Youth safety needs team effort

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

8/2/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- School begins Tuesday with a reminder to the Maxwell community of its role in ensuring the safety of children.

The return of school means many youths will be riding bikes, using the bus or crossing the street to get to and from Maxwell Elementary/Middle School.

The 42nd Air Base Wing's child supervision policies outline the proper way children should be cared for, depending on their age in order to "offer a safe, caring and positive environment," said T. Bonita Jones, chief of Airman and Family Services Flight.

"When it comes to children's safety, there is a larger responsibility to protect them," Jones said.

"By educating parents and residents of Maxwell and Gunter on the child supervision policies and the childcare services available as well as education programs such as Latch Key, this increases the awareness of children and their needs," she said.

Included in the policies is a "line of sight" provision, which requires that 5- to-9-year-olds remain in constant view or hearing distance of their parents or adult caretaker except for those ages 6-9 when walking to and from school. Those younger must always be supervised.

Other areas covered allow children ages 9 and above to be left alone in a vehicle with the keys removed and the parking brake applied for 15 minutes, children are allowed to be left alone in their homes for three hours if above age 13 and unattended overnight if above age 16.

The policy also mandates that children ages 10-12 complete the Latch Key Program before guardians may leave them alone for up to three hours in any situation.

Latch Key arms children with basic safety tips for staying home alone in case emergencies arise. The next class is 5-6:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Gunter Community Library for children who live on or off the installation.

Latch Key is a class taught by Ruben Aguilar, an information and referral consultant along with a member of the 42nd Security Force Squadron. The program teaches children what to do when approached by a stranger, how to stay safe inside the home and how to respond in case of a fire or severe weather.

At the most recent Latch Key course, Aguilar offered youths a number of tips for staying safe.

Walking home

Children walking to and from school should stay in a group. Being alone, a child is more susceptible to being followed.

Entering their homes

Children should be aware of anything out of place or unusual, such as broken windows or locks that may indicate a burglar's presence, before they enter their homes after school. In such cases, children should leave the area, call 911 and stay with an adult.

Locking doors

Once safely inside the home, children should lock the door and refuse to open it to anyone.

If children are watching TV, they should not show alarm if they hear a knock at the door. They should keep the volume at the same level so they do not arouse a potential intruder's suspicion.

Caring for keys

Children should keep their keys with them in a safe spot at all times.

Calling 911

"Call 911 anytime when you feel unsafe and you feel like you need help," Aguilar says.

On Maxwell and Gunter, anyone using a cell phone has to dial 953-9911 to reach emergency services on base.

Fire safety

In case of a fire, children should leave the house immediately.

Parents should create a fire safety plan and practice fire drills during the day and night so children know how to escape and where to meet afterward. Families also should check smoke alarms every six months.

Severe weather

In case of thunder, lightning or tornadoes, children and families should stay inside away from windows. For tornadoes, shelter should be sought in a basement, closet or other type of safe room where there is an emergency kit already in place. The kit should contain a flashlight, batteries, bottled water, blankets and a radio.

To register for the Latch Key program, call 953-2353 before Aug. 12.