Developing a hot drinks policy - Brentry and Henbury children’s centre in Bristol

Why have a hot drinks policy?

A serious scald to a young child can be devastating, and the vast majority of scald injuries are caused by hot drinks: every week, hundreds of babies and toddlers are rushed to hospital having been scalded by hot water from a kettle or a hot drink.

The most common age for a scald injury to happen is the age of one. Young children learn by exploring – they can pull themselves up on their legs, stretch and reach all sorts of things, using new skills of which parents may not be aware.

Hot drinks stay hot enough to cause a serious scald up to 15 minutes after they’ve been made, and very young children suffer more severe scalding as their skin is much thinner than that of an adult.

Also the nature of a scald from a hot drink can make them particularly nasty. The majority of injuries are ‘pull-down’ injuries – the child pulls the cup or mug over themselves – causing serious scalding and potentially scarring that may be visible for a lifetime.

The challenges and benefits of introducing a hot drinks policy

Scalds from hot drinks are very easily preventable, as long as drinks are kept well out of reach of young children. But some practitioners are fearful such a policy may appear off-putting to parents and sometimes even to staff.

In Brentry and Henbury Children’s Centre in Bristol, Community Support Manager Jane Crane successfully got hot drinks onto the agenda, with some surprising benefits. The Centre runs two regular group sessions, Stay and Play and Tiddlers and Tots.

"Initially I was sceptical about the need for, and practicalities of, introducing a policy about hot drinks

"Offering tea and coffee is an integral part of the culture of supporting parents – sometimes our setting is the only time in the whole day someone will make parents and carers a drink, and they really value that supportive act."

An outright ban on hot drinks in some other children’s centres in Bristol led to a discussion between the Centre’s Management Team about how to manage the hazard. As a result, the team adopted a policy that excluded hot drinks from locations where children and adults are in the room together.

Parents attending a parenting programme are still offered hot drinks while their children are in a crèche in a different room. However in community settings, where staff have less control over the facilities, and in large interactive groups, they decided a change was needed.

Family support practitioners led informal discussions about managing the hazard of hot drinks with around 40 parents, asking how they would feel if hot drinks were no longer supplied because of concerns about child safety.

"There was no major uprising", reported Jane. "Although the families attending our provision come from a wide range of backgrounds, most were very supportive".

Unexpected benefits

Once hot drinks were removed from the two sessions, staff started to report an unexpected, but very welcome consequence:

"Practitioners actually noticed a greater level of engagement in the shared activities and reported a more relaxed environment, resulting in increased enjoyment between parents and children."

Practitioners at the Centre were no longer distracted by keeping hot drinks out of the way, and could spend more time focusing on the children and involving their parents in activities, which of course is a central aim of these groups. As a result they were experiencing sessions of a higher quality.

"It’s this improvement, together with an increased understanding of the risks associated with hot drinks, that did more to change my mind about the benefits of hot drinks policies than any other factor."

Different settings

The hot drinks policy is new and is being kept under review, and an exception has been made for the breastfeeding support group. Jane explains:

"Eventually we aim to go hot drink free in this group too, but breastfeeding is so important to the long term health of young children that providing a warm welcome and getting parents to engage in the group and with the support it offers is a high priority. However we don’t see this as a permanent situation – we are always looking for new ways to run and improve services and we are going to review this exception."

And the setting is already discussing how the issue of hot drinks is handled when they visit the homes of parents.

Rob Benington, Injury Prevention Manager with Public Health (Bristol) explains the merits of a carefully-planned hot drinks policy:

"Outright bans work in some settings, but thinking about each different situation where children may encounter hot drinks is a considered and sensitive approach to risk management."

With many thanks to Rob Benington, Lynne Newbury and her team at Brentry and Henbury Children’s Centre, Bristol, Bristol City Council’s Early Years and Childcare Services and Avonsafe.

Further information

Avonsafe has published examples of existing hot drinks policies. You can also contact Rob Benington, Injury Prevention Manager with Public Health Bristol.

Related links

Updated July 2014