Campaigners voice concern over policing of children keeping active outdoors

Eufemia Didonato

Two images of a children's play park in Victoria Park, Bath, which is open today (top) in line with the guidance for the latest lockdown restrictions - PA/Ben Birchall 
Two images of a children’s play park in Victoria Park, Bath, which is open today (top) in line with the guidance for the latest lockdown restrictions – PA/Ben Birchall

Overzealous policing of children playing outdoors is stopping youngsters getting much-needed exercise during lockdown, activity campaigners have claimed.

The Playing Out charity raised concerns after a mother claimed a riot van had swooped on her children to tell them to stop paddling in a stream near their home.

In another case, Charlotte Thorne, a parent from central London, told campaigners her daughter had been stopped by officers for climbing a tree.

“We don’t have much access to outside space other than the parks,” she said. “I’ve encouraged my children to go there alone so that they maintain their independence and their fitness levels so it’s really frustrating when they are policed so closely for bothering no one and doing no harm.”

Playing Out is among a host of leading institutions in sport and child welfare to throw weight behind The Telegraph’s Keep Kids Active campaign. Its dossier of claims from parents was put together after Professor Devi Sridhar, one of Nicola Sturgeon’s key advisers on lockdown policy, called Scotland’s under-12s activity reprieve to be extended across the UK.

In Scotland, up to 13 children of primary school age can continue to gather outdoors with two adult supervisors thanks to legislation passed last July. In stark contrast in England, children of all ages must fall in line with organised sport with other children. Playing Out says the tough restrictions on sport make rules to allow playing outside near home “essential”. “A lack of clarity within the rules has left parents and police confused about whether it is allowed,” the charity claims.

Ingrid Skeels, co-director of Playing Out, which wrote to Boris Johnson earlier this month, said, “Since the first lockdown, we have heard too many stories of parents keeping their children indoors or of feeling judged for just letting them play outside. Whilst Wales and Scotland have both clearly stated in their guidance that outdoor play is not just allowed but important for children’s wellbeing, the UK Government’s rules for England do not mention play. Just a simple change in the wording would mean parents can feel confident to let their children play outside – with the huge benefits that brings – without fear of being told off or even fined”.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, added: “We must learn from some of the mistakes that were made during the first lockdown – when children’s needs and rights were sidelined for too long, including the vital importance of safe outdoor play for children’s health and wellbeing.”

After the first national lockdown, the proportion of children meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s recommended daily hour of activity nosedived to just 19 per cent. Almost half of children were not even completing 30 minutes a day, with 73 per cent of teachers then identifying “low physical fitness” as an issue of concern when children returned.

As part of the Telegraph’s campaign to help youngsters tackle plunging activity levels, Loughborough College will stream the third day of online PE classes for the nation from Wednesday morning.

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