“Baby rescued after horror hijacking ordeal; youth centre’s vehicle hijacked outside school; teacher hijacked at school; cop killed while intervening in hijacking outside daughter’s school.” These are some of the harrowing headlines of the past two months where the common theme was hijacking by a school. The incidence of violence at or near a school is increasing and, in many cases, children are caught up in the situation. Lately, there has also been a surge in news of child kidnappings at or near schools. For example, an 11-year-old girl was kidnapped outside a Mayfair school and the Moti brothers were kidnapped while on their way to school.
Pick up and drop off at school are particularly vulnerable times with many distractions. As parents, guardians and teachers, we are responsible for ensuring that the children stay safe. Unfortunately, the school setup and the way we behave could be setting ourselves and our children up as a target. Consider these precautions to keep your children or those under your care safe.
Schools and teachers:
- As a first step, a school should have a strong perimeter wall or fence. Plus, gates should be secure and access to the premises should be checked.
- Further security could include CCTV systems and an alarm system linked to a reputable armed response company. If possible, armed response members should be on patrol at the start and end of the school day.
- School staff should have at least basic training in crime prevention and emergency procedures; and should have access to panic buttons.
Parents and guardians:
- Safety at school is not just the responsibility of the school, the teachers or the armed response company they employ. Parents or guardians must be vigilant when doing the school run. Even with tight school security measures in place there are still vulnerabilities, particularly outside the school.
- Follow and support the school rules and safety procedures, not only to keep everyone safe, but also to set a good example for your children. Be courteous to the staff, parents and children of the school – your impatience could lead to a distraction that jeopardizes the safety of others.
- Avoid being distracted by any activity that will take your attention away from your surroundings, including your phone or the excited chatter of your child. Also, be mindful not to have lengthy conversations with other parents or guardians outside the school.
- Keep the time for drop off and pick up as short as possible. Be aware of the surrounding vehicles when parking. Try not to sit and wait in your car. If you have to, keep all doors locked and windows closed. With current Covid-19 restrictions, parents aren’t allowed into the school. However, get out of the car and walk younger children to the gate. Wait for them to be properly inside the school before you walk away. Also, don’t leave one child in the car while you drop off or pick up another.
- Make sure that your child’s name is not displayed on their bag or clothes. Criminals could use this to their advantage, addressing your child by their name and gaining their trust.
- Speak to your children about safety and have a family emergency plan. Address things like speaking up if they notice something suspicious, who to ask for help, and what to do in an emergency situation. They should know who is collecting them from school or who they are allowed to go with if, for example, you can’t get there on time. Consider using a password that the person collecting them can share so that your child knows that it is safe. If you need to use a taxi service, check their credentials and safety procedures.
- Consider helping to improve school safety by being attentive to threats, raising concerns with the school, and actioning a neighborhood watch that would be active at the beginning and end of the school day.
- No matter what their age, children should know what to do to keep themselves safe. They should be taught how to act in an emergency situation to get themselves out of danger.
- Younger children should be taught not to talk to strangers when they are alone and never to go with a stranger even if they seem friendly. Let them know that they should shout or fight if a stranger grabs them.
- Younger children should know their name, their parents’ names and contact numbers and who to ask for help. Older children should have emergency contact numbers at hand and know how to use them.
- All children should be encouraged to wait inside the school grounds for the person collecting them. Plus, they should be encouraged to stay off their cell phones to avoid distraction.
- If older children walk home, they should stick to the routes they know, try altering their routes, and avoid quiet or dangerous areas. If possible, they should walk with friends. They should never walk with their cell phone or other valuables in their hand; or use headphones while they are walking. Also, they should let their parent or guardian know when they are home from school.
“The care that we receive from people in our lives shapes who we are,” says Duma Ngcobo, Chief Operating Officer at Tracker. “One of the greatest ways to show care for our children is to ensure their safety. Remain vigilant and look out for the safety of your children and others.”