Recently, our community has been shocked by the abduction of little 5 year old April Jones on the 1st October. (I blogged about her abduction here).
Suddenly our neighbourhood doesn't seem as safe! Suddenly our naivety that something like that only happens in big cities is gone, suddenly we don't feel safe letting our children out to play!
We don't live very far from Machynlleth, where little April was from, in fact I have friends there, including some that I went to school with as my Secondary school was even closer. Yet Machynlleth is a smaller town than mine and doesn't have the influx of tourists that we have in the summer when our town's population swells by three times as much as during the winter. Here you don't know everybody, as many are on holiday and here for such a short time!
Today we all let off some balloons at a party organised to raise money for the Help April Appeal Fund.
What happened to poor little April, has brought home to all of us, that anyone can be snatched from anywhere. In the UK alone around 140,000 children a year get lost or missing, that is over one child every 5 minutes (thankfully not all are abducted, thankfully it is still rather rare but it still does happen!).
Every parent has had that feeling of not knowing where their child is! Children have a habit of running off in busy areas such as supermarkets, airports, amusement parks and even from your own garden. The question is how do you, the parent, react when your child goes missing?
This is a worrying issue which we, as parents, don't like to face, but we should be prepared in case the worst does happen with your child. We should also educate them on how to deal with situations when they are out and about, situations which could be as simple as not being able to see you, to situations when a stranger approaches them and offers them sweets, or maybe your neighbour offers to take them for a drive without you knowing!
My children have watched the news with us, and have heard all about April, which has opened up the chance to discuss how to stay safe when we're out and about, but of course the hardest thing is teaching them that they mustn't get in anyone's car without our knowledge, not even someone they know!
Looking up information on the internet about keeping children safe whilst they're out, I found this information on the Child Alert website which I thought was very interesting, all about how to discuss "Stranger Danger" to our children. But the most important fact to remember is that sometimes when we are telling our children not to talk to strangers, do we know who our children perceives a stranger to be, and what about helpful strangers, ones who could help them if they became lost and separated from us. Would they know who to trust and who it was ok to talk to to ask for help?
As parents we want to protect our children at all times, but we cannot be with them every minute of every day. Children need to learn how to stay safe, be smart and protect themselves from strangers and abductors when on their own, whether at school, or even at home. We parents have a duty to teach our children what to do when in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation.
1. Parents should discuss the issues of strangers and their associated dangers with a calm tone of voice. Children will be better able to listen and learn because they will be more receptive. Parents must monitor their own fear and be careful not to alarm their children.
2. Consider your child's age.
* At 3-5 years old your child is curious and may be naturally trusting. The also easily respond to attempts by adults to be kind or supportive. Toddlers and pre-schoolers do not grasp the short or long-term consequences of potentially dangerous situations.
* At 6-9 years old your child is more capable of understanding right from wrong. They are able to remember information and put it into practice, but may get overwhelmed in a difficult situation.
* At 10-13 years old your child may over-estimate their ability to handle a bad situation. They may also feel they should not be scared and be nonchalant in their attitude to risk.
3. Deliver information in a way appropriate to their age. Younger children will benefit from role play and repeated conversations. Older children can discuss current events or real situations (such as April's abduction) to educate them about danger.
4. Be aware of specific plays used by strangers. Teach children not to help strangers look for lost puppies, accept gifts or sweets or get in a car with someone they don't know... or even someone they do know, if the journey is not planned and you do not know about it. (my son once told me how someone tried to get him to help get a cat out of a van, it gave me a chance to talk him about NOT getting into someone's car or van for whatever reason!).
5. Use the following;
* Talking - have a discussion with your children about safety and strangers. It can be useful to find out how your child defines a "stranger". Parents are often surprised to hear that only ugly creatures in story books are considered dangerous. It can also be helpful to discuss who helpful strangers could be, such as policemen/women or shop assistants (look for a name badge to correctly identify), lollypop lady/man etc
* Asking - After talking to your children, it is important to ask them what they heard. This allows parents to correct misinformation and determine what needs to be reviewed or discussed differently.
* Show - It can be helpful for parents to practice with their children what they have learnt. This might mean going to a shopping centre or having your child ask for help from a shop assistant, or walking through the neighbourhood and watch as your child goes to a neighbours house.
* Know - Make sure your children know who, when, where and how to get help. For example, they should know their name, address and phone number, hot to phone the police, dial 999 or 112 (Europe) or 911 (US and Canada), who will pick them up from school each day and what after school activities are planned.
6. Monitor the media, especially when child abductions and murders are in the news. Parents should be aware of what their children are watching or hearing. Help them separate fact from fantasy. Be sensitive to any changes in their behaviour, especially sleeping problems and nightmares and if necessary seek additional guidance.
7. The importance of staying close, if they go off alone make sure they tell you where they are going and who they are going with. If they are younger, keep them close. If they cannot see you then they are not safe.
8. If you go out, arrange a meeting place that they can remember in case they do get lost. This is particularly important for older children who do need some safe independence. If you are in a shop or supermarket, identify the staff and security guards uniform with them and ask them to look for them if they feel lost.
But what should you do if your child HAS gone missing. This is what no one ever talks about. Again Child Alert has the advice you would need.
* Call the police immediately - the first hour is critical
* Remember what they are wearing (A friend once told me how whenever they went on an outing she would take a picture of each child before they entered and that way, if one should go missing, she knew exactly what they were wearing and what they looked like as the more up-to-date the picture the better it can help in the search)
* Where have they been or talked about going
* Who were they with, who are their friends
* What were their movements over the past 48 hours
* Did they mention any problems, anxieties - about themselves or their friends
* Call their mobile phone - even if they do not answer, it's location can be traced by the police and phone company
* Check your child's recent internet links
* Contact friends, school, hospital, family, youth club etc
* Avoid self criticism and analysis - focus on finding your child
NEVER GIVE UP HOPE!
I hope that none of you ever have to face what Coral and Pal Jones are going through, but I hope that this advice helps!