Stranger danger: Recent worrying trend in attempted child abduction

08 June 2017

Recently, on two separate occasions, two school girls were almost abducted. These two incidents serve as a timely reminder for schools to brief staff, parents and students about the dangers of child abduction and how to recognise and avoid an abduction.

The attempted abductions

An all girls’ school in Melbourne’s south has warned students to travel in groups after a Year 7 girl and another girl from a nearby school were almost abducted. The school’s principal sent a letter to parents advising them of the situation that occurred with the Year 7 girl. The letter stated that she was able to get away and return home, where her family reported the incident to Police.

According to media reports, the principal has encouraged students to travel in groups and to be vigilant of suspicious activity. The principal further stated: “If your daughter witnesses anything, she should discuss it with you and then it should be reported directly to the Police. We also appreciate you letting us know of the details as well so that we can warn our community.” A Victorian Department of Education and Training spokesperson has said both students are being supported by their schools and are being offered counselling.

Worrying trend

The Victorian incident is the latest incident in an increasingly worrying national trend of attempted child abductions. Earlier this year similar incidents occurred in NSW and WA. In NSW someone attempted to abduct a school student by placing a hood over their head at around 8am on a Monday morning. Another attempted abduction then occurred on the Tuesday.  Parents were notified of both incidents. In WA, a primary school boy was forced to run from three men in a white van on a Thursday afternoon.

The attempted abductions before and after school hours raise serious concerns for the safety of students who may be travelling on their own to and from school. While these students were lucky enough to escape the attempted abductions, the tragic case of Daniel Morcombe in QLD in 2003 is a constant reminder for all members of the community of the importance of educating students on how to stay safe in all environments; physical and online.

As explained in a previous School Governance article, schools and teachers have a duty to take or exercise ‘reasonable care’ to protect students from risks of harm that are ‘reasonably foreseeable’ whilst they are involved in school activities, or are present for the purposes of a school activity. Excursions, incursions, and day-to-day travel to and from school all pose different risks and one of the best ways to protect children during day-to-day travel is to educate them on safety.

What to do if an attempted or actual abduction occur

Various states, such as Queensland, have child abduction alert systems in place. In Queensland, the system is known as the amber alert system. In WA, the Child Abduction Response Plan (CARP) is a cross sectorial initiative by WA Police, the Association of Independent Schools WA, Catholic Education WA and the Department of Education WA to implement a plan and policy to report any suspected, attempted or actual child abductions. The prompt assistance of the community, including schools, is vital in ensuring that these systems are effective.

Schools managing risks associated with potential child abduction incidents have a range of obligations including preventative measures such as:

  • ensuring adequate security measures are in place to protect children on school grounds;
  • implementing procedures with respect to the management of visitors to school grounds; and
  • ensuring adequate supervision of students.

Schools should ensure that all staff are aware of response procedures such as:

  • the activation of critical incident management plans;
  • notification of Police and other authorities;
  • potential school lockdown;
  • lodgement of mandatory reports to child protection agencies in certain cases;
  • alerting students and parents in the community in an appropriate manner;
  • activation of trauma response procedures; and
  • implementation of media and communications strategies.

Schools should also develop, implement and communicate an abduction policy. Staff should be trained on the policy.

Educating the school community

Schools not only need to educate staff but, also need to teach students about the risks of abductions and ways to prevent abduction occurring. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation’s Child Safety Curriculum (The Curriculum) provides useful guidance and educational materials for schools to teach children and parents about personal safety, including cyber safety and phone safety. It focuses on three key safety messages: Recognise, React and Report. The Curriculum has been adopted by the Queensland and Victorian Departments of Education, as well as State, Catholic and Independent schools in other states and territories.

William Kelly

William is a Legal Research Coordinator at CompliSpace. He assists with drafting and reviewing policies and procedures, as directed, for CompliSpace clients as well as writing regular articles for the School Governance blog. William is a lawyer and an officer of the Supreme Court of Victoria.