Balto. Co. program offers parents tips on child safety

Parks department gives presentations, pamphlets

August 08, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

The girls were taken by strangers from their homes, their yards and the cars of friends.

The abductions of a handful of children in California, Utah and Pennsylvania this summer have gained vast amounts of media attention and raised fears among parents about safety.

Child abductions by strangers are no more prevalent this year; last year at this time, 51 children had been abducted by strangers nationally, compared with 49 this year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Even so, Baltimore County's recreation and parks department wants parents to know that they can help protect their children from violence, harassment and abuse by becoming more involved in their recreational activities and by teaching them how to respond in potentially dangerous situations.

"You're the best protection your child has," said John F. Weber III, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks. "The more involvement you have, the better off your child is."

The year-old program, called "You Care ... So Be Aware," has staffers from recreation and parks making presentations on the topic to about 30 parent groups per month and distributing about 40,000 parental guidance pamphlets annually.

The program, designed in consultation with the county police and social services departments and the nonprofit group Prevent Child Abuse Maryland, was recognized last month by the National Association of Counties as a national model.

"Most of the items in the presentation are common-sense things," said Martha "Marty" Stoelting, parks and recreation program coordinator for the northwest area of the county. "A lot of it has to do with the parent being respectful of the child and also teaching the child to say it's OK to say `no'" to an adult.

Tips include:

Watch for warning signs of abuse, such as an adult asking your child to keep a secret.

Establish a family password for emergency situations or when someone else needs to pick up your child.

Go to your child's sports practices, games and activities.

Repeat safety messages to your child frequently.

To find out more about the "You Care ... So Be Aware" program, go to www.sobeaware.org or call 410-887-3804.

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