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The courageous, heartbreaking story of Jaycee Dugard – and the tragic murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzy – have brought the terrifying reality of kidnapping to the forefront for millions of parents and other caring adults.

We will never know whether or not what we teach in Kidpower might have prevented these two horrifying abductions, but we do know that our program has helped thousands of children to be safer.

When Kidpower appeared on a national TV in 1989, we were flooded with notes from parents with local newspaper clippings about kids being stolen and abused. Many were from rural areas saying, “We moved here to be safe and this terrible thing has happened. Now, what do we do?” Child abduction can take place in any home, neighborhood, community, or country.

Kidpower teaches parents that children do not need our anxiety or our despair – but we must remember that kids DO need our protection, including from any kind of abduction. We must not let the Illusion of Safety stop parents from being aware of the reality of potential danger no matter where they live so that they understand potential hazards, do not give independence until a child is truly ready, and know how to prepare their kids with age-appropriate awareness and skills.

Many of us remember when, in 1993, 12-year-old Polly Klaas was kidnapped from her bedroom in Petaluma, California. Kidpower taught a special class for the two girls that were with Polly and for her other friends and family. The girls said, “If Polly had learned this, she would still be alive.” We gave training and materials to the Polly Klaas Foundation. And for months afterwards, we taught skills to little girls as young as five who would ask, “Can you keep what happened to Polly from happening to me?”

Since then, there have been many times when Kidpower has provided services in the aftermath of an abduction.

But we would so much – SO MUCH – rather help people learn what they can do to prevent an abduction – or any other kind of violence – in the first place.

It is true that nothing works all the time. Even if we follow all the rules of the road, a car might come up onto the sidewalk and smash into us. But we can be safe from cars most of the time if we know how.

The same principle is true for being safe with people! Our goal is to balance independence with safety and to empower children with the tools they need to explore their world with safety and confidence.

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Published: March 9, 2012   |   Last Updated: July 27, 2016

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.