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Story Highlights

  • As the Government intensifies measures to safeguard the nation’s children, the National Parenting Support Commission (NPSC) is calling on communities to build a safety net around children.
  • Executive Director of the Commission, Dr. Patrece Charles-Freeman, is advising parents to get together to devise strategies to keep their children safe.
  • “Build a safety net around children. That is what parents need to do. Join with other concerned, mature and capable parents to set up safety systems in the neighbourhood,” she recommends.

As the Government intensifies measures to safeguard the nation’s children, the National Parenting Support Commission (NPSC) is calling on communities to build a safety net around children.

Executive Director of the Commission, Dr. Patrece Charles-Freeman, is advising parents to get together to devise strategies to keep their children safe.

“Build a safety net around children. That is what parents need to do. Join with other concerned, mature and capable parents to set up safety systems in the neighbourhood,” she recommends.

She says that children should be taught the safety measures and to practise them, so that they can protect themselves when they are alone or in an unfamiliar environment.

In keeping children safe, Dr. Charles-Freeman emphasises the necessity for adults to teach children about appropriate social interactions with strangers and even with persons with whom they are familiar. She cautions against allowing children to put too much confidence in a familiar relationship.

“We need to teach children about strangers as well as unusual behaviour in people who they know. Even if we call them uncle or aunt, if they are acting strangely, we need to encourage our children to say something to us,” she says.

Listen to children

She further advises parents to listen to their children and pay close attention when they are talking, as this is how they will be able to find out if their child is engaged in unsafe social interactions.

“Parents need to listen to their children, pay attention to them when they are talking. Teach them to listen to their feelings and that it is OK to say no if any adult asks them to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Parents need to encourage their children and tell them that it is OK to tell an adult that someone is making them feel uncomfortable,” she notes.

Mrs. Charles-Freeman also provides tips for parents on how they can protect children from predators.

Teach children to say no

She recommends that parents teach children to refuse things from strangers such as money, gifts and rides.  “These are some of the things that strangers use to lure children into an area that is not safe,” she points out.

Also, the child’s name should not be placed on the outside of their belongings as predators will call them by name and the child will not know whether or not the person is to be trusted.

Mrs. Charles-Freeman says that parents and guardians should teach children from an early age to say ‘no’ to anyone attempting to touch them on any part of their body covered by a one-piece swimsuit and to tell a trusted adult of anyone is attempting to do this. Dr. Charles-Freeman explains that this method is one of the easiest ways to help the child to understand inappropriate physical contact.

“Teach the child to say no, scream, run away and immediately tell a trusted adult if someone is bothering them,” she advises.

Mrs. Charles-Freeman also recommends that parents talk to children about appropriate and inappropriate secrets. She says that parents should explain to children that some secrets have to be told to protect loved ones.

“Some predators tell children that they need to keep (inappropriate conduct) a secret or else they will hurt their parents or kill them. This is something that we need to tell children. (Explain to them) that they are just trying to scare them into not saying anything and encourage them at all times whether it is an embarrassing secret, a sad secret or a scary secret that they should tell their parents,” she urges.

Additionally, she warns that children should not be allowed to play in isolated areas and advises that children and young people should avoid walking alone. Instead, they should walk in groups when they are not accompanied by an adult.

Know where your children are

As part of keeping children safe, Regional Director for the South East Region of the Child Development Agency (CDA), Robert Williams, is recommending that parents establish strict household ground rules that will ensure that they know where their children are at all times.

He points out that parents must know where the child is going, who is accompanying him/her and what time the child is to return home. In the event that a child does not return home by the expected time, parents should not wait 24 hours before reporting it to the police.

He also highlights other tactics that parents can employ to ensure their children’s safety.

“If a child is going to a party for example, he/she doesn’t have to go alone. You can drop them off and pick them up or even wait in the vehicle or run errands until they are ready,” he suggests.

Mr. Williams also notes that parents need to be very diligent about monitoring the friendships that their children form and advises that parents and guardians get to know their children’s friends.

“You must say to the children ‘some of your friends, you just can’t be friends with this person anymore’ or ‘you have to be careful how you select your friends’. Your child can’t just be friends with anybody. Some of the people they are forming relationships with aren’t good for them. They will hurt your children,” he states.

Discipline with love

The CDA representative further advises that discipline should be administered in a manner that encourages open and honest relationship between the guardian and the child. After instilling discipline, the child should still feel comfortable to approach the parent with any issues that they may have.

“You can’t discipline and push the child away from you, because you (will end up) pushing the child into the arms of persons that will hurt that child. So, even as you discipline, discipline in love, because you want that child to stay close to you because sometimes when the child pulls away from you, that is the time that someone will get the opportunity to hurt that child,” he cautions.

The CDA has been staging a series of child abuse prevention walks throughout communities, to offer tips on how parents can keep children safe from abuse, and to sensitise communities about childcare and development issues.

Sensitisation walks have been staged in Yallahs and Morant Bay in St. Thomas; May Pen, Clarendon; and Torrington Park, Kingston.

The CDA will continue scheduled walks in the communities of Brighton in Westmoreland;  Burnt Ground, St. Elizabeth; Flanker, St. James; and Porus in Manchester.

Sessions will also be held at children’s homes, schools and churches across the island.

“Everybody we meet we try to engage them and have a conversation about child protection issues. We tell them look, our children are special. Take care of them,” Mr. Williams said.

Established in 2013, under the Education System Transformation Programme, the NPSC seeks to increase national awareness on the various issues affecting parents, provide support strategies to help parents address these issues, as well as to help parents connect with other parents and community members in an effort to cultivate an environment of positive parenting.

The CDA is charged with the responsibility of safeguarding the well-being of children in need of care and protection.