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Andrew Pollock

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Monday, 01 October 2012

On helicopter parenting and strangers in day care facilities

It appears that a recent incident at a different campus of the "preschool" (I call it day care) that Zoe goes to has gotten the attention of the Free-Range Kids blog.

Firstly, I need to say that on the parenting spectrum, I definitely self-identify closer to the free-range end than the helicopter end. I'm not sure that I'd let an 8 year old ride the New York subway on their own, but Zoe's not 8 yet, so I really can't say.

Sarah and I received the same email that is reprinted on the blog, on Friday night, and we were both (very) mildly alarmed at the situation, but not particularly concerned, mostly because it wasn't the facility that Zoe goes to. I'm not sure I'd be that much more concerned if it was, to be honest.

I did like the statistics that the parent quoted in response. I thought that that put things into perspective, but didn't really take abductions by estranged parents into consideration.

My one reaction to reading the email was, "why did they wait until after the incident to escalate it?" but then, from my own experiences in dropping off or picking up Zoe, I could totally understand not all the staff knowing on sight all the parents or guardians that do pickups and drop offs. This does lead to one asking how they know who to buzz in, but that's another can of worms.

Anyway, I read the 50 or so varyingly indignant comments on the Free Range Kids blog, and since they were talking about the company that I give a not inconsequential amount of money to, I feel the need to write a response.

  • it's a day care centre "chain". They have kids ranging from infant to pre-K (if I'm getting my grade terminology correct). It's not what I'd call a "school", hence they call themselves a "preschool"
  • having actually been to one of the facilities, I can understand the request to not mingle in the lobby. It's tiny, and it blocks the view of the doors from the front office, where an employee is usually buzzing people in from
  • I can totally understand the desire by the staff to not hold the door open for other people, even if we "know" them, because of possible changes in family circumstances. I would say that there's a difference between knowing someone by sight, because they're always dropping off or picking up their kid at the same time as you are, and knowing their name, where they live, etc. Having done pickups and drop offs, there are parents in both categories. I'll still hold the door open for a parent that we socialise with outside of "school", but I'll think twice now before doing it for someone who only looks familiar but I don't really know. I don't want to be the one who facilitates a future incident
  • I think a lot of the conservative position the day care management has stems from liability. I have no problem with that. If the shoe was on the other foot, and an estranged parent had walked in and taken their child, and the centre had a "locked door" policy, there'd be some uncomfortable questions to answer. I'm paying them a boatload of money, they say they operate under a "locked door" policy, I expect them to keep my kid safe

The whole episode raises the question: who was this person and what were they doing there? Some of the commentators hypothesize that they were casing the joint for a future incident, or just giving themselves an impromptu tour before placing their child there (Zoe and I toured before we signed up, but that was an official, prearranged thing). It really is unfortunate that the staff didn't challenge this person, but as I said, they probably all had to review the video surveillance footage together to ascertain that none of them knew who the person was. I consider this a bit of a deficiency itself, but I don't really expect them to all have photographic memory, especially if one parent mostly does drop off and pick up. The other (expensive) option would be to issue each authorized person with an electronically revocable proximity card, so they can let themselves in, but I feel that that's taking things to the extreme. They staff all carry portable radios. If they don't have a discreet "code" they can call when one of them sees a person they don't know, I'm sure they will have after this incident.

I personally found the majority of the comments on the Free Range Kids blog to be on the extreme overreaction side of things. As much as I'm a believer in Free Range parenting, I think the day care provider has mostly reacted appropriately. Do I agree with their "locked facility" policy? It's my first experience with a commercial day care facility, so I don't have anything to compare it with. As I said earlier, I can totally understand where they're coming from in terms of limiting their liability. Previously, Zoe was in a "home day care" facility, without any locks, and I for one wasn't constantly worrying about someone wandering into that provider's home and abducting my daughter, so I guess the whole "locked facility" thing is on the more extreme end of the scale for me in the first place, but like I said, I'm uncalibrated for commercial day care centres.

I'd certainly like to see the primary school environment that Zoe goes to not be such a locked down affair.

[21:27] [opinion] [permalink]