Rural children's perceptions of child farm safety printed communication strategies

Lia Bryant, Elizabeth A Hoon
Rural and Remote Health 2007, 7 (4): 734

INTRODUCTION: Child farm safety has been identified as a key public health concern in Australia. To date, communication strategies for child farm safety have primarily targeted rural based adults as custodians of children, and because the greatest proportion of deaths occur in pre-school children. However, emerging international literature acknowledges the importance of understanding the perceptions and practices of children and adolescents as active agents for identifying and preventing hazard risks and accidents. This qualitative exploratory study examined how rural students aged 7-12 years read farm safety messages in printed farm safety communication tools, developed predominantly by Farmsafe Australia and Farmsafe Queensland. The study also identifies students' ideas to improve communication tools.

METHODS: Seventeen focus groups were conducted in rural-based schools in a number of commodity regions across Australia. There was an average of eight students in each of these focus groups. The sample included children aged between 7 and 12 years. Focus groups were generally split into two age cohorts: 7-9 years (seven focus groups) and 10-12 years (eight focus groups). Two focus groups were conducted with students in a composite age range of 7-12 years, due to the small number of students in those schools. Semi-structured questioning was used to explore students' perceptions of child farm safety printed communication tools, predominantly developed by Farmsafe Australia. The tools used for discussion were: a poster on the provision of a safe play area and the dangers of moving vehicles; a fridge magnet with dot points used to emphasis five farm based behaviours that address child safety; and a child farm safety educational resource kit developed by Farmsafe Queensland (Safety on the Land), which included activity sheets, stickers and a build-it-yourself money-box. Focus group discussions were audiotaped, transcribed and analysed using qualitative interpretative methods.

RESULTS: There was variance in the way children read meanings in child farm safety messages on the poster. In particular, there were misinterpretations of the messages portrayed in the poster by 7-9 years olds. Students found the Safety on the Land kit helpful for delivering the farm-safe message, due to its participatory format. The findings show that the use of cartoon style illustrations and comic formats to communicate child farm safety messages was positively perceived by the age groups in this sample.

CONCLUSIONS: Farmsafe Australia's poster was open to varied interpretations by students, some of which missed the safety message altogether. The use of a broad communication tool such as a poster is problematic because it is displayed in public places which, by implication, reach a wide audience. Future design of farm safety communication tools should take into account the views of primary school children as a specific target audience. Students enjoyed the participatory nature of the Safety on the Land kit and made suggestions about how this tool could effect change in behaviour. The findings of the study also indicate the potential effectiveness of cartoon style illustrations and comic formats for delivering child farm safety messages to a target audience of 7-12 year olds.

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