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Never Leave Children Unsupervised

Window of the Ocean Club, Algarve with thanks to Johanna

PARENTING: RECENT MEDIA coverage of abducted children has prompted debate among both children’s groups and parents about the most appropriate ways to speak to children on the dangers of abduction and inappropriate contact from adults, writes BRIAN O’CONNELL

On the one hand, parents have to balance their own fears, as well as a certain societal hype around the issue, with allowing children have normal, carefree childhood experiences. Finding that balance, between common sense parenting and overprotectiveness, is one many find challenging.

Both the Madeleine McCann case and, in recent weeks, that of Jaycee Dugard, who was found alive 18 years after being abducted from her home, have raised parents’ sensitivities in this area.

But what is the best way to communicate dangers to children? And at what age? And are the concerns of parents based on real evidence or driven by over-hyped media campaigns?

Lloyd Byrne, national childcare manager with the Irish Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), says the issue is something that parents are more aware of in recent times, and the ISPCC has noticed a rise in the number of callers asking for advice.

He says that while parents have fears of unknown persons abducting their children, in the majority of cases when an attempted abduction is made, it is often by a person known to the family.

“The first thing I would say is that it’s important that parents establish protocols with children before talking about who they should or should not talk to,” he says.

“Children should be told that mum or dad will be there to collect them if they’re going somewhere. We always advise parents to tell children that if they ever have to change the arrangements, the coach or whoever is in charge would be contacted. Sometimes mobile phones get a lot of bad press, but they can be very useful if parents are running late.”

Opening dialogue with children depends on each individual child, Byrne says, but for some it may begin when children start attending activities outside school, such as football or swimming. “There’s also the time when children are playing around outside the house.

“Parents will often say, ‘Play where I can see you’, or maybe tell the kids if they need anything they can call into Mrs Smith next door. You don’t want to tell children they can’t play outside, or that they need to be fearful of people who may just be passing or looking for directions. It’s about balance.”

Dr Eilis Kennedy, at the UCD School of Psychology, says the greatest risk for children is when they start moving around independently, from early primary years on.

“My opinion would be that as soon as a child can talk I would tell them don’t go away with someone they don’t know or that their parents don’t know. The latter part is important because, in some cases, the person may have befriended them.”

Kennedy points out that awareness of familiar and unfamiliar people is one of the earliest skills children acquire. “Most babies have it by nine months, and their natural instinct is to remain with people they know.”

Dr Angela Veale, lecturer in the Department of Applied Psychology in University College Cork, says the whole area of “stranger-danger” is a complex one for parents.

“Even young children can learn to say, ‘Don’t speak to strangers’,” she says, “but for very young children, the concept of ‘stranger’ can be vague.

“For instance, is it a stranger if the person is someone a child knows from seeing around the neighbourhood or if the child knows the person’s name? It can be difficult for children to grasp the difference between stranger and non-stranger.

“There is also a stereotype that strangers are male, so children may be confused by how to respond appropriately to approaches from females who are unknown to them.”

Veale points out that generally children between nine and 12 years of age understand the concept of stranger and are aware of the risks, but perhaps less clear on how they might respond behaviourally if approached.

“The challenge for parents is to give children skills to respond appropriately and to keep themselves safe, without fuelling extreme views of what ‘strangers’ might do,” she says.

“Children should be given a chance to explore, through discussion, role play and problem solving, a range of potential situations and what they might appropriately do.”

She says it’s important also for parents to keep the approach fun and relevant, and bear in mind that children have to have contact with a wide range of adults. Therefore, generating a general fear towards all adults is not the desired response and parents should be careful in the wording they use.

Figures show that more than 400 children who arrived into the State over the past nine years are unaccounted for, while last June, 20 children were missing from HSE-run hostels since the start of the year. Some may have chosen to leave of their own accord, or have been abducted by family members or resettled elsewhere in the community.

The number of sex offenders in Irish prisons rose last year from 237 in December 2007 to 275 in December last year. However, these figures account for only the most serious offences, and where an individual commits other crimes such as manslaughter or murder, only those crimes would be recorded.

One of the areas fuelling parents’ concerns is that once a sex offender or person who has attempted abduction has been caught and prosecuted, there is a worry that little rehabilitation occurs in prison, and that supervision upon their release is limited.

The ISPCC’s Lloyd Byrne says this is a problem, feeding public concern: “I feel that the risk offenders pose to young children when they are released should dictate their sentence. They go back out after prison in many cases with no sort of adequate care or treatment.

“It’s then up to the sex offender to sign on at a Garda station, and the onus is placed on the offender. I believe it should be the other way around. Obviously kids don’t need to know all these details, but adults do.”

Advice to parents
  • Having an open and honest relationship with children is one of the best ways of ensuring any inappropriate contact from strangers is reported to you.
  • Always be sure children are aware who is collecting or dropping them off. If the situation changes, the children should know that a coach or adult supervisor will be informed and that an adult other than their parents won’t turn up to collect them unless previously arranged.
  • Never leave children unsupervised. If you have to pop out to the shop even for five minutes, ask a neighbour to keep a watchful eye. It’s also appropriate to know the backgrounds and suitability of coaches, youth club leaders and summer camp organisers at activities your children are attending.
  • It’s important to help children (especially under 10 years) to understand that a child does not have to comply with the request of an adult. Children be taught behavioural ways of saying no or of responding appropriately. Children can know something but may find it hard not to comply with adult demands.
  • Adults should inform themselves of the dangers that may exist in a particular area. Children need not know the specifics – this information is the adult’s responsibility to absorb.
  • Be mindful that the majority of abduction cases involve someone familiar to the person abducted.

in the Irish Times


  1. Lets go back to the basics:looking after your children 24/24 is the ONLY way to care for them.
    All the rest is "litterature".....

  2. Even to this day the Mccanns have never said "Never leave your children alone" they still believe what they did was OK...Why? because what ever happened was an accident and there is no "abductor"...


  3. Even now to this day I cannot get my head around how doctors could even think of leaving toddlers alone at day or night, did they really leave the children alone or did they make this up as a cover for what ever happened to maderlaine nothing would surprise me about this very strange pair. All I know for certain maderlaine died in Portugal and her parents know it.

  4. No help from the people of Rothley too???

    look at this:

    Madeleine McCann Case Flash! magazine (appears in paper edition only)

    Maddie's mother does not leave the house and the father grows ever more distant from his wife

    Even the neighbours have dissociated themselves

    Two years after the child's disappearance, Madeleine's grandmother Susan tells Flash! she "lost both her daughter and granddaughter that wretched night."

    (Mccanns files)

  5. Anon I thought also that the leaving the children alone was a ploy. If the children were not left there could not have been an "abduction" However, in steps Mrs.Fenn ,with her hearing a child screaming for over an hour, there were no checks.

    Madeleine was a known sleepwalker, the family knew this. They would have been better to say that maddie must have walked out of the apartment in her sleep. First reports that they thought the child was sleepwalking..that comment came from somewhere.I would have believed the child was snatched while out of the apartment..more credible..the fatal mistake the Mccanns made was too much detail which resulted in too many lies. For some reason the mccanns did not want a post mortem, more proof' they refused her medical records ..why?


  6. Bet they wish you had been their spin doctor IRON.
    You would have told them, "Get out there now and appeal, beg on your knees if you have to. Tell the World not to leave children alone lest one is abducted as Madeleine was"

    Poor Clarence Mitchell, what an opportunity missed!

    By the way, I thought Jaycee was snatched from the street, not "abducted" from her own home.


  7. But if you are the doctors with a hotline to Gordon Brown do what the fuck you please without fear of consequence regardless of what mishap befalls the kids.!!
    Around the corner from me a young mum has just lost two children to social services because her and her partner had a row in earshot of the children and she didnt press charges against her husband, neither child hurt...Baby P...the latest failure of these idiots meant to have childrens issues at heart...yest when you need them...Baby P ..madeleine...no chance,.

  8. if i am away on businees and i am having a pint of lager on my own in a hotel bar, and i needed to go to the toilet, i would not leave a £5 note on my table for 2 minutes

    simple reason, i would be worrried if someone steals my £5 note

    .....leave 3 young toddlers under 4 in an apartment in a dark foreign apartment for 30 mins each time....

  9. Anon that reminds me of an old Belgium tradition, when truckers went to the toilet they used to spit in their tea so that no one would steal it. Sounds disgusting but it worked.

  10. http://www.premier.org.uk/life/lifeline/topics/babysitting.aspx

    BUPA....Listen up Mccanns..


    To my knowledge Jaycee was abducted from the street.

  11. "Mother jailed for toddler's death"


  12. A mother in the UK has just been sentenced to 6 years in prison for causing the death of her child by giving drugs to her child to make it sleep - she crushed antidepressants over a period of time which built up in the child's system.

    I have no sympathy whatsoever for the position the McCanns find themselves in at this moment in time. As far as I am concerned they had more interest in themselves than their children. Children should come first - every time.

  13. http://www.mirror.co.uk/life-style/real-life/2008/04/30/teenager-leighanna-shares-with-mccann-twins-how-to-cope-with-a-missing-sibling-115875-20400100/

    Leighanna, Ben Needhams sister speaks of the twins and a couple of cruel sentences leap out from her playmates...a coffin passes "that could be your brother in there" one shouts.


  14. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1211977/Mother-killed-20-month-old-son-doping-make-sleep-jailed-years.html

    Baby sedated so that mother could have a quiter life.

  15. In the beginning I thought that doctors could not be that stupid to leave children alone. After all they must have seen their share of freak accidents during their training. After reading the rogatories I am convinced: yes they are THAT stupid, and that egotistic and that soiciopathic. Read especially the statement of Rachel, the mother who did not want to check if her baby was up until her neck in diarrhoe again, because she did not like to go to that dark area, where she left her baby alone.

    The whole group was from the same moral fiber: none!

  16. Good point above ~ about the mother not wanting to check on her sick baby ~ too dark!!! But it was Jane Tanner, not Rachel.
    There were so many couples, who neglected their kids big time, that it is easy to get them muddled.

    Their "errr errr uhmmm pause mumble errr errr" statements were also easy to confuse, because simply none of them seemed able to give a coherant account of events.

    Don't forget too that the first police on the scene said some were rolling drunk.

  17. From Rachel Oldfield's rogatory:

    Reply “Yeah. So basically we’d go and have dinner and then we’d sort of run back you know every fifteen twenty minutes and have a listen at the door and make sure nobody’s screaming their head off”.
    Reply “Mmm yeah, I mean the patio doors were locked, erm yeah I didn’t really like going up there by myself, it was, like going through that car park was quite dark and there was never anyone around, it was a bit, you know made me feel a bit uneasy”.


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