Saturday, August 2, 2014

How Safe Are Your Kids In Their Summer Program?

Most parents, when they drop their children off at summer program, assume the adults in charge will do at least the obvious when it comes to keeping the children safe, especially if the program is run by a known organization.  One parent who enrolled his 5-year old in a program sponsored by The City of Hamilton got a big surprise.

Like many parents, this parent works.  The babysitter was picking up the child from the program every day.  The parent had provided the staff with a list of emergency numbers and instructions specifying who is authorized to pick up the child.

One day a man showed up at the program saying he was there to pick up this 5-year old girl.  He'd never picked her up before.  He was not authorized to pick up the child.  Program staff hadn't heard from the parent because the parent was expecting the babysitter to pick up the child as usual.  The little girl had never met this man. He was a stranger.

Well, of course this isn't going to work, right?  Surely the staff at the program won't let a 5 year old girl leave with a man she doesn't know, someone clearly not authorized to pick up the child.  They will question the man, call the parent, call the sitter, maybe even the police.  That's just common sense, right?  Apparently not.

They let this man take the little girl.

I'm tempted to end this post here and let you wonder what happened to this child.  What horrible possibilities...

As it turns out, the babysitter was unexpectedly unable to pick up the child so she sent someone else.  She sent the man.  But nobody knew this.  In the end the child was physically safe but she did go through the experience of being sent off with a strange man even though she'd been taught not to go with a stranger.  She's five years old.  She's going to do what the adults at the program tell her to do.  If they hand her over to the man, if they are okay with it, she obeys.

Now this child has learned that it's okay to get in a car with a stranger.  Now if someone approaches her and tells her that her daddy sent him or her to pick up the girl, she will go because this experience has taught her she should.  She will have to be re-taught and she will have to be told again that it's okay to say no to an adult.  This is daunting for a 5-year old.

When the girl's father found out what happened he was in shock at first.  He went to the staff at the program with his concern.  According to the dad, the staff said they have too many kids to check on who is picking them up.  Then the staff told him that they weren't aware that he'd given them a list of numbers and had specified who can pick up his child.  The parent also reported that the staff said, "Anyone could come in here, just pick a child, and walk out and we wouldn't even know about it."  The father couldn't believe the staff actually admitted this.

Considering the attitude of the staff, the problem will continue.

I want very much to name the program publicly.  I can't do that because it would advertise to predators where to find easily accessible prey.  Publicly naming the program will put all of those children at even more risk.  I will be assisting the parent in dealing with the program and the funders to have them address this.  I also wonder if this is the only program in the city where things are run like this.

I am encouraging every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher and caregiver to ask questions of the staff and funders at these summer kid's programs.  How do they ensure the children's safety?  Is there a sign-in policy?  Is there a sign-out policy?  How do they check to ensure the person picking up a child is authorized to do so?  Do the children know they are allowed to refuse to go with someone?  .... And about fifty other questions.  It's not safe to assume those in charge are taking it seriously and taking real steps to ensure your child's safety.

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