While most children make it through childhood safely, watching the evening news accounts of a child abduction – regardless of where it has occurred – is enough to terrify any parent or caregiver.
The reality is that of all children who are abducted, most are taken by a family member or acquaintance. Even though it is estimated that only 25% of children are taken by strangers, teaching children to be cautious of adults whom they don’t know, without filling them with fear, is an important life lesson parents and nannies must teach.
Since children can’t always identify who a stranger is, they must be empowered to know how to identify risky situations and who they should ask for help if they encounter one. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, children need to learn how to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations. If they become involved in a dangerous situation, children need to learn effective steps they can take to remove themselves from the situation.
Teaching basic safety and self-care skills can build a child’s awareness and confidence. These skills include the ability to lock and unlock doors and windows; how to make and answer calls, how to respond when someone comes to the door and how to evacuate in an emergency. Children should also have access to important phone numbers including their parents work and cell numbers, relative, neighbor and friend contacts and emergency numbers for the fire department, police, ambulance and poison control.
Nannies should work with parents to help children learn to identify and report unusual, inappropriate, or dangerous behavior of an adult. Children can identify these behaviors because they will make them feel uncomfortable, anxious or concerned.
Children should also be cautioned that adults should never ask children for help, such as finding lost pets at the playground, or offer them candy or food without asking the adult they are with first. Children should also be taught that is it inappropriate for an adult to ask them to keep a secret from mom, dad or nanny.
Practicing role-playing situations can help children know that they should talk to a trusted adult if another adult or teenager makes them feel uncomfortable. Trusted adults can include parents, teachers, mentors and parents of friends. Young children can also practice identifying people whom they can turn to for help if there is not a familiar trusted adult available. For example, if a child needs help and there is a woman pushing a baby stroller while holding a toddler’s hand and a man sitting on the ground alone with a brown paper bag in his hand, the woman with children would be the best person to approach.
If a child reports abuse or a nanny suspects it, she is under obligation to report the suspected abuse to the appropriate child protection agency or county social service agency.
All NAN volunteers must also be familiar with the NAN Child Protection Policy.