How should we teach our children that not all men are bad?

Most Australians know the story of Daniel Morcombe who was abducted from a bus stop close to his home just weeks before Christmas 8 years ago.  Working in the missing persons field it really resonated with me having seen first hand the stories of loss and despair from families in similar situations.

After the discovery of Daniel's body the news created new conversations about stranger danger, about who we should fear and about what the known risks were in the big wide world. One of the questions that came up in every radio segment I did was whether or not we really need to fear the white van? There has long been a myth that the people waiting to snatch our children are driving in large, non descript white vans waiting for the right opportunity to take what is most precious to us.It hones in on those fear-inducing emotions that when we untie the apron strings and let our children free we open ourselves up to the darkness that hides in the shadows.

I want to try focus less on the statistics of child abduction –  the Australian Federal Police state that 'a small percentage of missing children are related to stranger abductions’ whereas 2-3 cases per week of abductions involving a parent occur every week in Australia – and more on the ways to make our children resilient.

I want to explore the the possibility that we might not all be at as much risk as we think. I believe that will force us to focus on the present rather than the ‘what if’ scenarios.

The media has been awash lately with stories of the perceived safety of unknown adults. We have seen, what are commonly described as socially responsible men, being moved away from unaccompanied children on flights and the ongoing debate about how right or wrong this is.  I don’t write policy for airlines but I can presume that we focus in on men because it fits with the myth that they can only be perpetrators of heinous crimes.


An  article in The Herald this weekend looked at male childcare workers and once again we are being forced to challenge the myths we have around child safety.

I can remember when my daughter was in a local day care centre and a man was employed for the first time as one of the room leaders – the Centre manager took the unusual step of emailing the parents outlining why he had been chosen for the position. This had never been the case for other female staff yet many greeted it as a way to reduce the potential anxiety of the parents. Creating a space for men to work without preconceived stereotypes that they will place children at risk seems challenging. I cant imagine being the man at the centre of such a conversation.

Most of our kids have dads and uncles and friends who are men and not all of them are unsafe, especially when they are thousands of metres up in the sky or spending hours in the sandpit with them while parents are at work. Taking the position of needing to acknowledge their role means that inadvertently we point out that it is different, that there is something to be cautious about.

I know that bad stuff happens to good people but I’m not sure how we create a shift in culture, a shift of seeing the good in people rather than the bad. Policies are in place to protect people, protect children, from the things most likely not to happen to them. But there should never be policy, however informal or unspoken, of not trusting men.

Sarah Wayland has been working as a social worker in the missing persons field since 2003 and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study the international approach to counseling and unresolved loss. She is a mum of two and is currently completing postgraduate studies in the field of hope and loss at the University of New England. Visit her blog here

How do we teach our children safety while reassuring them that not all men are bad? How do you feel about male workers in child care centres?

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