27 October 2012

Check, check and check again

Wearing red at Peregian Springs State School
Yesterday was 'Day for Daniel' - a day when we all wear some red (a colour that has become synonymous with child safety) to promote awareness of the protection of children in our community. Daniel Morcombe was abducted at the end of 2003. Our children have lived with his disappearance all their lives. We, as parents and teachers, have lived with the tragedy and the heartbreaking sadness of the Morcombe family for nearly ten years. A sentiment this strong tends to create a climate of fear and a tendency to overprotect our kids by hovering over them, warning them and tethering them to us closely.

When you think your child has disappeared it is a gut wrenching, heart stopping, sickening feeling of total panic and loss of all rational reasoning. Shortly after Daniel disappeared my daughter (ten at the time) was supposed to be catching the bus from school just 3km into Noosa Junction to where my husband works - simple, just get on the bus outside the school, there's a teacher on duty, sit next to someone you know, get off the bus at the stop outside Dad's office - what could go wrong?

At 4.00pm Rick rings me (I was in Brisbane) and then came the news - 'have you got Maddie? She hasn't come here. I've been looking for her all over the Junction. I've rung the school. I've rung the bus company. We don't know where she is.' It was like a heart attack. I was at least a two hour drive away and Rick was in a mad panic.

After half an hour of madness, phone calls, checking with friends, checking with Maddie's friends, and rechecking all over again while trying not to scream at everyone who said 'no, we haven't seen her', we finally located her at the bus depot in Tewantin.

What the bus company hadn't told us was that the school bus went to the high school where she was supposed to get off and get on a different bus that went to the Junction. As the bus she was on sailed past the end of the Sunshine Beach Road she told the driver she needed to get off. 'No, we don't stop here - you'll have to stay on', she was told. Well, at least it was a happy ending. There is a bit more to this story that I'll tell another time but the point I'm trying to make is that as parents we need to check and check and check AND we also need to make sure our children are building the skills of resilience, self-reliance and problem solving.

Hovering, tethering and warning frightens them - as a parent said to me this week 'Gwen, they think there's a paedophile on every corner'. Of course, there isn't but our kids need to be able to recognise the signs that tell them something is a 'bit off' and then have some behaviours they have practised to remove themselves from the situation. Our student protection lessons at school are about this very thing and on Assembly on Friday 3L demonstrated this brilliantly with their three little skits.

So Day for Daniel is over again for another year, our awareness is heightened and our safety skills are honed...and at 4.10pm as we were all packing up at the end of a week in comes a Dad 'My daughter didn't get of the bus. We don't know where she is'.

Thankfully, another happy ending - she had missed her stop and had to stay on!

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