Despite concerns, children ‘safe as ever’

January 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The ways we keep children safe have changed from generation to generation, but nothing compares to the way today’s kids are monitored.

Events such as Richmond Centre Mall’s Halloween trick-or-treating for kids, which brought them off the street and into a supervised atmosphere to go store-to-store collecting candy, are becoming commonplace.

“I think events like mall trick-or-treating are crucial these days to making parents feel comfortable,” said Pamela Lau, a teacher at Small Talk Preschool in Vancouver. “It’s not like it used to be. Parents these days pay much closer attention to who’s watching their kids and even who’s watching the people watching their kids.”

As a result of increased fear of abduction, preschools and daycares have adopted many new security measures. According to Lau, all children at her school must be signed in and out by both their approved parental guardians and one of the teachers.

Even though people’s fears continue to rise, Statistics Canada num-bers show no substantial increase in the number of Canadian children abducted by strangers over a 10-year period from 1997 to 2007.

During those 10 years, the average number of missing children cases filed with the RCMP yearly was 63,896, with an annual average of only 42 of those being kidnappings by strangers. That number makes up less than 0.001 per cent of all missing-children cases filed during that time period.

“I truly believe children are just as safe as they ever have been, maybe safer,” said Susan Jones, an earlychildhood educator at a downtown Vancouver children’s centre. “With the increased attention facilities pay to children’s safety today compared with 20 years ago, it would be much more difficult for a child of this generation to be taken, period.”

Jones, who has worked in early childhood education for more than a decade, said she believes increased media coverage of every abduction, or even potential abduction, goes a long way to increasing concern.

In June, the RCMP warned Richmond parents that there was a potential kidnapping threat, and that the target was of elementary-school age and Asian descent. This warning was widely distributed through the media, even though the information the RCMP had obtained about the threat was minimal, according to a Vancouver Sun article.

“We completely understand it might instil fear in people but we want to get the message out to parents. I can’t see any other way this can be done,” Cpl. Jennifer Pound told the Sun.

The RCMP’s plan appears to have worked, because parents kept an even closer watch on their kids than usual, and there were not any kidnappings.

Every school in Vancouver has a school-liaison officer whose job it is to educate parents and students on dangers such as Internet luring and “stranger danger.”

“We are very proactive with the youth in Vancouver, and work very closely with the Vancouver School Board,” said Const. Lindsey Houghton, media relations officer with the VPD.

Twenty years ago, police techniques for finding missing children included putting their pictures on milk cartons. These days, authorities have many new programs in place to help in the search.

One relatively new tool police utilize in the recovery of abducted children is the Amber Alert Program. The program, which was first used in the United States, was introduced in Alberta in 2002 and was Canada-wide by the end of 2005. Since its inception, there have been 29 Canadian Amber Alerts activated, including four in the last year.

In order for an Amber Alert to be issued by the RCMP, the abduction must first meet the program’s four criteria. Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place, the abducted child must be under 17 years of age and be at risk of death or serious injury, and there must be a sufficient description of the child, the captor and the captor’s vehicle.

Amber is a acronym based on the U.S.-program name: America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. Amber Alerts in both Canada and the U.S. are distributed via radio stations, cable TV, e-mail and electronic traffic-condition signs.