When Kris Snow takes her one-year-old son to the playground each week, she is vigilant. She looks around to make sure there's no peeling paint or splinters on the equipment and says she never gets so involved in conversations that she takes her eyes off her child. "I see parents that are so busy talking to each other that they lose sight of their kids," the Boston-area mom observes.
The same goes for Dawn DiStefano, a Massachusetts mother of a three-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. Though she allows her daughter to use almost all the equipment available at neighborhood playgrounds, she is right by her son's side at all times.
DiStefano feels relatively confident that the playgrounds are safe but worries about openings she sees on equipment. "It makes every mother crazy because you never know if your child will fall through," she says.
Mothers like Snow and DiStefano have good reason to be wary. According to US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) statistics, nearly 200,000 playground-related injuries requiring emergency room visits occur each year. Of these, over 170,000 children require hospitalization and 17 die yearly from injuries sustained on our country's playgrounds. Everything from dangerous gaps in equipment and inadequate protective ground surfacing to a lack of adult supervision can cause harm to youngsters.
"I think parents assume that playgrounds are safe," shares Rachel Weintraub, co-author of a June 2000 report by the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which surveyed over 1,000 playgrounds in 27 states and the District of Columbia. They are often under the mistaken impression that "there's some sort of law saying that the equipment has to be safe."