Hurrah for the safety of a nine-year old Wainuiomata girl who spent the night up a tree after becoming lost and was reunited with her family the following day.

Notwithstanding that the family would have been through sheer hell for the 20 or so hours Veetia Vaculik-Hamilton was lost, what a fantastic outcome for all of us, in a time when we're reading of battered and dead babies in the Waikato and another little girl killed after falling off the back of a ute on a farm in North Canterbury.

It could have been so different. I'm sure many readers felt like I did when I read the initial story of her being lost, I thought: oh God, here we go again. Another young child fallen victim to some creepy miscreant stalking empty public places after hours. Another period of nightmares for those of us unable to turn off our imaginations as to what might have happened to that girl in the hours before her tragic end.

I wondered also, however, about the safety of letting a nine year old girl play in a deserted school grounds during the weekend by herself. Just generally I mean - in no way is this a criticism of her family. We don't know the exact circumstances of her ending up at the school in any case - perhaps she didn't tell her family where she was going.

However, I couldn't help but wonder about whether I would let my youngish child - male or female - play in a deserted school grounds after hours. 'No' would be my instinct - but am I then one of those parents who wrap their kids up in cotton wool, as our generation is so often charged with?

If I am, it's probably because I was raised not so much wrapped up in cotton wool, but practically suffocated in it. We also lived some 300 metres from a primary school, but there was no way any of us were allowed up there alone during times when school was out. My parents were particularly strict, granted. But my mother - a school teacher who had often worked at school over weekends and late into evenings, had seen some things in her time including various shady looking creatures knocking on her classroom door and asking to use telephones and toilets and such.

Her worst fears were realised some years later when teacher Lois Dear was killed by Whetu Te Hiko in her Strathmore School classroom as she prepared for the school term.

That's a worst-case scenario, and perhaps not overly instructive for the rest of us. There is always a desire to allow our children freedom to roam and enjoy the outdoors, and for many people, that freedom is best enjoyed alone.

The question remains, I guess, how young is too young for kids to enjoy public spaces by themselves. Yes they should be able to - but are they, in modern times, really able to?