It seems that whenever you ask what the age groups of paediatric first aid are, a whole mixture of different answers comes back to you! The truth is that there isn't actually one set answer but some important guidelines to follow, which by their nature could help save a child or infant's life.
To start with, age ranges are always set as a guideline. They are important but should never distract from prompt treatment because of the fear of making mistakes. It’s proven that sometimes first aid treatment does not start because people are afraid of using the wrong protocol. We would always expect a paramedic, doctor or nurse to adhere to professional guidelines. However, first aiders are only ever expected to work within their own limits with the current resources that they have.
Let's explore the different age ranges together…
In paediatric first aid the infant is defined as 0-1 years. There are specific protocols related to the following areas and more:
Handling of the infant / recovery position
Naturally the human body is at its most delicate during this age bracket. In light of this first aid treatment protocols need to be modified in essence to be gentler, but to still achieve the same results. There are also some specific symptom differences when comparing illnesses between a child and infant. These are worth remembering and will be taught on a full 12 hour paediatric first aid course.
In paediatric first aid the child is defined as between 1-onset of puberty. In this case we are looking at the size of the child in our approach to dealing with accidents and illnesses. This mainly affects the below areas when comparing to adult protocol:
Once a child reaches puberty they will look similar and be physically similar to an adult. Therefore in these situations we would adapt the treatment protocol and deliver first aid based on what has been learnt on an adult training course.
When in Doubt
Remember that age brackets are only set as a guideline. Imagine this scenario…
You are at the scene of an accident where a one year old child is choking. You notice that the child is very small for its age and actually resembles what you would typically class as a 6 month old infant. Would you adapt your protocol or follow the guideline that has been set…?
The answer (only if feeling confident) would be to adapt your protocol. However this is probably one of the most challenging situations to be in as a first aider. It's also possible to change protocol mid way through treatment if you think it is not working. Don’t be afraid to make small mistakes because some treatment is better than none.
Updated Advice from the UK Resuscitation Council
Updated guidelines from the UK Resuscitation Council (2021) stated that a casualty should be considered a child up to the age of 18 years. This specifically relates to child CPR protocol whereby it is considered that cardiac arrest will most probably be pulmonary (breathing) in nature and the child will need initial / rescue breaths that are taught on a paediatric first aid course.
The guidelines were not set out to replace all aspects of paediatric first aid. There is still a need to replace child specific techniques with adult ones when encountering a casualty who has reached puberty.
So we know that there are some age brackets defined within paediatric first aid, which can be followed, but are not set in stone. To recap they are as follows:
Infant (0-1 years)
Child (1 - onset of puberty)
Adult (onset of puberty +)
Finally it’s important that when encountering a non-breathing casualty to find out their age. If they are under 18 years of age then they will require initial breaths when delivering CPR.
The best way to learn all of these skills would be to go on a first aid course that covers infant, child and adult protocols.