Editorial: Police actions correct over missing child

By Scott Inglis


There is one story that has left me shaking my head in disbelief this week.

It is the story of how a toddler went missing from his home in the pouring rain in Tauranga and was found by a neighbour, who contacted police.

Police, who picked up the kid and took him to McDonald's and gave him dry clothes, say they were not alerted for more than an hour.

They say they are concerned why it took so long for them to be alerted and that parents should know where their children are at all times.

The Merivale family has been referred to Child, Youth and Family.

This article, published on Monday, prompted a flurry of strongly worded online comments from readers. There were a total of nearly 70 by yesterday afternoon.

Readers criticised the fact this could happen or defended the mother and what happened.

Some attack this newspaper and the police. Some leave me questioning the values of the writers.

It all started with Papamoaman, who on the same day as publication said: "Poor little man. His parent/s obviously don't give a damn what happens to him. Hopefully he will be placed with someone that does care. Some people just shouldn't have kids".

Pretty strong stuff.

Murray Guy then posted: "If your dog gets out the owner is labelled irresponsible and fined.

It's a strange world with even stranger priorities."

True enough.

And then it started.

The missing boy's aunty, under the name of annoyedaunt, climbed into the debate with the words: "gees z u make me friken mad ..."

According to this woman, the mother was in the toilet and the boy climbed out a low window. The mother realised in 15 minutes the boy was not in the house and went frantically searching for him, and this is what she was doing in the hour before she alerted police.

She wrote: "... this could of happened to anyone with a active 3 year old that loves being outside oh but wait its merivale so automatically the mum is a bad mum lets ring cyf, you the paper and police make me sick ..."

Police are not the villains here. They are not responsible for what happened. They did not cause the little boy to go missing. And they did not wait more than an hour to alert the proper authorities.

Anyone who has children or deals with them knows they can be unpredictable. I am sure there are plenty of examples where children have gone missing for a few minutes while good parents have been distracted.

It is in the nature of youngsters to go wandering and exploring. It is one of the occupational hazards of being a parent.

But this is exactly the point. Toddlers are not able to look after themselves and it is incumbent upon parents and caregivers to ensure they are supervised and safe at all times and take appropriate action when things go wrong.

Toddlers aged three should not be able to climb out windows and go missing. They should not be able to leave the property if a parent is unable to eyeball them.

Isn't this common sense?

If a child does go missing, police should be alerted immediately once it is established they are not in the house or on the property. Police are the experts. An hour delay is unacceptable.

Remember the tragic case of Auckland toddler Aisling Symes, who vanished from her home when her mother took her eyes off her for a moment? Sadly, the girl's body was found in a stormwater drain on an adjoining property.

It can be a fine line between tragedy and things ending well when it comes to these cases.

This Merivale case raises serious concerns.

Police are correct to refer the matter to social workers for a thorough investigation of this family.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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