| Oct 16, 2008

Oct 16/08 - Sydenham Block Parents

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Feature Article - October 16, 2008 Sydenham’s Block Parent Week Focuses on Local Schools and RecruitmentBy Julie Druker Zita Roy, chair of the Sydenham and District Block Parent Program, will be visiting local schools for Block Parent Week, which runs this upcoming week from Oct.19-25.

All elementary students from kindergarten to grade 3 in all of the primary schools around Perth Road, Harrowsmith and Sydenham will be given a presentation by Zita so as to fully understand the program.

A block parent home is a place of refuge for a child or children in trouble. It is not a snack shack, a public washroom facility or a place to receive minor first aid treatments.

Children will take home information to their parents and Roy is hoping that more parents will join the program which is entirely free.

A year and a half ago, Roy sent every family in each of the targeted schools an application package. She admitted, “The response was not very encouraging.”

The program had run in previous years in Sydenham but it fell dormant for about nine years until Roy resurrected it when she and her husband retired to the area five years ago.

Roy ran a Block Parent program in Sherbrooke, Quebec for years before her arrival in Sydenham and is a firm believer in the program’s necessity and effectiveness.

The program, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, started in London, Ontario and exists across the country.

Roy explains, “The basic function of the program is to give immediate help to children who find themselves in need by providing a “safe house” where the block parent can make the necessary phone call on the child’s behalf.”

Block Parent homes are termed “safe houses” since the program follows national screening guidelines for all adults who work or volunteer with children. All applicants to the program require a full criminal check by the OPP, which is free of charge..

Home owners can apply to become a block parent, and once screened will receive a sign that they place in a visible location in their home. When not at home, they can take down the sign.

Roy stresses, “Visibility of the program is of vital importance; it cannot function efficiently and effectively if there is no visibility of signs.“

The block parent signs are also a deterrent to “cruisers” - people out in communities looking to get into trouble. When block parent signs are spotted “cruisers” are discouraged. Zita stresses this fact stating, “It’s been proven.”

The RCMP advised that the new signs printed for this year be designed so that they are difficult to counterfeit.

Roy says, “As far as I know there have been no provincial or national incidences to instigate the change in the sign’s design. In the program’s 40-year history there have been no incidents regarding counterfeiting.”

But there is no harm in prevention and Roy says that prevention is a big part of the program.

Roy also says that there is a lack of participation in rural areas and that this fact needs to be addressed. She points out that children can end up in need of assistance at any time and in any place, so even if your home is off the beaten track, it is no reason not to consider joining the program.

Roy brings the point home when she states, “I’d rather nag people to get to a sign than have to ask them to join a search party.”

Asked why running the program and getting new members is so important to her, Zita replied, “I have a large family and I like to feel that children can circulate on their own outside without being thwarted. Our society has changed quite a bit and so programs like this are very important.”

The old Block Parent signs are now considered obsolete so anyone requiring a new sign can contact the OPP detachment in Hartington, the municipal offices in Sydenham or Zita Roy herself at 613-376-6402.

Anyone interested in joining the program can find applications and information at displays in post offices, local libraries and in most municipal offices. For more information you can go to www.blockparent.ca

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