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Children are not only more susceptible to a sports-related concussion, they also take longer to recover than adults.

So what are schools and sporting clubs doing to manage concussion risk in children? And how far does their legal duty of care extend?

Australian studies estimate that around one million Australians injure themselves while playing sport each year, with children aged 5 to 14 years incurring the highest rate of injuries.

Across Victoria, there were 4745 hospitalisations of children aged 15 and under for sport-related concussion during the 2002–03 to 2010–11 financial years.

The frequency of Victorian hospitalisation increased by a dramatic 60.5 per cent over that period, due to increases in children participating in organised sports.

The riskiest sports were:

  • Motor sports.
  • Equestrian activities.
  • Australian football.
  • Rugby.
  • Roller sports.

In addition, significant increases in injury rates occurred in roller sports, rugby, soccer and cycling.

Concussion in children is a serious injury and can result in long-term brain damage if not treated and managed effectively.

It is well established that children take longer to recover from a concussion than adults – around 7 to 10 days, depending on severity. Therefore, prevention is the best cure in this instance.

The duty of care

Legally, sporting clubs, associations and schools have a duty of care to protect children under their responsibility from any reasonably foreseeable risk of injury or harm. The question, however, is how far does this duty go?

If children choose to participate in rough-and-tumble sports with a greater incidence of collision, and with their parents’ consent, should sporting clubs bear the burden of liability?

The standard of care

When it comes to examining a child’s standard of care, age is certainly a relevant factor. The legal test established in McHale v Watson was whether the person/s in a position of care had exercised the care reasonably to be expected of a child of a particular age, intelligence and experience.

Put into practice, this means that sporting clubs need to take into account the child’s age and capacity when managing their safety and injury prevention. This can include ensuring the child’s opponent is of same age, size and skill, ensuring they wear appropriate protection, giving adequate training and enforcing the rules of the game.

Policies and guidelines

Sports Medicine Australia recently released a document entitled Safety Guidelines for Children and Young People in Sport and Recreation.

The guidelines aim to provide practical advice to sporting officials, parents and other interested parties to ensure children’s sports are as safe as reasonably possible.

These guidelines include:

  • Using the right sporting gear.
  • Playing weather-appropriate sports.
  • Warming up and recovery from training.
  • Balancing teams based on age, skill and size.
  • Preventing concussed children from participating in further activities until cleared by a doctor.

Your child’s safety is most important. With a safe sporting environment, you can help your child reach their full potential.

Signs of concussion

Seek urgent medical attention if your child experiences one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Loss of memory.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Confusion.
  • Disorientated.
  • Tiredness.
  • Feeling ‘not quite right’.
  • Sensitive to bright light and loud noise.
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