivers, and educators in bringing children outdoors. 

Forest Schools and Canadian Law (40 minutes)
A Child and Nature Alliance of Canada Podcast

In this episode, Forest Schools and Canadian Law, CNAC Communications Cherlene chats with lawyer Aron Bookman about the law and forest and nature programs in Canada. This episode is part of Thrive Outside with host, Cherlene Eloria and guest, Aron Bookman

To summarize!

Duty of care: The responsibility or legal obligation of a person or organization to avoid acts or omissions that could likely cause harm to others. The responsibility to act as a reasonably prudent parent would. As educators we have a duty of care to the children in our program. 

Standard of care: The standard of care is relevant when a duty of care has been established. The standard of care speaks to what is reasonable in the circumstances. If one does not owe a duty of care, there is no need to meet any standard of care. We know that parents vary in their standard of care and it is when an activity is in question, that a court will determine what the standard of care was.

A helpful reference: https://www.cpha.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/resources/play/duty-of-care-e.pdf

Reflective Sharing Prompt: At an outdoor play program north of Toronto staff are attentive to the physical and emotional well-being of children throughout the day. They ensure children drink enough water, eat their snacks, spend time in the shade to avoid overheating, play in safe and known play spaces and are responsive to children’s needs as they arrive. They’re meeting their Duty of Care, ensuring children are kept safe from harm. As children climb trees the educators stay close, talk through how to climb safely, problem-solve challenges and ensure that children do not climb higher than two body lengths (an established safer fall zone). In the case of an incident and a legal inquiry, a court would have to decide if these risk mitigations met the Standard of Care for children climbing trees. 

Consider how you support children in play on the land, how are you enacting your Duty of Care? Consider an example of risky play that you support. What is your Standard of Care for that experience?