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Teaching stranger danger to kids with special needs

Many in the Kansas City Metro continue to mourn the loss of 10 year Hailey Owens who was kidnapped and murdered last week in Springfield, MO. The circumstances of her abduction and the truth of her alleged abductor have caused great concern for both parents/caregivers and school professionals.

Hailey was not far from home when witnesses saw a truck stop and the driver get out of the vehicle and pull her into his truck and drive away. The witnesses immediately called police and tried to follow the truck, but the driver was too fast. Even though the police found the truck in approximately four hours, and arrested the alleged abductor (Craig Michael Woods), Hailey's body was found a short time after that. Also disturbing is the job that Woods held as a paraprofessional and assistant coach at a Springfield middle school.

Many of our kids with special needs are described lovingly as "friendly, trusting, hasn't met a person they don't like"; and while those are admirable traits they can also be dangerous ones. It is important to teach our students about the dangers of older kids and adults that are not trusted family or family friends. (Sometimes family and family friends are guilty of crimes too.) Here are some tips to go over with the kids at their level. Role playing is a great idea as well.

  1. Never give out your address or phone number without your parent's permission.
  2. If home alone, do NOT answer the door unless you call your parent/caregiver and they give you permission.
  3. If an older sibling has friends over, they are not allowed in your bedroom or the bathroom with you. They should not be alone sitting next to you. (Move away if they are close to you and no one else is in the room.) They are your sibling's friends and should be with your sibling.
  4. Never go up to a vehicle to talk to someone. An adult should NOT be asking a child for directions, help, or want to show you or give you something. If an adult is trying to get you to come to his/her vehicle run inside, go to a house or business close by and tell an adult what happened. (There are exceptions, but parents/caregivers need to tell their child the exceptions in his/her case. Such as: family members or friends that may be picking them up from school.)
  5. Do not go up to adult walking a pet and to see his/her animal. Not all animals are nice and could bite you, and the adult could be using the pet to lure a child.
  6. When playing outside, either be in a group of three children or more or have a trusted adult or teenager with you. Groups of kids are much less likely to be targeted.
  7. When walking somewhere (even less than a block away) walk with someone and follow the tips above. Walking in groups or with a parent may seem less cool, but it's much safer.
  8. If someone messages you on Facebook to meet you somewhere, check with you parents/caregivers, even if the person tells you not to or that it's a surprise and shouldn't tell anyone. It would be better to ruin a possible surprise than meet someone in secret and be hurt.
  9. If an adult or teenager grabs you, scream as loud as you can. Get as much attention as possible, the person is more likely to let you go. Then tell a trusted adult.
  10. Teach who is a trusted adult. Teachers and school workers should NOT be offering you a ride home unless YOU speak to your parents/caregivers and they say it's okay. If you're walking somewhere and a teacher, school worker, or church worker stops to ask if you need a ride; do not approach the vehicle, just say you're fine walking and keep walking. If you feel unsafe turn around and go the opposite direction. It's difficult for a car to turn around that quickly. Be sure to talk to your parents/caregivers about what happened.
  11. If ANYONE touches you on your bottom, private parts, chest, or anyplace that doesn't feel right, tell your parents/caregivers or teacher/counselor. If ANYONE asks you touch them on their private parts, bottom, chest, or in any way you don't want tell a trusted adult. If ANYONE aks to look at your private areas or wants you to look at their private areas tell a trusted adult. (Explain the doctors are allowed to look at or touch those places but only when your parent/caregiver is in the room too.)

Trustworthy adults need to remember that we shouldn't be giving kids rides unless the parents/caregivers give permission in front of the kiddo. We shouldn't be asking them to look at pictures on our phone or giving out candy in an unstructured setting. If trustworthy adults don't follow the rules, it can be very confusing to our kids with special needs.

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