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“District rebuilds fence after student found in pond”

MIDWEST CITY: October 3, 2002 - About two hours after a temporary fence was removed from a pond behind a [suburb] elementary school on Tuesday, a kindergartner was found floating in the water. The 5-year-old, who was conscious when she was found, was evaluated for hypothermia at Children's Hospital in [City] and was “doing fine” on Wednesday, said [name], YMCA senior program director. A hospital official said the girl had been released. The [Name] Elementary School student was participating in the School Age Care program, run by the [Name] YMCA at the school.

[Suburb] police were called to the school at about 5:20 p.m. Tuesday for a report of a child in a drainage pond. As police continued their investigation Wednesday, they didn't say how the girl ended up in the pond or how long she was there.

But [YMCA program director] reported that children in the program, including the 5-year-old, had been playing outside the school and were supervised by three staff members. The girl was walking from a field to the school's playground, which are both close to each other near the pond, when she wound up in the pond. “She was carrying a ball and the next thing we knew she was in the pond,” [YMCA program director] said. “At this point, we don't know exactly what happened.” She wasn't in the pond for more than a few minutes before a staff member pulled her out, [YMCA program director] said.

On Wednesday, the [Name] School District installed another temporary fence around the pond and plans to build a permanent one, said [name], district spokesman. Though the YMCA program is not associated with the school district, [school district spokesman] said, “when you have an incident like this, whether it's our program or not, it's at one of our schools and we're obviously concerned about it.” The district sent letters to [school] parents Wednesday to tell them about the incident and of the school's plans to safeguard the pond.

The city of [name] had been working on a storm-water abatement project at the 1.3-acre pond and installed a temporary fence around it. Because the project had recently been finished and the site was being cleaned-up, the fence was taken down Tuesday at about 3 p.m., said [name], city spokesman.

The following true statements have no bearing in the responsibility of the organization in the above situation.

  • The organization did not own the pond.
  • The organization was not responsible for the pond.
  • The organization had no authority to build a fence around the pond.

Supervision and awareness are key to keeping the children in our programs safe. Wherever we provide programming for children we must be fully aware of the various potentials for injury and must take every reasonable precaution to insulate our children from those threats. Dealing with identified challenges away from our own facilities is more difficult than at home: we probably cannot fix the problem because we have no authority or can’t afford the expense to improve someone else’s property, etc.

It is unclear who owned or was responsible for the actual pond in which the 5-year-old nearly drowned. It is unclear why there was no fence in place to prevent such an occurrence. It is unclear whether there were contractual indemnification or hold-harmless agreements between the organization and the school where the School Age Care program was being held. However, it is perfectly clear who was responsible for the safety of the young girl.

What we know:

  • the child was not seen falling into the pond… she was found floating in it
  • the presence of 3 staff members was insufficient and the appropriateness of the staff-to-student ratio is immaterial… a child fell into a known hazard and that act was not observed

What we don’t know:

  • why the child was allowed to be unaccompanied in the proximity of the pond
  • what, if any, warnings or rules were discussed with the children concerning the pond

What must be remembered:

  • the responsibility for the safety of the children in your programs is yours … no matter where it is, what hazards are present, or who will ultimately bear the financial consequences of a disaster
  • the responsibility to be aware of all of the injury potential at and around your program locations is *yours*… not that of your collaborative partners, surely not that of the children or their parents
  • the responsibility to instruct the children in appropriate behavior and to enforce compliance is yours
  • appropriate staff-to-student ratios do not keep children safe… diligent supervision is required
  • clear protocols regarding identifying and handling unsafe conditions are necessary, such as
    • regular (preferably daily) inspections of the grounds, equipment, and surrounding area
    • immediate documented notification of danger to the appropriate individual or entity
    • effective and reliable procedures to avoid the hazard or condition until it is corrected
    • documented follow-up that either ensures correction or permanently alters activity so the children are not at risk
  • whatever collaborative agreements you sign to enable the desired programming, make sure that:
    • you have full authority to set and enforce the rules governing staff and participant behavior
    • you actively manage the risk management of the site and your program on a daily basis
    • you have a fail-safe emergency summons system that is regularly practiced and/or tested

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about camp risk management issues.

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