Safety education program seems to have little effect

May 14, 2000

A program meant to teach young children basic safety skills seems to lack the desired effect, a new study suggests.

When researchers compared two groups of kindergarten students -- one which had participated in a half-day safety program and the other which did not -- they found that each group showed about the same improvement in basic safety skills.

"Many safety programs, anti-drug programs and others like them attempt to convey a large amount of relatively complex information to children during a brief, one-time intervention," said Gary Smith, an associate professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University and the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Children's Hospital in Columbus.

"But there's no evidence showing that these programs are effective."

The research appears in a recent issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

A total of 181 children were involved in the study -- 90 who participated in the Safety City program and 91 who did not.

The researchers focused on kindergarten students because these children had no previous experience with the program.

All children took a pretest to assess their safety skills. The test consisted of verbal questioning and skills demonstration. During the Safety City day, the intervention group was taught how to safely cross the street, how to call 911 in an emergency and how to avoid strangers. Safety sessions consisted of a brief lecture, followed by practicing the learned information and skills or by playing a topic-related game. The children were tested again on their safety skills six months after they participated in the program, or six months after they took the pretest.

On both the pre- and post-tests, a maximum of 16 points was possible for both the street crossing and dialing 911 portions of the test. The children could score a maximum of 14 points for the stranger avoidance portion.

A similar percentage of children in each group showed at least a two-point improvement in their test scores. "There was very little difference in the change in scores between the groups," Smith said.

Knowing how and when to call 911 showed the greatest improvement -- on average, the intervention group's scores went from 4.7 to 8.8, while the control group's scores increased from 3.4 to 7.1. "This may seem like a relatively large improvement, but in the six months after the first test, the children had learned more about numbers in school," Smith said. "It's reasonable to assume that the improvement in this particular skill in both groups was due to the children's increased ability to recognize numbers."

The average score for crossing the street rose from 4.3 to 6.2 (intervention group) and from 4.3 to 5.6 (control group). The average score for avoiding strangers rose from 3.5 to 4.8 (intervention group) and from 3.1 to 4.8 (control group).

"The study's data did not demonstrate any evidence that Safety City had a beneficial effect on participants' scores," Smith said.

Safety City is sponsored by the American Red Cross of Greater Columbus. Citywide, more than 20,000 children participate in the program each year. "While this program is unique to Columbus, there are many programs like it across the country," Smith said.

"It's important to include an evaluation component in these types of education programs," he said. "The relatively scarce resources available for education about injury prevention should be used for programs that have been shown to be effective."
Smith co-authored this study with Joseph Luria, of the division of emergency medicine at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, and Jennifer Chapman, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Ohio State.

Written by Holly Wagner, 614-292-8310;

Ohio State University

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