Being a community of parents and pediatricians we are constantly trying to safeguard our children and patients. As children grow and are increasingly out of reach of our hands, we must entrust others with their care, education, and safety. Frequently, during a well child exam, I discuss with parents what kind of strategies they are using to safeguard their families. As soon as possible, children should learn their identifying information including name, address and parents’ names and phone number. Children usually have this ability somewhere between four to five years of age. Along with these crucial steps, parents must begin to discuss stranger awareness.
It’s a frightening prospect to consider that your child may be exposed to unscrupulous individuals with malicious intents. I use simple screening questions to determine, during a visit, whether children have any tools to use during an encounter with a stranger. Typically I will ask, “What should you say if someone you don’t know asks you to help him or her find their pet?” Many parents are surprised when their child responds, “sure”. I counsel parents that they must talk about what a stranger is and what a child should do if a stranger approaches them. However, as thorough as any parent can be, situations may arise that they have not planned for. Children of different ages have differing capacities to reason out the truth of a situation. Yet no child can be expected to decipher an emotionally charged situation combined with the malice of a stranger. For this reason, I believe one universal safeguard that families can provide their children is a “safe” word or phrase. This would be something private to the parent and child that would only be shared with someone outside of the family if they were “safe” to transport or take care of that child. This way a child does not have to think or reason out of a confusing situation, but instead just listen for the “safe” word or phrase. Of course this depends heavily on maintaining the privacy of the “safe” idea and chosen words.
Recently, the attorney general’s office opened a website that provides information to the public on the identity and location of registered sex offenders. This website is the result of legislation that has been in place since 1996 when President Clinton signed the bill supporting Megan’s Law. Previously this information was available at local police stations but not at the touch of a fingertip, in the home. Parents may search this site, located at: meganslaw.ca.gov to see listings of registered sex offenders in their area. Results are shown in multiple views. Parents may search their zip code and see a map marked with residences of sex offenders. They may search within specified proximities of schools or parks. Searches may also be initiated by looking up names to see if they are listed as part of the site within the state of California. This function would be particularly helpful when allowing unknown laborers into the home or in researching childcare options. The site features pictures, addresses, offense and whether or not the individual is in violation of their parole.
The main benefit of this site is ease of access to essential information that will increase a family’s awareness to potential predators. The majority of child sex offenses occur with an adult that a child has a relationship with in some way. Therefore, it is essential to know the people that are closely knit into your child’s life. The site also has important information for families on the protection of their child, from modeling safe behaviors to being an approachable parent. Knowing where your child is at what time and with whom is essential information for a parent with a child of any age. Megan’s Law provides another resource to help raise our community level of awareness and watch over our neighborhoods. Educate yourself and talk about safety of all sorts with your children...it’s never too early!