People responsible for overseeing the safety of children in public spaces, such as the police, parks' officials and community wardens, need a special understanding of how children play and socialise in public spaces.

They also have a role advising on the design, placement, provision and management of playable space, as well as preventing bullying and promoting child safety.

 In a letter to their members, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) emphasised that good play and recreational facilities contribute to reduced youth crime, help build safer communities and tackle the problem of social exclusion.

The ACPO letter asks for community based officers to actively feed into the plans of local authorities, play partnerships and third sector groups, and to take an active role in the design of play areas and the routes used to travel to them.

Children playing and socialising in public space can sometimes be wrongly interpreted as trouble-making and anti-social behaviour. In one example, children using chalk to mark hopscotch tiles on a pavement were reported to the police for vandalism.

An understanding of the value of play to children will help professionals overseeing behaviour in public spaces to make sensible decisions in situations like this.

Community police officers, parks' officials and others overseeing public spaces, often have valuable insights into the design, placement, provision and management of play spaces. This information can contribute to improving the play ‘offer’ to children, and can be fed-back through:

  • participating in local networks such as neighbourhood panels
  • contacting the local play partnership
  • joining the steering group of an adventure playground
  • contacting the ‘play lead’ in the local authority.

Professionals with responsibility for public order should also do what they can to prevent bullying. Bullying and the fear of bullying can prevent children from playing outside and moving independently around their neighbourhoods.

In one survey, nearly half of secondary school age young people who had been badly bullied said they hardly ever used local parks and playgrounds.

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