Although the summer season is past, plenty of event organisers have been spending months planning their next round of public events aimed at taking us through Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night, Diwali and on to the festive season.
Beyond content, performers, infrastructure and pricing though, how much thought – and action – have they put into Lost Child procedures and care? It’s a serious consideration which in my experience should rank higher on the To Do list than perhaps it does at the moment. What’s more, there are serious legal implications for those who organise an event and get this part of their planning wrong.
Whilst providing staff to supervise activities at an event recently, Nipperbout took a three-year-old ‘found’ child to the event’s Lost Child Point. There, they saw event staff parade the child around, approaching every woman in a yellow T-shirt to ask if it was their child. That’s because somebody had seen a similar child with a woman in a yellow T-shirt earlier in the event. When the rightful parent eventually arrived to collect the child (they weren’t wearing a yellow t-shirt!), the event staff simply handed the three-year-old back.
Fair enough? No – absolutely not. The event staff carried out no ID checks and completed no paperwork (to protect themselves as much as anyone else) before letting the child out of their care.
When you consider the implications of this, the danger is obvious.
There seems to be a general misconception within event organisers that if the child appears pleased to see a particular adult and goes willingly with them, then “it’s probably fine” to let them go. While this might turn out to be fine most of the time, trusting such a practice takes no account of unknown situations involving split (possibly acrimoniously) families, children who may be in the care of foster parents where the actual parents have court orders against them, or trafficked children.
Nipperbout has plenty of experience of seeing where things were not thought through or put into practice properly. Recently we were asked at very short notice to provide and operate a Lost Child Point for a festival where we were already providing general child care and entertainment activities. The local council was on the point of preventing the entire festival from taking place because of the quality (or lack) of arrangements for Lost Children. The organisers had proposed that the Lost Child Point should be sited in the same place as the First Aid tent and run by the first aiders.
This is and has been a common practice until quite recently, perhaps with a view to managing budgets. The point was that the organisers hadn’t considered the effect on lost children of witnessing festival-goers who might have been brought in for medical help while under the effects of drugs or covered in blood (even if only from an innocent nosebleed). Drunk people brought to a first aid tent can often be aggressive and the language accompanying them can be extreme at the very least – imagine the effect of all this on a young, impressionable, lost child. Add to this the effects of needles, medication, allergies and the myriad of other distractions, including the fact that at any moment an incident could occur where first aiders might have to leave their own site to help others and you can understand why organisations like St John Ambulance now decline to offer Lost Children Services!
On another occasion, we were approached by organisers to run their Lost Child Point. During the previous year, the original operators hadn’t been able to cope, leading to friction with the police. We took over the running of the Lost Child Point at the event and because of our professionalism and standards where things ran far more effectively, Birmingham City Council asked us to run a similar facility at their Mayor’s event. In our experience councils are generally (thank goodness) becoming more clued up on how Lost Child Points should be run.
I find it astonishing that there is no codified, legally backed procedure in place to deal with something as fundamental as the care of children who have become separated from their parents or guardians. Because there isn’t this comfort, every event and security company can and does adopt its own procedure. We frequently find that the quality of ID checking, policies surrounding the information that can or cannot be given over event radio and the very places were ‘found’ children are placed while waiting to be reunited are rarely child-friendly.
With all this in mind, here are 5 things I suggest that event organisers should consider when organising a Lost Child Point. For me, these are a minimum:
Is the Lost Child Point in its own marquee or space?
Are the staff DBS checked with one male and one female present at all times?
Do the people running the Lost Child Point or the event organisers have appropriate insurance cover specifically to cater for lost children? One insurer providing this cover is www.mortonmichel.com
What is the competence of the Lost Child Point staff? Experience, safeguarding training, appropriate paperwork, ID checking procedures, etc.
Have the Control Point, Security heads and Lost Child Point staff had a pre-event briefing so that everyone is working to the same plan? IC codes/ Radio protocols, waiting times before involving the police etc.
In the coming few weeks, lots of events will be taking place at least in part during the hours of darkness. We find that events, where crowd lighting is provided to help with site clearance at the end of the event, is worth its weight in gold. Having it helps to highlight not only the route out of the venue, but also anyone who has become separated from family and friends – clearly, it would be a huge bonus in the event of a sudden evacuation being needed. Obviously, it has to be budgeted for – but what a visible and recognisable investment in the safety of event-goers.
Also, do not hesitate to contact us to find out more! 01296712658