By HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for the Havre Daily News
Many American parents work and have to leave their children on their own at home at least part of the time. Most parents worry about the safety of their children when they're home alone.
There are measures parents can take that will protect their kids even when parents can't be home. Following the safeguards listed below - tips from National Crime Prevention Council - can help ease some of the worry, too.
What you can do
Make sure your children are old enough and mature enough to care for themselves. In some states, there are laws about the age at which children can be left at home alone. Montana judges each case on an individual basis. Some 9-year-olds may be mature enough to be left alone for a few hours while some 12- and 13-year- olds should not be left alone.
Teach them basic safety rules.
Know the three W's: Where your kids are, what they're doing, and who they're with.
Are they ready? Can your children:
Be trusted to go straight home after school?
Easily use the telephone, locks, and kitchen appliances?
Follow rules and instructions well?
Handle unexpected situations without panicking?
Stay alone without being afraid?
Teach your "home alone" children:
To check in with you or a neighbor immediately after arriving home.
How to call 911 or other emergency numbers.
How to give directions to your home, in case of emergency.
To never accept gifts or rides from people they don't know well.
How to use the door and window locks, and the alarm system if you have one.
To never let anyone into your home without asking your permission.
To never let a caller at the door or on the phone know that they're alone. Teach them to say "Mom can't come to the phone (or door) right now."
To carry a house key with them in a safe place (inside a shirt pocket or sock). Don't leave it under a mat or on a ledge outside the house.
How to escape in case of fire.
To not go into the empty house or apartment if things don't look right - a broken window, ripped screen, or opened door.
To let you know about anything that frightens them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
Keep a list of important numbers by the phone. These could include your work number, the neighbor's number, a family member or friend who lives or works nearby, the school, police, fire department, poison control center, paramedics and the 911 emergency number.
Remember that children are naturally curious. Are there things you don't want your children to get into? Take the time to talk to them about the deadly consequences of guns, medicines, power tools, drugs, alcohol, cleaning products and inhalants. Make sure you keep these items in a secure place out of sight and locked up, if possible.
The Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line provides a place to go and something to do after school as well as during afternoon hours in the summer. Sports, recreation, crafts, life skills, homework help, tutoring and community service are among the activities there for children ages 6 to 18. There are many ways parents can support the Boys & Girls Club, including volunteer time, donations, and participation in family nights and other family activities.
As a parent you may want to ask your workplace to sponsor a survival skills class for employees' children. You can kick it off with a parent breakfast or lunch.
Havre Healthy Communities - Healthy Youth has a committee with a focus on safe neighborhoods. If you are interested in starting something in your neighborhood to make it safer, contact Kathie Newell at 265-1144 or anyone on the Healthy Communities - Healthy Youth Advisory Board.
For more information about keeping children safe, contact the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line at 265-6202.