It saddens me to learn of the multitude of instances where, even in these enlightened times, children who have gone missing find themselves being handed back to whoever claims them, often without any kind of investigative checks being made into the identity of that claimant. I myself witnessed a security guard who was about to let a child be picked up by its “parents” simply on the basis of a nod, a wave and what purported to be recognition. Reclaiming a mobile telephone requires so much more formality before being reunited with its owner. How can this apparent lack of care in the protection of our children be allowed to continue? And for how much longer? And at what cost?
Right now there is no law or authoritative guidance for dealing with lost children – instead it is left to others to establish protocols for their own organisation or event. This leads to massive variety in the standard of care provided, however well intentioned it might be. Each organising body developing a process of some kind does so at the risk of having no real understanding of safeguarding or how to ensure children are returned to the correct legal guardian. Staff bearing the responsibility of dealing with lost children rarely undergo enhanced DBS checks before assuming their duties. Then there is the issue of defining what age a child is actually a child. Most venues and organisations in my experience consider a child to be anyone under the age of 14 - sometimes 12 - even though 60% of all missing children under the age of 18 are in the age bracket of 15 – 17. As well as the predatory risks presented by traffickers, paedophiles and groomers, today’s society also contains many immediate family members who may have already been banned by courts from contact with their children.
It’s easy to see why all of this conspires to put children at greater risk. The very people who would otherwise look after lost children thinking that they’re doing all the right things are simply not experts in the subject. There is no legal framework in place that they can rely on or be governed by. Which means that everyone from child to parent, guardian and event organiser is actually at risk.
Nipperbout, has one foot in the childcare sector and one foot in the event sector. Having dealt with lost child provision for 25 years in shopping centres, festivals, airports as well as major public events such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics, we have a wealth of experience and knowledge which helped us to develop lost child training for our own staff – we have now fully developed this into a properly CPD accredited course. Whilst our course is helping to raise awareness and encourages organisations to improve best practice, its reach isn’t wide enough and, of course, it isn’t supported by law.
The current lack of legal governance and direction is an issue which has to be raised within government. A simple amendment to the current regulation by raising the definitive age of children from 6 or 7 to 18 would be a start at least! At the moment we are being asked commercially to offer best practice guidance to organising groups based on broad legislation/regulation. The driver for this is simple, being to help them avoid the possibility of litigation against them in the event of something going wrong. Really, we should be pointing people in the direction of clear legislation which at the very least reinforces the fact that as organisers they have a legal duty to carry out proper ID checks on anyone seeking to claim a lost child. There’s so much more that such legislation needs to do as well though.
The 12th February was the 25th anniversary of the death of James Bulger, who was abducted from a shopping centre in the very moments when his mother briefly took her eyes off him. James was taken away, tortured and murdered by the then ten year olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. Their evil cruelty shocked and revolted the nation but the fact remains that even now it could all happen again. Surely we should be living in a society where if our children become lost we can be safe in the knowledge that they won’t be returned to anyone except ourselves, because properly established, legally backed procedures are in place.
It’s a subject I intend to pursue, having already made representation to government directly myself. Nipperbout as a business stands ready to join with government and legislators to make the world safer for families in general and children in particular. As of today I have yet to receive any kind of response beyond an acknowledgement of my letter.
I will keep you posted.