Thursday, 17 September 2015

The "Safety House" program

is closing. It should not be closing.
It was a program whereby people volunteered to act as a safe haven for a child who felt frightened, was lost or in other distress. It also helped adults with dementia.
The idea was simple. People would, after an interview and character check, display a bright yellow sign in a front window which showed a house with a smile. There would be another sign on a street corner.
I used to note these as I pedalled out because, before I had a mobile phone, I knew I would be able to ask someone at home in the house to let a friend know I had a flat tyre and he would come to help.  I never needed to do it but it was comforting to know that the help would almost certainly be there if I needed it.
And children did need it. They still need it. At a safety house they knew that they could knock or ring and a responsible adult would take over. They would be given somewhere to sit and, if necessary, a drink of water. The responsible adult would then a make a telephone call to a parent, the police or someone else the child asked for. Adults with dementia would have their ID checked and the person on the card would be called.
It was a wonderful system used in more ways than one. I know it was used when two boys riding their bikes came across a man who was having an epileptic seizure in the street. They recognised what was happening because they had seen something similar with another child at their school. One boy stayed with the man and the other went to the safety house around the corner, explained the situation and got help.
It was used when another boy fell of his skateboard and broke his wrist. He went into the nearest safety house. A girl coming home from school was being followed by a car with a man she did not recognise and did not like the look of. She saw a safety house sign and went in. Stupidly he idled the car long enough for the responsible adult to get his numberplate and he was caught. 
No doubt the list of those helped is long.
And so they are going to close it. Oh "kids have mobile phones these days. We don't need it any more. It is too expensive to do the regular checks on volunteers." 
What if you have lost your phone or it has been snatched from you? What if there has been an accident or another medical incident? How does an adult with dementia who is lost get help they can trust?
Yes, I know part of the problem is the expense of running the scheme. We are pricing "volunteering" out of existence with the need for police checks and repeated checks. They are supposed to save people from abuse, particularly sexual abuse.
The problem is that all a police check really says is, "This person has not been caught doing anything wrong." It is only a start.
Sometimes children will be fortunate. The Whirlwind came to me when her mother died. She came because she knew where I lived and I had let her, as the very small child she then was, "ride" my tricycle.  Would she have been there alone all day? What sort of effect would that have had on her?
Don't we have to hope there will be someone they know and trust nearby? But what if there isn't?
We need safe havens. 


Carole Blake said...

This sounds like such a brilliant scheme. How awful that it is closing. Another example of politicians completely out of touch with real people.

catdownunder said...

It is a brilliant scheme Carole - should be internationally available.