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GEORGE: Can we honestly assess risk when it comes to our children's safety?

September 12, 2017 - 12:15 PM

 


OPINION


The British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development recently told a single father in Vancouver that his five children (7 to 11 years old) couldn't be unsupervised as they took a city bus from his residence to their school, a 45 minute journey. I think that the government has gone too far in its efforts to nanny parents and that we aren't doing our children, or ourselves, any favours by letting them do it.

To have a child abducted and murdered has to be every parents worst nightmare. The fear of this happening can be paralyzing and many of us simply don't want to think about it. That fear can also be easily exploited. Stories on this topic are constantly in the news (they sell). People at large have predictably also responded to the heightened awareness.

Our child protection system in British Columbia is complaint driven. In this case the ministry received a tip and was obligated to investigate. Someone took the time and effort to notice these five kids on a bus, note that they lacked an adult to supervise them, and went ahead and filed a complaint. The ministry contacted the father and told him that they would be investigating. The ministry concluded that children under ten would not be permitted to be in public unsupervised, a judgment call with ramifications for more than just this father and his children. Walking to the store or even being on a playground without supervision are now verboten for children ten and under. I live in a rural area and my kids (15 and 8) walk about 2/3 of a kilometer to the school bus stop every day. Does the presence of a 15 year old qualify as "supervision"? The ministry stated that while there is no legislation or ministerial policy setting specific ages, Ontario has set it to be 16. Ontario has declined to comment.

We need to have a discussion about risk. The problem of unattended children being abducted and murdered has been somewhat overblown by the media. With the advent of the Internet, stories that were once local found new audiences across the world. So much so that many of us would swear that these occurrences are becoming more prevalent as time marches on. The opposite is actually the case. Police reported crime in Canada is down and continues to drop. The R.C.M.P. has also noted that between 1987 and 2014, the number of missing children reports per year has dropped by 15,000.

The total number of children abducted and murdered by a stranger in Canada from 1970 to 2010 (according to the Star article above) is 154, or just under four children every year. I am not in any way attempting to minimize the pain that the families of these children go through or the revulsion that most of us feel when we hear about these incidents. We do need to put the risk into context though. Using data from StatCan from 2000 to 2013, 1538 children under 14, or 111 per year, were killed in motor vehicle accidents, just over twenty five times as frequently as kids were abducted and murdered.

In 2005, my wife and I were looking for a house to purchase in our town. Proximity to schools was an important consideration, as we had three school age children. We were shown several homes within walking distance to both an elementary school and the local high school. All of these homes were marketed to us using that fact as a selling point. We eventually purchased a little further away than could reasonably be walked and ended up having to drive our kids to school each day as transit was essentially non-existent. I quickly noticed that the elementary school wasn't set-up to handle the amount of pick-up and drop-off traffic, not by a long shot. But what really got my attention was watching people drive their kids every day from homes that were less than five blocks away from the school, many coming from homes we had considered purchasing.

"What were these people thinking" went through my mind. It was stranger danger, of course. But people were putting their kids at a much larger risk (death in a car accident) in order to avoid a statistically improbable risk (abduction by a stranger). By attempting to shield our children from the one risk, we are reducing their exposure to novel situations and hampering their ability to grow into responsible and resilient young adults. We are also encouraging childhood obesity by eliminating an important opportunity for daily physical activity. At the same time we think nothing of buckling them into their carseats while we jaunt hither and yon in our automobiles, a statistically much more dangerous risk.

Ultimately, these risks are something that every parent needs to assess for themselves and act accordingly on. To have the state step in and tell all parents that all children under ten are too much at risk to be unsupervised in public is a failure of public policy. The failure is that there really isn't any. By their own admission there is no legislation and no internal guidelines. We need to have the conversation in this province and at the end of the day I can only hope that we can base that conversation on a realistic assessment of the risks and a clear look at what we are giving up when we give in to fear and allow our emotional reactions to guide our actions.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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