Bringing Comprehensive Injury-Prevention Program to Central Ohio Kids

Elementary aged children practice riding bikes in a gymnasium setting.

Until Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the City of Columbus reintroduced the Safety City injury prevention program last summer, it hadn’t been available inside the city limits for more than three decades.

It was so successful that it may triple in size in 2023, from 80 young children served to 250, with the help of Columbus City Schools. Since unintended injury is the leading cause of death in the United States for children 1 to 14 years of age, Safety City is seen as a critical tool in reducing the Columbus child mortality rate.

“It went so well that we felt like we had to increase the number of sites where we’d be running the program, promote them more, and open up additional spots for children,” said Katie Higgins, manager of Infant and Child Wellness at Nationwide Children’s. “We were actually having parents of children recruit their friends and neighbors because they enjoyed it so much.”

Safety City (sometimes called Safety Town) has been around for decades in central Ohio, but almost entirely in middle-to-upper-middle class suburbs like Bexley, New Albany and Worthington before last year. The program is designed for children who are approximately 5, 6 and 7 years old, and focuses on preventing some of the most common causes of injury. The curriculum can change depending on the ages and neighborhoods, though it usually focuses on areas including bike safety, drowning prevention and water safety, firearm safety, household chemical safety and safely approaching animals and pets 

In Columbus, the curriculum and neighborhoods of focus are driven by the injury trends that Nationwide Children’s sees in its Emergency Department, said Higgins. In 2022, the Linden and Hilltop neighborhoods were Safety City areas. They will be joined in 2023 by the South Side and Far East Side neighborhoods.

The overall expansion would not have happened without Columbus City Schools and its inclusion of Safety City in the “Summer Experience” program at Stewart Elementary on the South Side, the Starling School in the Franklinton/Hilltop area, and Colerain Elementary in Clintonville.

Each of those sites will transport students from partners schools as well. Colerain has a special focus on students with special needs, and so Safety City will be more accessible for those students this year.

Other sites include the Hilltop YMCA, Leawood Elementary on the Far East Side, and the Linden Park Early Education Center.

Behavioral health and nutrition elements are being added in 2023 are being added to the Columbus curriculum. It became clear in 2022 that some of young participants experienced stress and separation anxiety during the program and needed additional education on healthy foods, Higgins said.

“There is part of Safety City that helps prepare children for school, especially those who may not have had much experience in preschool,” she said. “We do some literacy work as well, including sending a book home with graduates.”

Safety City runs four days per week in July and August. More information on registration for the summer’s first Safety City can be found here: Linden Park Early Childhood Education Center.