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Bouncy House Rules: Wash. Bans Them From Child Care Programs

Kids in day camps and child care programs in Washington are spending less time airborne these days. New state regulations forbid child care providers from using trampolines and inflatable bouncy houses.

State officials say the rule change was based on safety concerns. But doctors say bouncy houses don’t pose the same risks as trampolines. 

When you watch kids bounce or slide on gigantic inflatables, the emotion that comes to mind is glee.

Seattle third grader Ryan Jansen dives down a bouncy slide with gusto. But she had a pretty bad experience at a bouncy house several months ago. She was playing in a bouncy structure when she fell out and hit the floor, breaking one toe on each foot. “It ruined my whole summer. I had to use crutches and I had two boots,” she said.

Ryan said when she fell, she was bouncing in a structure intended for much younger children. But doctors say when kids are so excited, it’s not fair to expect them to supervise themselves. State officials say they’ve been increasingly concerned with the risks posed by trampolines and bouncy houses.

Amy Blondin is the spokeswoman for the state Department of Early Learning, which oversees programs for school-age children as well. In their latest rules which took effect in December 2012, her agency banned child care programs from using bouncy houses or trampolines. Blondin says no one seemed to oppose the change. “I’m not aware of any pushback on that,” she said.

Some of the biggest licensed child care providers for school-age kids are Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA. Jane Ronngren is the director of early learning and child care for the Boys and Girls Club of King County. She said the rule change makes sense to her, and most kids can seek out bouncy houses and trampolines on their own time.

The rule change means no more bouncy houses at the traditional end-of-summer carnival hosted by some programs. But the rule change took effect before Boys and Girls Club planned its summer programs, so Ronngren said it’s not as though they have to cancel any offerings. "[Kids] will see what the other great options are, and they’ll sign up for other reasons,” Ronngren said.

The rule also forbids these child care programs from visiting bouncy houses and trampoline centers. “The same child care licensing rules apply whether you’re in the facility or out on a field trip,” Blondin said.

That’s bad news for owners of the big indoor bouncy playgrounds. One owner said he only heard about the new state rules after they’d gone into effect. He said hosting field trips is a big part of his business.

He believes bouncy houses are being unfairly lumped in with trampoline centers, which have drawn warnings from doctors. There’s even a specific fracture called  a “trampoline fracture,” according to Dr. Tony Woodward, the head of the emergency department at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

He has also written whole studies of trampoline injuries. Woodward said the American Academy of Pediatrics led an effort to ban trampolines 20 years ago. But he adds, “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, that we’re actually going to ban some form of entertainment or fun.”

Maybe no ban, but there have been lawsuits. The owners of the Sky High Sports trampoline center in Bellevue filed for bankruptcy in January after they were sued over injuries. That center is now closed.

Dr. Woodward may not have encouraged his kids to use trampolines, but bouncy houses were different. “Having been in a lot of them, and my kids spent a lot of time in them, I think if they’re used with the right number of children about the right age, I think they’re OK.”

Woodward said the biggest dangers are having kids of different ages and sizes colliding in them, or when a bouncy structure is too close to a wall. 

A recent study in the journal Pediatrics concluded that injuries in bouncy houses are increasing, according to data gathered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The lead author, Dr. Gary Smith of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told Reuters the most likely explanation for the injuries is that more kids are playing on inflatables these days. He said he would not push for a ban on bouncy houses since it’s so important for kids to be active. But he said parents should do their best to supervise, and try to have similar sizes and ages of kids bounce together.