Summer is upon us in south central Kansas, with its long days, oppressive heat and angry gusts of dry wind. This is a time for our children to unwind after a long school year – to swim, play in the front yard, shoot off fireworks and ride bicycles to the park. To perk up at the familiar sound of the ice cream man, gather up some quarters and peer down the street anxiously. This is the time of year that is supposed to live forever in our minds – steeped in innocence, a feeling of safety and a sense of community.
But far too often, for reasons both senseless and sinister, families come to remember the summer as a time when tragedy struck. These days, the opportunities for our children to find themselves in harm’s way are numerous – just watch the local news almost any day of the week between May and August.
Toddlers who cannot swim tend to find their way into unmonitored swimming pools. Infants who cannot escape the confines of a vehicle find themselves locked inside in the scorching heat. Children on bikes, scooters, skateboards, roller skates and even their own two feet find their way out into the middle of traffic – sometimes into the path of a driver who is preoccupied with a cell phone screen. These are perhaps the most obvious examples of the more senseless tragedies, but there are many less contemplated mechanisms for injury as well.
As for the sinister ones, we all know the risk of leaving children unattended in public: Sometimes they do not return. Unfortunately, the days of allowing our children to run free until dusk are behind us. We all know this, but it is surprising how swiftly a predator can strike. It is also surprising how unassuming one can be.
While none of this is news, and we like to think that our neighbors and community members are as vigilant as we consider ourselves to be, the daily news is a reminder that this is not the case. We must all do our part to keep an eye out for the most vulnerable among us.
No parent can have an eye on his or her child every second of the day. At parks and pools in particular, we should all be prepared to step in and lend a hand if a child is in danger.
The state professionals who are tasked with watching out for at-risk children do a tremendous job, but they cannot cover every household in which poor parenting poses a significant danger. We should all keep an eye on our neighbors, and consider reporting situations that just do not seem right.
Some day care providers are better than others. Many chose this profession because they feel a special connection with our youth; others simply thought it would be an easy paycheck. We must monitor our day care providers closely, and report the ones who are clearly shirking their responsibilities and placing our children at risk.
We all have our own things to worry about these days, but a bit of extra caution can go a long way toward protecting our most vulnerable. During this important time of year, we should all keep an eye out: A split-second decision can be the difference between life and death.
Blake A. Shuart is a Wichita attorney.