Should Parents Who Let Their Children Get Sunburnt Be Referred To Social Services?


Image: David Castillo Dominici/

Skin cancer and burns charities have announced that parents who allow their children to become so badly sunburnt that they require hospital treatment should be referred to social services as they’re guilty of neglect. Recently, a four-week old baby was one of 10 children so severely affected by sunburn that he had to be taken to hospital.

Pat Wade, the founder of the charity, Burned Children’s Club, proclaimed, “The agony these children can suffer is horrendous.” Sunburn is, in her eyes, neglect. Allowing a child to get so badly sunburnt was, she said, abuse – such a child is not being looked after properly. She mentioned that the problem could be avoided by sun cream that cost a mere pound a bottle. Wade said that a child who attends an accident and emergency ward while displaying evidence of abuse would result in a call to social services.

Leigh Smith, chairwoman of Melanoma Action and Support – Scotland warned that prolonged exposure to the sun could be fatal. She said she was unsurprised that children had required hospital treatment for sunburn. She warned that parents who permitted this to occur were tripling their child’s chances of developing skin cancer, with malignant melanoma the most common cancer in people aged from 15 to 34 in the United Kingdom, resulting from sunburn. The US Centers for Disease Control provided confirmation. Dr David Lloyd highlighted the fact that children who experience sunburn under the age of 12 were much more likely to subsequently suffer skin cancer. Dr Nalem Moiemen, a burns and plastics consultant surgeon for Birmingham Children’s hospital spoke of a surge of small but substantial burns seen at his institution, with some “very, very small kids” affected, which he described as “really a high concern.”

Smith also said that schools should protect children from sunburn. Currently, schools don’t apply sunscreen to their charges without written permission because of the risk of allergic reaction.

British hospitals in their dozens have reported a rise in the number of cases of severe sunburn in children as a result of the ongoing heatwave, the longest for seven years. Two thirds of the 14 hospitals contacted by Sky News had seen a rise in the number of admissions. There have been as many as 760 premature deaths. There were between 2,000 and 3,000 excess deaths in England in 2003, with approximately 30,000 throughout Europe.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable. The Met Office has issued a Level Three Health Watch in the southwest, West Midlands and northwest of England, requiring healthcare and social services to take specific measure to protect high-risk groups.

The chain of chemists, Superdrug, recommended the removal of VAT from sunscreen to make it more affordable. Superdrug’s health director, Steve Gray, lamented that sunscreen attracted tax of 20 percent while the tax on nicotine patches was only five percent. He asked if the government considered lung cancer to be more important than skin cancer. Nora Nugent, a consultant plastic surgeon for East Grinstead’s Queen Victoria Hospital, said that sunscreen was “the difference between a summer of fun and a summer spoilt by sunburn.”

Parents groups have agreed that awareness of the possibility of harm from sunlight should be raised, but also mentioned the risk of rickets and other conditions stemming from a vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight. Six year-old Chris Head was diagnosed with rickets. Doctors such as Professor Nick Clarke, a paediatric surgeon for Southampton University, have cautioned that middle class children are at risk if they don’t spend sufficient time outdoors.

The Department of Health declared that sunburn would continue to be a matter of advice rather than statutory law. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence does, however, believe that in addition to repeated infestations of headlice and lack of treatment for tooth decay, sunburn could indicate that parents are neglecting a child. A tenth of children, it said, suffered some form of maltreatment during childhood. Sussex Police said that it didn’t routinely investigate cases of sunburnt children, but hospitals could refer cases to it if they had serious concerns over a child.

The problem can be reduced by the use of not only sunscreen but also white clothing that reflects sunlight and hats. Going out between 11am and 3pm should be avoided. Cool baths will be of help. Drinks should be cold rather than tea or coffee. Graham Bickler of the Health Protection Agency remarked that “It’s not rocket science but it can have a dramatic effect.”


About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”

Leave a Comment: