Friday, September 28, 2007

Remember Maddie...

The child is our first priority.
Not the needs of the family. Not the child's 'story.'
Not the evidence. Not the needs of the courts.
Not the needs of the police, child protection, attorneys, etc.
The child is our first priority.

Can't help wondering...about Maddie, and the thousands of missing children who suffer so deeply. Aren't they all victims of child abuse and neglect...if not by parents as much by a society that puts more effort into judging and condemning the parents for doing or not doing something that might have avoided the loss of the child, instead of putting forth as much time, energy and effort into protecting the children and changing the situation that made their disappearance possible to begin with?

Where ever Maddie is, and I pray for her safety and well being, for her grieving family and friends, the fact remains Maddie's video shares so much of the feelings and fears children experience when they are removed from their homes by a system they can't begin to understand and placed with strangers that may or may not treat them better than they were before. Where do they find hope? How do they cope with the feelings of helplessness? Who comforts them in the dark nights and never ending days?

What can we do? Maddie's message makes one thing clear. We can take care and stay aware. Stop ignoring children near you. They aren't invisible. Their presence isn't some nuisance or disruption to more important things you may have on your mind. Look at every child with interest in their wellbeing. Watch for suspicious behaviors by the child or adults with him or her. Listen for odd verbal exchanges between them. And interact in a friendly manner with the child and adult.

I realize with the harsh realities of stranger danger we often hesitate to interact with children lest we seem suspicious and be misunderstood. As so often happens when faced with something different we went too far in response to a real problem. We over reacted. Went to the far side before we could see the answer, as in everything, is in moderation. Yes, teach children safe behaviors with "strangers." Teach them to recognize and tell about inappropriate behaviors from friends and family. Teach them ways to protect themselves.

But let's stop teaching them irrational fear of everyone unknown. A friend told me children are now being taught to NOT go to a police man if in danger, but to look for a woman with children. Clever... and probably not the worst idea I've heard. But we've made the majority of people the enemy in these little one's minds and inadvertantly increased their danger through fear and hesitation to seek help lest they put themseves in worse danger.

We can't know if someone saw Maddie being taken but chose to ignore any signs that something was amiss. We can't know if she wanted to yell for help but was afraid to because the stranger on the street might be more dangerous. We can't know anything at this point about why Maddie isn't safe at home with her family. But we can look, really look!, at her and the many other missing children on posters, milk cartons and such, then look, really look at the children around us everywhere. We can.

Take aware,
Nancy Lee

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