Help your child stay safe
How can you give your child the independence they need, but help them to stay safe?
The age at which we start to give our children more freedom and independence depends upon our own experiences, their maturity and our social environment but as we allow them to have greater independence how can we ensure that they stay safe and make the right decisions?
Part of the charity Railway Children’s work focuses on preventative education, encouraging children to think about and identify safe people and safe places. The following information is informed by this work.
You will know your child best, their understanding of risks and danger and their level of maturity. This will help you to decide what is safe for your child.
Developing their knowledge and understanding from an early age will help them to make the right decisions and choices to keep them safe when they are away from home, whether for a few hours with friends or a few days if circumstances have driven them to run away.
Do you know who your child would identify as a safe person to go to for help if you were not around?
Recently we heard of a Primary school aged child who travelled around a major city for several hours because she wasn’t sure who to approach for help. It is important for children to understand that strangers can be unsafe but they also need to know who can help them.
Have you talked to your child about who they could approach if they needed help? This could be a Police Officer, Post Office counter staff, station staff, a friend’s parent, a trusted neighbour. You know your area best and who would be most appropriate.
We know that unfortunately, young people who do end up running away from home can be approached by adults who may appear to be safe and friendly but often want something in return. Encouraging children to think about which people are safe and why can help them to assess situations they may face in the future and protect themselves.
Identifying safe people also extends to the online world, where people can easily pretend to be something that they’re not. Guide your children on the safe use of social media, the images they and their friends post and the friendships they make online. There are many useful resources to help with this on the CEOP website.
Do you know where your child would think is a safe place?
With younger children there will be clear boundaries about where they are allowed to go and where you have decided is a safe place. As your children grow older you will want to know how they are getting to and from their destination, who they are with and how they would get help. Even if you have discussed this with your child, as they are allowed more independence they may end up going to places that you haven’t agreed upon.
We know of many cases where young people have changed their plans without letting their parents know and have ended up being reported missing to the Police. Not all of these young people were in unsafe places, however they were in places that they were unfamiliar with and unknown to their parents. Some young people find it difficult to say no to their friends and aren’t sure how to get back to a place of safety. Make an agreement with your child that if they move on with friends they know how to get back home, and text, call or let someone else know where they are going.
Whilst mobile phones can help you stay in touch, make sure your child knows what to do if they don’t have access to their phone e.g. have memorised an important phone number, know how to reverse charges on a public phone, can identify safe places to go to if they need help, such as a Police station, library, supermarket, train station, health and community centre. In London, there is a scheme called CitySafe, identifying safe places where young people can seek refuge in a difficult situation, indicated by a City Safe Haven logo.
Sadly, we know that there are many young people regularly going to unsafe places, and in extreme cases sleeping rough because they don’t have a network of safe people and safe places in their life. It’s not always easy to strike the right balance, but the earlier that you start talking to your child about safe people and safe places, the greater chance that they will make better choices about any risks and dangers they face as they get older.
More information, help and advice can be found in the NSPCC guide ‘out alone’ and the Missing People guide ‘Running away – what we say!’.