By Alison Feigh, Free Spirit author of I Can Play It Safe and program coordinator at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center
Parents seem to be extra aware of safety when Halloween rolls around. It makes sense. The day involves individuals altering their appearance and encourages children to approach homes of people they don’t know, and we all seem extra in tune to the things that go bump in the night.
The good news is that in the history of child safety and missing children, Halloween has not been a major concern. Yes, I have handled cases of teenagers who have stayed too long at a Halloween party, triggering a call to the police and a missing person’s report, but those were resolved quite quickly and safely for the concerned parents. Even though my own parents checked my candy every year, I have only been able to find two cases of candy poisoning documented in American trick-or-treating history, and in both of those cases members of the family were responsible for harming their own children. Halloween does bring out immature pranksters, but their damage has not caused a spike in our incoming calls. Safe and positive Halloween experiences have been the norm for the little ones, with pedestrian safety being a bigger concern for most agencies than actual abductions.
One reason we don’t have a spike in cases on Halloween may be because parents are good at keeping tabs on their children with the chaos that costumes and nightfall brings. Basic rules such as only approaching well-lit homes and following the buddy system are well known and seem to be well followed. The most important reason is that children who are abused or abducted are most often hurt by someone the child already knows. These offenders are not attracted to one day on the calendar, but are seeking out children they can exploit with attention and affection over a period of time. By being caring and connected with their children, caregivers help keep them safe from such offenders, and not just on Halloween.
But Halloween is a great time to remind children that personal safety is important. Trick-or-treating offers a prime opportunity to chat with children about trusted adults in the neighborhood they could approach if they are ever in a situation where they need help. When your children are putting on their costumes, you can remind them that even though they are pretending to be someone else for one night, you’re really glad that they are who they are year-round. Remind them to listen to their gut instinct and tell you on any night of the year if someone makes them feel unsafe or asks them to break a safety rule.
We are thankful for adults who help keep children safe year-round. If you are looking for practical suggestions, the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center website has ideas for planning a Family Safety Night, as well as Keep Kids Safe resources and discussion points, and a list of Halloween Safety Tips.
Having ongoing open conversations about personal body safety and Internet safety will encourage children to talk with you at any time with any safety concerns. Have a happy and safe Halloween!
Alison Feigh has an M.S. in criminal justice, and serves as the program coordinator at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, a program of the National Child Protection Training Center. Influenced at an early age by the abduction of classmate Jacob Wetterling, she became an avid spokesperson on issues of personal safety. Alison has been tackling the problem of missing and exploited children for over a decade—providing education and support to families and communities.
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