Dr. Amy Tiemann, Kidpower North Carolina Center Director and my co-author on our new book project, Doing Right by Our Kids, points out that the public safety message “If you see something, say something” is equally relevant for child safety.
What if you saw a child in danger? You, like most people, would want to do something to protect that child! But what if you didn’t recognize the danger? Or weren’t sure what to do? Kidpower gives people the tools to overcome that uncertainty and take action–important skills that sadly, most people still don’t know yet.
The week before Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped, her friend Amelia Edwards was followed by a car with a man and a women on her way home from school. Terrified, Amelia ran home and told her parents. They thought Amelia was being “overly dramatic” and took no further action. This family was later devastated to realize that the car and couple were very similar to the descriptions of Jaycee’s kidnapping.
Not having the knowledge or tools to address this issue was not Amelia’s parents’ fault. Our goal with both Kidpower and with Doing Right by Our Kids is to make this kind of knowledge much more widespread so that parents and caring adults everywhere will immediately know what to do when a child describes a potentially dangerous situation.
Adults need to know to listen to children’s fears, even if they seem irrational. Rather than just reassuring children, ask caring questions to see if you can get a full understanding of the situation. Also, you want children to be in the habit of telling you about their problems.
Remember that bad things can happen to anyone, anywhere, even in familiar surroundings. If a child mentions being followed or approached by someone who is behaving unsafely, call the police and inform other parents even if it seems unlikely. It is so much safer to give a false alarm than to ignore a true warning.
Tell children to speak up about anything that worries or bothers them – and to keep asking until they get the help they need. In Kidpower, we have children practice interrupting a busy adult and then persisting when the adult doesn’t understand. We teach them to say, “This is about my safety!” We explain that, if one adult doesn’t listen, their job is to keep looking for another adult to tell until someone does something about the safety problem.
Imagine what might have been different if Amelia’s family had had this knowledge. The school, police, and newspaper could have warned the community. Very likely Jaycee’s stepfather or mother would have driven her to school. Maybe law enforcement officials would have caught the Garridos before they harmed any more people.
And of course, it was two UC Berkeley police officers paying attention to their feelings that something was wrong and taking action that finally led to Jaycee’s rescue.
Remember that the safety of kids is everybody’s business. If something doesn’t seem right to you, speak up – and keep speaking up until you get the answers you need – and teach your children to do the same.
If you need help and support in speaking up for child safety, please contact us. Our services include free e-mail answers to questions and paid long-distance coaching as well as in-person seminars for parents, teachers, and other caring adults.