New Albany's Safety Town helping children with stranger danger

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New Albany’s police chief wants parents to understand that kids younger than 16 simply cannot defend themselves against an attacker.

Chief Greg Jones says 16 is the appropriate age to allow children to be outside by themselves. “I think that's the threshold where you see children getting a little bit more freedom," he says.

While the ultimate decision comes down to parents and personal preference, he says no matter how mature a child may seem, it’s what happens after a child is abducted that is the greatest concern.

“If you were to allow them to take off at 7 or 8 and you don’t hear from them for a while, where would you begin? What would you do? How would you even know what happened to them?” Jones asks.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), one in five kids who are kidnapped become victims of child sex trafficking. It’s that fear that prompted hundreds of parents to sign up their children for New Albany’s annual Safety Town, an intense two week course for kids entering kindergarten, covering 11 topics such as stranger danger.

NCMEC Resources For Families

“We've never really had the talk with him about what to do to be cautious with other people that he doesn't know,” says Shannon Jap, who enrolled her son Oliver, who is 5-years-old. “My son loves to say hi to everybody and he just goes up to people when we’re in restaurants and we just want to make sure that he knows to be careful when he’s talking to people,” she adds.

Chief Jones says that’s the ultimate goal of safety town is to teach children than bad people can seem nice too.

“Strangers aren’t always mean,” says the Chief.

Wendy Blanco says she wanted to make sure her 5-year-old son Pascual understood the difference. “He’s very friendly and super naïve, so for me, this is so important that he be aware when he starts playing outside by himself,” she says.

New Albany's Safety Town Director Lisa Carson says what makes this program unique from other safety cities is that each instructor is a state certified teacher. The curriculum director specifically worked with NCMEC to rewrite the center’s stranger awareness program.

The summer classes are now full, but something new to New Albany’s safety town this year is a Graduate Camp for kids who completed the first course. That means a child at the age of 7 entering 2nd grade can sign up, according to Carson.

“We believe strongly that these messages need to be re-enforced and taught using varying methods to be as effective as possible,” she adds.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office recently put out guidelines for parents on how to talk with their kids at home:

  1. Explain what to do if a stranger approaches them. Children should be cautious and create immediate distance from the stranger.
  2. Teach your children to yell "NO" as loud as they can. It is also a good idea to have them practice.
  3. Run to a trusted adult or safe place.
  4. Explain to your child who they should tell after encountering a stranger. Anytime your child is approached by a stranger, they should tell you or a trusted adult immediately. It is very important for your child to have an open line of communication, especially for situations involving strangers.
  5. Stress to your children, not to accept gifts or go anywhere with a stranger no matter the stranger