Tricky Questions

As Gavin mentioned in his post last week, Charlotte is off to camp – sorry, ‘retreat’ – next week and I recently went to a meeting at the school to discuss this event. Complacently armed with nothing more than a dodgy memory, (I’d forgotten a pen and paper,) I sat with my friend, another new parent, somewhere down the back and prepared myself for logistics.

The first surprise came when the teacher, who was hosting the meeting introduced not only the other teachers who would be attending, but the Principal, school nurse, two school counsellors and the security personnel who would be accompanying the bus. One by one, these people took to the microphone to comprehensively elaborate how they each were going to be looking after our children’s every respective emotional need, (camp staff would look after the physical ones), and that all our worries were groundless. What worries? I thought and started to worry.

Parents were then allowed to ask questions and indeed, the school, (no doubt alerted by experience), were prepared for the mood. “Yes, the kids are allowed to call home if they’re homesick. Yes, they get counselling to ‘work through it’. Yes they’re encouraged to try new things, but if they don’t want to do it (zipline, waterslide, horse-riding), then that’s absolutely fine. Yes of course they’re allowed to bring their iPads/iPods/Gameboys/DS. (Don’t even think we’re letting them on the bus without one!) Yes, there’s an additional nurse on site who’s qualified  to administer IV lines. Yes, there’s a hospital within 15 kilometres…….etc.”

Thank God all the other parents knew what to ask. I gradually relaxed.

Then someone enquired about medication and individual health plans and the nurse stepped up to the mic. Without warning, (or signed information release forms in triplicate), she asked for a show of hands for who had a child with allergies.

Eeeek!! screeched the specialised lobe of my brain that has evolved, (faster than Darwin would have believed possible), to deal with the legal requirements of living in good old laid back Oz. You can’t ask that! What about Privacy Legislation?

Mine seemed to be the only eyelids batting as a number of people thrust their hands into the air, not phased when the nurse addressed a few of them individually, naming their child and publicly outlining the medical plans. I sat back and got over myself.

Then, towards the end, my friend, who is Canadian but has lived for the last seven years in London, raised her hand to ask whether the camp staff had Working With Children clearances.

“Pardon?” asked the Principal. “What are those?”

That pesky brain lobe fired back up

My friend explained the English system, the same as that in Australia, where anybody working with minors is required to have a police check to rule out any criminal charges before they can take up a position, paid or voluntary, that puts them in regular contact with children.

The roomful of eighty or so lapsed into a polite, baffled silence.

“Wow. No one has ever asked that before,” said the Principal, sounding mystified. “I’ll have to look into it.”

Now granted, the WWC checks don’t offer any guarantees – after all, anyone who has not been caught offending, will not be picked up in the system. But they provide a prompt for anyone involved in caring for children, that they need to consider all aspects of protection. Keeps it all top of mind, so to speak, and therefore they have their place.

And at the risk of supporting ‘a nanny state’ Australia, it occurred to me that it is indeed a lucky country when people by necessity need to (virtually) develop specialised brain synapses to deal with legislation such as privacy and Working with Children checks. We can do this, because other stuff like feeding, housing and basic safety are already taken care of.

Mind you, these profound contemplations got me nowhere that night at dinner when Charlotte asked – “So what time does the bus leave for camp?”

Crap! I forgot to ask.

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