When I was ten years old, the Wild West could be found in our living room. Actually, you could find it in practically anyone’s living room given that there were more than 100 TV Westerns made between 1954 and 1969. In each one it was pretty easy to tell the good guys from the bad. So, I was not at all afraid when one day I went to the local police station with my dad to pick up his paycheck. I not only knew what a bad guy looked like but I had “the law” with me. I was safe.
While my dad went to get his check, I waited on the bench opposite the desk sergeant and, through a door left ajar, I had a kids-eye-view of the hold-over cell. One guy looked like my math teacher. Another looked like the guy at the corner confectionery. One looked like my grandpa! No one wore a black hat or a scraggly beard or a fierce scowl. One of them smiled at me. And, I smiled back.
Granted, I never knew what they were accused of let alone if they were guilty of anything. Still, many years later from the vantage point of being an adult, that memory gave me the creeps. Now, from the vantage point of being a parent, that memory makes me acutely aware of my naïveté at that age. So, when I heard about Project Safe Place, I was eager to learn about how they made it easier for a kid to find a “good guy” when he or she needs one.
Project Safe Place is a “safety net” of locations that can give immediate help to a child in crisis and connect them to supportive resources. A Safe Place sign means that staff members are trained to take an active, cooperative role to help youth ages 10 to 18 who are in need of safety.
Places likely to participate include the obvious: schools, fire stations, libraries, and YMCAs. Local child-friendly restaurants and QuikTrip stores are also a part of the nationwide network that extends the reach of shelters and other crisis intervention organizations within their communities.
Karen Sieve is manager for the Project Safe Place locations throughout St. Louis City and St. Louis and St. Charles counties in Missouri. Karen told me, “Everyone – no matter your age – needs a personal safety plan. When a child has that ‘uh-oh’ feeling or if they find themselves in a situation where they ‘want out’ a Project Safe Place sign will let them know that this is a place where they can find an adult who is committed to giving them safe, supportive assistance.”
Marti Cortez, Senior Vice President of the Saint Louis Science Center says they chose to participate, “Because the Science Center is family-friendly, centrally-located, and open seven days a week, it makes sense for us to offer assistance to children and teens in need. We recognize that many young people who visit us may feel more comfortable coming to our facility for help in crisis situations than other places. The sad reality is that there are many kids who are homeless, experiencing abuse, neglect, fear for their safety, or have serious family problems. If they come to us and ask our staff members for help, we’ll start the process to find them a ‘Safe Place.’ ’If we are the link in the system that helps at least one child, it will be worth our effort.”
A very cool development is the National Safe Place TXT 4 Help project. A youth can text the word SAFE along with their location to the number 69866. In reply they will receive an address of the nearest Project Safe Place site and contact number for the local youth shelter (or a national hotline number if there is no nearby shelter).
Children and teens can only take advantage of Project Safe Place if they recognize the sign and know what it means. Tell your kids about what you’ve read here. And, the organization educates thousands of kids about the dangers of running away or trying to handle difficult, threatening or harmful situations alone. If you’re a scout or other youth group leader or a PTO planner, consider scheduling a Project Safe Place presentation in the near future.
If you’ve got a youth-friendly business or organization, consider becoming a Project Safe Place site for your community. In St. Louis or St. Charles County, contact Karen Sieve, Project Safe Place Manager at Youth In Need : ksieve@Youthinneed.org. To find a Safe Place manager in another location click here.
Our local skateboard park is a designated site. While on vacation my kids pointed out more Project Safe Place signs. My kids are preteen and teen: old enough to be more independent but not old enough to fend for themselves in any situation. Project Safe Place is there to help them recognize a “good guy” if and when they need one.
by Expert Mommy, Diane Asyre