Thursday, October 28, 2010

HALLOWEEN SAFETY- It's Up to You

It is that time of year again....the spooky season. For most of us because of what we do, the world is a scary place enough as it is. Still, this is a really fun time for the children and a chance to escape from reality for a little while for all of us. To make this an especially fun time, we must take precautions and focus on safety first.

The most important thing we can do as parents to keep our children safe is to plan ahead and be prepared. That is true of any situation but especially so during Halloween. Consequently, we need to plan this Halloween weekend in advance.

As we plan ahead, we must remember that costume safety is one of the most important aspects of Halloween. We spend so much time and money often looking for the perfect outfit for the child that we often overlook safety precautions. Check that all parts of the costume are secure and not too restrictive. Insist that your child can move quickly and easily in the costume and that there is nothing too tightly around the neck or face that may cause difficulty breathing or seeing. Many masks can be so restrictive that the child cannot breath, see or hear properly. Make sure that the child has either glow sticks, reflective tape or a hand-held light that will make him easily visible to traffic. Children get so excited and caught up in the moment on this special night that they often forget to be careful crossing the street. It is your responsibility to remind them and to be there, or have an older, responsible child there when the younger children forget so you can protect them.

Plan a specific route. Know the trick-or-treating schedule for your community, the times, and who and where the sexual predators are in your neighborhoods. Violent predators are required to turn their porch lights out on Halloween night and not answer the door. However, it is prudent not to leave the safety of our children at the mercy of these individuals and we must, therefore, know who and where they are ahead of time. The safety of your children begins with one person: you. The next line of defense is your child, so you must prepare that child with the rules and insist that he follow them, no exceptions.

For older children who do not plan to trick-or-treat, they will often have a school dance or function. This Halloween is on a weekend, so that may not be an option. Perhaps your older child will be planning to go to a party with friends at a home. I would only allow this if you personally know the child and the parent of the home in question. If so, insist that you talk personally with the adult that will be on hand. Ensure there will be supervision the entire time, no alcohol, etc. Have a solid pick-up time that allows for your child to have a good time but is not so long that many will have left the party and your child may be alone.

Still another common plan for older kids is to see a movie, usually a horror film, on Halloween. This is acceptable if the children or going as a group or your child will be with at least 1 or 2 friends. You want to make sure the kids get safely to and from the theatre. Do not allow your child to simply go to the mall, wander around a few hours, see a movie then plan to meet you a few blocks down the street at some later point. There is too much left to chance in this scenario. Have a specific drop off and pick up location, preferably at the theatre itself. If the child is old enough to drive herself, insist that she park at the theatre, under a street light. Remind her and her friends not to wander around but to go directly from her car to inside the theatre and vice versa when she leaves. Make sure she has her cell phone (with her and fully charged) and insist that she call you when she gets to the theatre and when she is leaving.

If your children will be going for the traditional trick-or-treating, there are several safety precautions that you must take. Design a specific route based on areas you are familiar with that are well lit and not isolated. If your older child will be coming along to help, instruct them to carry a flashlight, stay away from dimly lit areas, only visit homes with porch lights on, stay away from cars and keep the smaller children in view and close by at all times. Make sure the older child escorts the younger children across streets, up to doors, everywhere. Older kids will often get distracted (texting, talking on cell phones, etc.). Make it clear to the older children that they are responsible for the safety of the younger kids and that is their number one priority. In turn, instruct the younger children to mind the older kids and you expect them to be on their best behavior. Make sure the older kids have their cell phones handy, charged up, and will be checking in often. Give them a specific time to be back to a specific meeting point. Do not allow the children to take any shortcuts. They must stay on the route and in well lit areas.

Follow along with the children as they are out on this festive night. For older kids, they may try to discourage this. Insist the children go in numbers and stay together. If an older child is not with the younger ones escorting them from house-to-house, it is up to you.  As you escort the children, make sure when people open their doors to the trick-or-treaters, they see you close by. Stay visible, both to your child and to other people. This is true even if you take the child to an event. It is important that your child and others know you are there, you are watching and paying attention.

Alternatively, you can take your children to a sponsored/sanctioned Halloween event either at a school, church, library, etc. Many communities are encouraging people to seek out these alternative choices to traditional trick-or-treating. You will find this to be a safe and fun alternative for the children where they will be showered with accolades for their clever costumes, play games, stay warm, and enjoy plenty of hot chocolate and goodies.

Speaking of those goodies, we must always remember that we need to have the candy and treats checked before the children try to eat them. Your local fire department or police department will probably have a special area where they will be checking the children's treats. Many of the sponsored events will have a special kiosk where the treats are checked as well. If you cannot find such help in your area, you can check the items yourself. Do not allow your child to eat anything that appears to have been opened or tampered with in any way (faded wrappers, wrappers with holes or tears or anything that appears to have been re-wrapped) nor should they eat anything that was homemade. Make sure that all wrappers are in tact and original. If you child has any food allergies, take that extra caution that you undoubtedly take already and closely inspect the items. As the saying goes, "When in doubt, throw it out."

Lastly, remind your child and other children that may be going along not to talk to people they do not know. Tell them not to go near cars. Remind them to stay together and that you will be close by. There will be people admiring their costumes and that is expected, but your child needs to know that they are not supposed to get close to people on the street or in homes or in cars that they do not know.

If we are all prepared and take precautions, this will be a safe and happy Halloween for all of us. Let's enjoy this Halloween, keep it safe and make it fun!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Volunteering is rewarding, but always comes with a price...

Post by Adrian, 10/20/10 from "Volunteers, in Their Own Words"

I have been involved with raising funds for children's charities for many years through a car club I belong to. However, the chairman of the club, Nigel Nessling and myself became further involved at a deeper and more personal level since Madeleine McCann disappeared. We both followed the case on-line in support of the McCann family's plight.

The reaction to our support was profound. Both myself and Nigel were stalked and intimidated by those who disliked McCann supporters at a level neither of us would have ever anticipated anyone would sink to. This of course only scratched at the surface of what the McCanns receive beyond the hurt and pain from not knowing what happened to their daughter.

Since then we became active for a UK charity supporting the parents of missing and exploited children and a support group helping the McCanns find Madeleine. This has proved to be uplifting and saddening at the same time. Talking to several parents, the one thing that keeps coming to the surface is the lack of support for people with missing young ones. Very evident and common is the finite funding law enforcement agencies are willing to spend before tucking cases under the carpet. This to an unattached observer can be logical, but to the parents it is closure on a mystery that will never be closed until the missing person is found. Emotionally and gut-wrenchingly irreconcilable. Yet, helping these people, at any level, is satisfying and good food for the soul.

The search continuity is left to the parents once law enforcement reaches a stop. This is where volunteers come in. At any level of help, volunteers are most welcome and appreciated. There are many practical ways to help families find their missing loved ones and with the help of sites such as Stacy's, many resources are shared and information is made available to build upon.

If there was one piece of advice I would share to make helping easier, it would be to keep off the forums arguing about specific cases. Too late for myself and Nigel to a degree,we will just have to grow thicker skins as the stalking, intimidation and defamation for supporting is relentless.

- Adrian Upshon, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

NEW PAGES ADDED FOR LINKS, RESOURCES, CASE UPDATES

UPDATE: I have added several pages to my blog. You can now see the following pages:

HOME
ABOUT ME
VOLUNTEER RESOURCES
TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES
LINKS
ACTIVE CASES
COLD CASES
OUT OF TRAGEDY
SHARE YOUR STORIES
VOLUNTEERS...IN THEIR OWN WORDS

The Volunteer Resources page is a listing of various resources for volunteers who are searching for missing children and adults. I have also set-up a Training page for your information and reference. If anyone is interested in the training, please contact me.

The Links page contains a wealth of important contact/resource information for your perusal. It is also a source of information for parents of missing children and others.

The Active Cases will be an ongoing process that I will update regularly. Please check back often.

If you have a case that you would like me to add to the Active Cases or Cold Cases pages please let me know.

The Out of Tragedy section deals with people who have turned their personal tragedies into something positive to help others. There are 3 such stories listed here initially: Amy St. Laurent, Adam Walsh and Amber Hagerman.

I will be updating the above pages on a regular basis. Please visit the "Share Your Stories" page and email your personal stories. I would like to hear the insights you have gained from working on various cases. Please share your thoughts with other volunteers so we can all benefit from your experience.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Staying Focused and Hopeful...Not Jaded or Cynical

As you all know, tragic news has become part of our routine here as we continue our searching for missing children. We have learned to accept this reality as part of the territory. We must not allow this, however, to make us jaded and cynical. We need to learn to turn these tragedies into something productive, something constructive that will motivate us and keep us moving forward. I believe that is critical to our emotional health and absolutely essential to continuing our work.

I've said many times that it is normal for us to have our down times and low points, especially upon hearing horrible news about a child being recovered under terrible circumstances. We are often there from the beginning and even while we know in the back of our collective mind that the outcome can be a bad one, we hold out hope until the end that the child will be found alive. When that is not the case, it is a second tragedy when hope is lost along with the child. It makes it difficult to hope the next time, harder to believe that the next one will make it. Yet, we must.

We struggle with this over and over, but we must continue to hope while we brace ourselves for the worst. Against the outcry of those who would sway us, we must press on. The next child, and there will always be one, is going to need us focused and ready. If we allow our judgment to become clouded with doubt, we are going to miss something. We must stay sharp and attentive to every detail, covering all bases as we move forward. Our mission is to stay focused on each child as we go, starting fresh and not carrying the emotional baggage of all of the cases before. We must bring the thoughts of those children along with us, to remind us of why we are here and motivate us to keep going.

The bottom line is that we all struggle with what we have to deal with on a regular basis. Most of us will not need clinical help and many of us have learned to adapt to our situations and become more resilient out of necessity. However, we can all benefit from learning how to cope with tragedy in new ways.

Some of us may need additional help and that is to be expected when you consider the thousands of volunteers that are out there searching for missing children. If you or a colleague is struggling to cope with the tragic loss of a missing child, you are not alone. If you feel it is too overwhelming for you and you need help, please call a local psychologist or therapist and get the help you need. Talk to a professional, ask a friend to go with you if you do not want to go alone. I have placed some information on the RESOURCES page that may help you and there are many other resources available out there. Depression is a serious condition and you do not need to try to handle it alone.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Focus on Encouragement

We have all found ourselves at least at one point feeling beyond frustrated that a case has not moved forward, not moved fast enough or worse, that not enough was being done to bring a missing child home.

As many of us have worked in several different groups and teams, no doubt many of you have encountered in-fighting and internal strife amongst our volunteer groups. It seems odd that we would result to turning on each other when we have all come together in this common cause. However, it's only natural that people working together under high stress situations would occasionally lash out at each other in response to this pressure and stress that the anxiety brings. It's important to remember that this is normal and we must recognize it for what it is.

We must make every effort to control our frustration and channel that energy into something productive, thinking of new and innovative ways to help in the search for missing children. What can we do that we have not tried? Who might know something that we had not previously considered? We must constantly keep our focus on the child. It is very easy to become angry about the fact that the child is missing, endangered, and a positive outcome much less a resolution of any kind is not guaranteed. As human beings, we do not like such things to be out of our control. Yet so many times this is the case with missing children. Consequently, when we have some control over the situation, i.e. we are leading a team at the direction of investigators or we have begun our own search team and are preparing tasks for others, we have the tendency to grab all the control we possibly can. This gives us a sense of security and comfort about the direction the case is going in. However, our ascertiveness can be seen by others as aggressive, overbearing behavior that can lead to volunteers feeling less important and not appreciated for all they do and the ideas they have to contribute.

We must remember that all of us are here to help the children and we ALL have something to offer. Encourage the sharing of new ideas and reach out to each other for input. Do not simply pass out tasks with a mere "thanks" and then lend a deaf ear when someone is trying to make a new suggestion. It is counterproductive and quite frankly, it is bad business. The old phrase "you will draw more flies with honey than with vinegar" has been time tested because it is TRUE. Anyone can bark out orders and push paper. A real leader will encourage her team to reach the goals she has set for them and inspire them to reach the goals they set for themselves. This will lead to more volunteers coming on-board, more of them staying on-board, and more children being found. More happy endings, that is why we are all here.

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