WHITMAN — Being home alone isn’t as easy as it used to be for kids — the days of heading outside for a day of unsupervised play and adventure “until the streetlights come on” seem to be over as parents worry more about their children’s safety.
That’s where Safety Savvy Kids & Grown-Ups comes in.
On Thursday, Aug. 4, 10 boys and girls in the grade six-to-eight age group, learned the safest practices for being at home when their parents or other adult family members are out. The first two days covered adult and pediatric CPR and first aid.
“I sat down and looked at all the different things that possibly could go wrong, or that kids in this age group needed to be trained on for safety,” said Safety Savvy Kids & Grown-Ups developer Windy Winters-Harrington of Whitman. “I just think that I am aware of the world today and that more kids are staying home alone.”
She researched and developed her idea for the business over the course of 14 months with her husband police officer Kevin Harrington, who aided with the Home Alone component, on the philosophy that knowledge is power. Winters-Harrington is a former administrator in pediatrics at Floating Hospital and in the W-H School District behavior department, as well as a certified CPR/AED (automated external defibrillator) instructor. Officer Harrington is experienced in school safety and is a national crime prevention specialist.
“It’s a different world,” Winters-Harrington told participants at Whitman Public Library last week. “There’s more pressure on your age group. I think it’s tough for you because you’ve got to manage a lot of different things … there’s not always a lot of kindness going on.”
To teach, not scare
That said, the object here is to arm kids with information, not the stuff of nightmares.
“We wanted to make sure we got the information out there that you understood and that made an impact so, in case these situations ever happen, you’re prepared,” Winters-Harrington told the children. “I’m not trying to scare you, I’m not trying to make you feel anxious or worried … but I want you to be prepared and aware.”
Winters-Harrington facilitated two free summer camps at Whitman Public Library from July 26-28 and Aug. 2-4.
“We had a wait list for both classes,” said Library Director Andrea Rounds. “It was one of the most well-received programs we’ve ever hosted at the library.”
Campers received two-year certifications in CPR/AED and first aid from the American Red Cross and a Safety Savvy Kids Home Alone Certificate.
“We have had baby-sitting courses in the past, and they teach certain important life skills, but this program incorporates a whole lot of other really important skills like how to safely answer the door,” Rounds said. “So often children do stay home alone and feel unprepared. We’ve had a lot of demand for courses such as these for children, specifically.”
The Thursday, Aug. 4 class on being home alone started off with a review of the Heimlich Maneuver and other first aid skills learned on the first two days before Winters-Harrington launched into the day’s topic.
“You can do these classes separately because they are so different,” Winters-Harrington said, noting that one girl attending the class had not been present at the first aid classes.
Winters-Harrington emphasized to the class the importance of calling 911 in an emergency and before contacting their parents.
“A lot of this is common sense,” she said, offering an illustration to consider — if your mom is in Braintree, who would be able to get there first in an emergency? Mom or the police?
She said two considerations families must weigh are whether a youngster wants to stay home alone and if they are mature enough to handle the responsibility. About half the class had been at home alone, but only a couple raised their hands when Winters-Harrington asked if they liked doing so.
In Massachusetts, there is no minimum age at which a child may lawfully be left home alone, but the national Safe Kids Campaign recommends that no child under age 12 should be left alone.
Winters-Harrington led a PowerPoint program punctuated by online videos, which raised discussion points.
The discussions centered on best practices should they be followed home: a stranger comes to the front door, they are approached online or via their cell phone by a stranger and what to share and not share on social media.
Hands shot up as the children asked questions or offered opinions during the discussions.
Should they find themselves being followed out along a road, with no access to a cell phone, Winters-Harrington told them to draw attention by screaming and making a scene.
“Are all people bad?” she asked. “No. There are good people who will help you.”
Scheduled check-in times with parents or a guardian and a family code word were advised, as well as learning from mom and dad how to operate household alarms and establish fire escape routes.
The “nevers” include opening the door to strangers.
An assertive attitude when the doorbell or telephone rings is a must, said Winters-Harrington, and if a stranger won’t leave the property, or tries contacting you via phone or social media, the solution is the same. Call 911.
After a break for a snack, topics included outdoor safety such as street smarts, what to do if one finds an improperly disposed of hypodermic needle, shopping mall and movie theater safety as well as water and ice safety.
“We are so grateful to the program sponsor, Mutual Bank of Whitman, which provided $2,400,” Rounds said. “There was absolutely no cost to any of the children who took the class, the first or second session. … They have been huge community supporters of this library.”
Rounds stressed that extra educational and entertainment programs are funded exclusively through donations, not taxpayer dollars. Either the Friends of the Whitman Public Library, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and donors such as Mutual Bank make such programs possible.
“If we could secure funding we would absolutely offer another program like this,” she said.
Winters-Harrington also thanked Mutual Bank for its financial support as well as the library for use of the Community Room.
Future programs are planned in partnership with the Massasoit Community College’s Community Education programs for Brockton, Canton, Middleborough and Plymouth. For more information, look for the Safety Savvy Kids & Grown-Ups page on Facebook.