Playground fence petition puts safety first for ACT kids

James Coleman 27 October 2021 74

A playground and a pond in Dunlop, with little between them. Photo: Region Media.

It’s a conundrum faced by nearly every parent at some point. You’re on your own, feeding the baby and that’s the moment another child chooses to run off. What do you do?

A petition is urging the ACT Government to eliminate this problem by creating a standard that would see a small number of public playgrounds encircled by a fence at least one metre high.

Posted by retired early childhood teacher Matthew Armstrong and sponsored by Canberra Liberals MLA Giulia Jones, the petition notes that ACT Labor promised to inject $5.4 million into local playgrounds if re-elected. Of this, $400,000 would be for fencing.

READ ALSO: How children with special needs are locked out by open playgrounds

The petition carries a strong emphasis on children with autism, with both Mr Armstrong and Ms Jones having extensive involvement with autistic children. Two of Ms Jones’ six children have autism.

Many of the ACT’s playgrounds are constructed near roads and ponds and, statistically, children with autism are three times more likely to die from drowning while 65 per cent of the incidents with a child with autism involved a close call with traffic.

Mr Armstrong and Ms Jones argue the $400,000 is not being spent effectively or with proper consultation with families of children with autism.

But nature play expert and Belconnen parent of two, Nicole Sadlier, would like to broaden the focus.

“Not taking anything away from those families with autistic children, but I find that there is a much broader issue,” Ms Sadlier says.

READ ALSO: Pasta et Al: a Canberra food blog connecting with tradition and encouraging families into the kitchen

She says that many young families find the lack of fencing a real barrier to getting out and about.

“Many are just not going out because they are so concerned about what to do if they’re feeding the baby and the toddler starts running. Which one do I save first?”

Ms Sadlier has been a member of Bluearth for six years, helping deliver community programs across the ACT, funded by ACT Health and dedicated to getting families outdoor and active.

As part of her work, she has come to know Canberra’s array of playgrounds, even sitting on the community co-design boards for many.

She was sent the online petition by a friend and immediately saw a cause to get behind.

“We know kids aren’t as active as they have been in previous generations, and that’s a real problem across the world. I really want to look out for how they can be more active and how families can be active together.”

Child plays in mud

Nature play encourages children to use their imaginations. Photo: Nicole Sadlier.

Ms Sadlier and her partner arrived in Canberra years ago with their first child and had to adjust to both motherhood and new surroundings at the same time.

She discovered her child loved the outdoors, so she started a ‘sticks and stones’ nature group that largely let children and their imaginations run free outdoors with three rules: “don’t hurt yourself, don’t hurt others, and don’t damage property.”

“Other than that, they could do what they want really. They got really wet, really muddy, carried rocks around, and just did what kids love to do in that outdoor space.”

She says the play area was fully fenced so that the parents could chat with one another, free of fear.

READ ALSO: ACT Health needs Federal funding injection to save lives, says Payne

The petition has received close to 400 signatures so far, and Ms Sadlier sees a strong cohort of people who want to see more fenced playgrounds in the ACT.

She says it isn’t a call for fences on every playground but rather the fencing of a good-quality playground in each region so families in that region have somewhere to go.

“And once they’ve been to one and become accustomed to what their children do, they might feel more comfortable to go to an unfenced playground. It’s a really good starting point for those who have that barrier.”

Ms Sadlier says it’s naive to think that the issue could be solved simply by telling parents to pay closer attention to their children.

“Kids are very quick. Before you know it, they can be making good pace off into the distance.”

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74 Responses to Playground fence petition puts safety first for ACT kids
Elle Apopei Elle Apopei 12:04 pm 28 Oct 21

This is a great idea! And I have seen examples of fenced playgrounds that still incorporate nature and beauty without feeling caged in. This is a must for playgrounds near dangerous areas like busy roads, ponds and other higher risk situations. Some great examples at Mount Hawthorn playground in WA and Yokine Reserve, also in WA.

Onelia Herriot Onelia Herriot 5:51 pm 26 Oct 21

It should not be for all play equipment. Most are a long way from roads and water, like the one near which is in the middle of the block with walk paths leading in from 4 directions.

Dean Buckley Dean Buckley 5:27 am 26 Oct 21

Better put some up David

Doug Jackson Doug Jackson 7:58 pm 25 Oct 21

Really bad plan. If you need a fence then you may not be paying appropriate attention to your child. Even with a gate somebody else can open it for them.

Elizabeth Jones Elizabeth Jones 3:59 pm 25 Oct 21

I saw the petition but it wasn't clear it was supposed to be a few fenced playgrounds per region. I know being in an older part of Canberra I am luckier than many for green space and parks but I like the fact that my nearest park blends in with the surrounding green space and like the way kids transition from exploring the green space to climbing on the playground and games incorporate both aspects. But I think having a mix of parks that are fenced and unfenced (of the 3 playgrounds within pre-schooler walking distance 2 have a fence on at least one edge (the side that is less than 5m from the nearest road). I would be happy with the compromise of some fenced and some unfenced, so kids who are likely to run or parents who are anxious can go to the fenced playground and parents who want that easy transition between playground and the wider green space can choose the old style parks.

Jenny Anne Jenny Anne 1:04 pm 25 Oct 21

This is a great move! A petition asking that the $400,000 allocated to fully fencing playgrounds stops being spent so badly. We have needed this for years. All kids deserve to be able to safely access their local schools & playgrounds. Fencing playgrounds is well overdue. It is not good enough to allocate the money however if fences installed are not fit for purpose! It’s about time the Canberra community was accessible to all of the community, including disability!

Robyn Kim Robyn Kim 11:13 am 25 Oct 21

I see many playgrounds built near busy roads and no fences around them. Obviously the people planning these parks have no children & don't know have fast a little one can take off.

Sue Danaher Sue Danaher 10:09 am 25 Oct 21

Playgrounds should be wonderful open spaces. I cannot imagine the lovely playground at Forde being fenced in. Playgrounds should be surrounded by nature so children can run and explore further. We have never fenced playgrounds before in the ACT in my 66 years of living in the ACT. We don’t need them now.

    Andy Irons Andy Irons 12:30 pm 25 Oct 21

    Sue Danaher that’s easy to say when your kids are neurotypical. My son has ASD and if you take your eye off him for even a split second he runs. Children with ASD and also very drawn to water. So fencing the playgrounds near water is a brilliant idea. I don’t think they all need to be fenced but it would be nice to to have to worry every time we take him to a playground.

    Sarah Rankins Sarah Rankins 1:01 pm 25 Oct 21

    Sue Danaher I would love a fence or even some type of low nature barrier between the playground and road in Forde. My kids are not runners but I’ve seen many kids bolt for that road while running around.

Liz Mellor Liz Mellor 8:50 am 25 Oct 21

Pre the Boundless playground, I had a singleton & twins within 3 years. One of our twins has a disability & it was impossible to take all three children or even just the twins to a park in Canberra without another adult to assist – this made the isolation of having twins, including one with a disability even greater. The anxiety associated with taking my children to an unfenced playground was immense. It felt like we were being deliberately excluded from enjoying an activity available to others.

Sarah Magnusson Sarah Magnusson 7:09 am 25 Oct 21

And upgrades to southside playgrounds!

Martin Miller Martin Miller 9:57 pm 24 Oct 21

Why do children run off .? I have 4 children and 1 has ADHD my children run towards playgrounds not away from them. Yes Ive feed the you ones why the others played on equipment. Walked the doubled pram around every where. Now they want to fence our play ground and the local shops! This is not right . Not right at all!

Selene Sharp Selene Sharp 9:51 pm 24 Oct 21

And then they can remove the fences around school so the kids can use the ovals and playgrounds

Karena Knudsen Karena Knudsen 8:47 pm 24 Oct 21

When there is the huge water catchments in the new suburbs near the playground, fences are needed.

Andrew Kristoffersen Andrew Kristoffersen 6:45 pm 24 Oct 21

Definitely for some where you can take younger children to play, more inclusive playgrounds to spread out the need to travel to the other side of Canberra to have less crowds. I don't think we need fully fenced, more just fenced toward the danger like water and roadways. I believe there's no issue with a child running across 100m of open area, they'll probably tire but won't be in danger especially if you're able to get up and chase them.

Sarah Barrett Sarah Barrett 6:26 pm 24 Oct 21

For all the boomers commenting on how this generation of parents are entitled (although apparently not to affordable housing or free university), can we just take a minute to think about who raised them...

    Jodee Njeru Jodee Njeru 7:19 pm 24 Oct 21

    Sarah Barrett spot on!

    Frances Gibson Frances Gibson 7:42 pm 24 Oct 21

    Sarah Barrett mic drop! Awesome response

    Sarah Barrett Sarah Barrett 7:51 pm 24 Oct 21

    Frances Gibson thanks, I really shouldn't read the comments on articles 🤦‍♀️

Gerda Lawrence Gerda Lawrence 6:20 pm 24 Oct 21

The depth that is responsible for parks here in the ACT should go to Melbourne and see how parks can be done

Claire Lee Koo Claire Lee Koo 5:34 pm 24 Oct 21

I literally don't get the keyboard warrior attitudes appearing here. My son has autism and in kindy the school left the gate open - they found him on a main road trying to find his ball. Generations before today children like my son would have been labelled too difficult and never given the opportunity to enjoy freedoms like playgrounds.

I cannot believe anyone would be opposed to this - and sorry, but if you don't have young kids, then you're in no position to comment.

I know the person who started this petition - 4 young children, 1 with autism and she's a total legend. The least helpless person I know. So thank you for labelling my generation as helpless, when you clearly have never been in shoes such as mine.

    Megan Munro Megan Munro 5:45 pm 24 Oct 21

    Claire Lee Koo kids with autism would have been institutionalised. Thank goodness we've moved on. Some fences would make so much difference.

    Amy Hodgkinson Amy Hodgkinson 11:16 am 25 Oct 21

    Plenty of kids without autism do that too

    Megan Munro Megan Munro 1:53 pm 25 Oct 21

    Amy Hodgkinson of course they do. However the original person who put up the petition, who is mentioned in the article, started this because she has an autistic child.

    Megan Munro Megan Munro 1:54 pm 25 Oct 21

    Nat Thomas it will help my friend who is a blind parent. It's not only about children but adults too, and I'm pretty sure these fences will have gates.

    Nat Thomas Nat Thomas 1:58 pm 25 Oct 21

    Megan Munro it’s definitely going to help everyone, it should have been done a long time ago. I hope the gates have fences!

    Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 4:04 pm 25 Oct 21

    Claire Lee Koo because its a democracy with varying opinions on an open column.

Mookie Moo Mookie Moo 5:16 pm 24 Oct 21

Why is it always all or nothing? Fence a few more if it’s needed, not all. Give people a choice. And not every school is fully fenced nor all parks in other countries, for those commenting on this.

Mel Mengelkamp Mel Mengelkamp 4:59 pm 24 Oct 21

Their definitely needs to be some more playgrounds with fences around them.

Lynne Meredith Lynne Meredith 4:37 pm 24 Oct 21

Safety police out again!

Maybe parents could just supervise their kids? and if their kids are running off teach them not to or they won’t be going again… Their parents did this as did their grandparents before them …

Why have parents become so helpless?

    Steve Jones Steve Jones 5:08 pm 24 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith it’s so they can put their faces in their phones

    Kristen Saep Kristen Saep 5:08 pm 24 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith The

    people who started the petition have children with autism who tend to run away. When you have more than one child this essentially prevents you being able to take your children to a public space when on your own. It has nothing to do with parenting abilities!

    Erika Olivier Erika Olivier 5:23 pm 24 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith did you even read the article or the petition? Its based on children with autism who have trouble regulating and decision making.

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 6:07 pm 24 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith When did people become so judgemental?

    My child was perfectly fine in an unfenced playground and was very easy to supervise. But every child is different. And it really isn't that much to ask for parents to be able to turn their head for 5 seconds when they're sitting in a playground for a couple of hours when their child happens to be a runner.

    And don't use the "in the olden days everyone coped" line please. Some kids drowned or got run over by cars then too. Don't diminish the tragedy of that.

    Alyssa Harrison Alyssa Harrison 6:08 pm 24 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith if you have more than one child and they are all quite young it limits where you can go. Having to drive half an hour each way to go to somewhere like Boundless because it is fenced isn’t always ideal.

    Lynne Meredith Lynne Meredith 6:55 pm 24 Oct 21

    Alyssa Harrison how did your predecessors cope?

    I had 4 under 6yrs and managed without fences! Teach your kids not to run off or don’t go…

    Alyssa Harrison Alyssa Harrison 6:56 pm 24 Oct 21

    What age would you suggest you can teach a child not to run off?

    Lynne Meredith Lynne Meredith 7:01 pm 24 Oct 21

    Lin Van Oevelen yes, accidents occurred in the “olen days” however kids grew up resilient and accountable - maybe because expectations around behavior were higher, maybe because their parents didn’t make excuses for their kids….

    Either way it’s up to the parent to be responsible for their children not the safety police lobbying the gvt to make it safe!

    Emily McPherson Emily McPherson 7:37 pm 24 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith clearly you don’t have a child with autism who absolutely loves playgrounds but also likes to run 😂 most parks are built right next to busy roads or water, a fence isn’t about supervision, it’s about safety

    Lynne Meredith Lynne Meredith 7:41 pm 24 Oct 21

    Emily McPherson yes, I have a son with autism, all the more reason to supervise my child rather than rely on fences.

    Emily McPherson Emily McPherson 7:43 pm 24 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith then you would understand that all children with autism are different 😉 I can be standing right next to him and he runs 🤷🏻‍♀️ must be nice to be such a perfect parent 😇

    Lynne Meredith Lynne Meredith 9:12 pm 24 Oct 21

    Emily McPherson not perfect, just trying to get it right!

    Alyssa Harrison Alyssa Harrison 9:39 pm 24 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith it sounds like your kids have grown up.

    It’s great that you can add your advice and contribute to this conversation, but parents with young children are actually asking for some more parks with fences (it doesn’t need to be every single park) and your response is to tell parents they need to do a better job at looking after their kids.

    If the elderly ask for facilities to help support their needs I wouldn’t feel my place to comment.

    Lynne Meredith Lynne Meredith 9:55 pm 24 Oct 21

    Alyssa Harrison my youngest has just turned 10.

    Please don’t make assumptions.

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 7:23 am 25 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith They are being responsible for their children by taking them to fenced playgrounds when they know their kids are likely to run off. They're being responsible by trying to ensure there are more fenced playgrounds to take them to.

    Few things make me despair more about the state of our community than parents turning on other parents like you just did.

    A bit of kindness and empathy would go a long way.

    Lynda M Wade Lynda M Wade 7:39 am 25 Oct 21

    Lynne Meredith what about grandparents? I'm really sorry that i can't run fast enough to catch my granddaughter . And i was lucky / unlucky enough to have 2 babies in 12 months so when they were toddlers it was impossible to be by the side of them both 100 per cent. I tried my best but gee the fences near the roads were very helpful. I was very selective of which park i went to and rarely went alone

    Liz Mellor Liz Mellor 9:59 am 25 Oct 21

    Steve Jones no it isn't - I'm pretty sure you'll find the people (who started this petition) who want the playgrounds fenced are those with children with particular disabilities such as ASD who are not safe in an unfenced playground. It is insulting that you assume all parents have their faces in their phones.

    Lynne Meredith Lynne Meredith 10:57 am 25 Oct 21

    Steve Jones totally agree! You see it all the time - fenced or not!

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