In the News: In August 2005, 8-year-old Jacob Buckett, his father, and three-year-old sister went to lunch at a Burger King. In a matter of seconds, Jacob climbed up the horizontal support poles of the play structure and suddenly lost his grip. He came crashing down, cracking his head on the tile floor. Jacob suffered a traumatic brain injury which put him in a coma for two months, in the hospital for six months. and has left him with permanent, lifelong impairments.
Burger King and the Buckett family eventually reached a $20 million, out-of-court settlement even though Jacob’s father acknowledged he had been close enough to prevent Jacob from improperly climbing up the sides of the play structure.
As is the case with any recreation-oriented business, a typical fitness center or swim club can be a very dangerous place if the right precautions are not taken. Between playgrounds and pools, slides and saunas, and fitness equipment and free weights, an unsupervised child can get into quite a bit of trouble at your facility. While some employees may be dedicated to “floating” around the facility, it’s unlikely any organization has the staffing available to personally babysit every unsupervised child. If Jacob Buckett’s story is any indication, children can put themselves in dangerous situations in a matter of seconds.
Recommendations and Best Practices
Children mature physically, emotionally, and intellectually at very different rates. Where one parent may be comfortable leaving a 7-year-old child home alone for a couple of hours, another parent may cringe at the idea of leaving an 11-year-old unsupervised for even 15 minutes. For these reasons, West Bend feels a organizations should consider instituting a supervision requirement on all children under a specified age.
Before determining an appropriate age, management should consider the current supervision requirements in the aquatics and fitness areas. For example, if the minimum age in these areas is 10 and 14 respectively, does it make sense to have a general minimum age of 8? An unsupervised 8-year-old child would then be restricted from two of the more prominent areas of the facility. West Bend recommends:
- A minimum age of 10 years old to be in the building alone.
- A minimum age of 12 years old to be in the pool without adult supervision.
- A minimum age of 16 years old to use fitness and weight equipment without supervision.
Offering a wide range of programming for children of all ages can mitigate the resistance of parents who may be upset with any new age restrictions. Programs like arts and crafts, youth centers with computers, or interactive games keep children in a supervised location. The longer kids are left to wander, the more likely they are to put themselves in dangerous or mischievous situations.
West Bend also recommends a policy requiring parents to physically walk the child to the check-in desk. This not only provides parents with peace of mind, but also makes it much easier to track the number of unsupervised children in the facility at any given time. If an unsupervised child has not been picked up by closing time, the local police should be called to escort the child home. Under no circumstances should an employee take a child home in his/her personal vehicle