MARYSVILLE, Ohio -- Everyone hopes that no evil lurks near a school, and
that kids are as safe as can be along well-lit and heavily traveled streets
and sidewalks.

But to a child walking home from school, even the little things can be
frightening: a vicious dog, the neighborhood bully, maybe even a sudden,
violent storm. A child also can quickly fall ill, and accidents sometimes
happen, too. It is in those situations, local officials believe, that a
child should have someplace safe to go.

So the school system, the Union County Health Department and Marysville
have resurrected a program in which volunteers put a sign in the front
window of their home signaling to children that it is a safe haven if they
are hurt, threatened, frightened or lost.

"It's a way to take back our streets and ensure parents that their
children who walk to and from school have a way to get help if they need
it," said Shawn Sech, a health-department educator.

Calls to a few police departments and school districts in Madison,
Union, Franklin and Delaware counties found no similar program.

The Union County program is modeled after the Block Parent Program of
Canada, a network of more than 300,000 safe-house volunteers.

Back in the 1960s and '70s, block parent programs were popular in the
U.S., and whole generations remember growing up being told to look for the
special sign. Northwood Elementary School Principal Melissa Hackett surely
does.

But times have changed. Parents today are more cautious, and kids
generally are taught to avoid strange people and places.

For that reason, Hackett says, the safe-house program might be a tough
sell. Nevertheless, she hopes it is successful so more children feel safe
enough to walk to the school she runs in Marysville's largest subdivision.

Only about 7.5 percent of the district's student population walks to
school.

"I know the world can be a scary place, but we cannot always live in
fear," Hackett said. "There are lots of really good parents out there who
want to help."

The best thing parents can do for their children is to be involved,
experts say.

Take a walking tour of the neighborhood with your child, and point out
safe places such as a fire station, City Hall or these homes, said Nancy
McBride, national safety director for the National Center for Missing &
Exploited Children.

Parents should examine each place and, in the case of the safe houses,
ask how the volunteers are screened and monitored.

"Then, they can make a judgment call as to whether to send their child
there in an emergency," she said.

Each safe-homes volunteer and any adult living in their household will
have to submit fingerprints for a federal criminal background check. Local
authorities are paying the $48 tab.

Volunteers will be expected to give comfort and call 911, a parent or
the school if the child needs it. They don't have to give first-aid if they
aren't comfortable with it, Sech said. They just have to be willing to get
help.

Officials have just started promoting the program and are planning to
recruit volunteers from school parent-teacher organizations. They hope to
have 10 houses near each of the district's five elementary schools.
Bonnie Engle-Tubaugh lives near one and already has asked for an
application. Her two grandchildren are her motivation; she would want
someone to help them if they needed it.

"It's just not safe today like when we were kids," she said. "Kids can't
be out there without anyone to help or anyplace to go."

Tips for a safe trip home

About 45 percent of attempted abductions occur when a child is going to
and from school or school-related activities, according to the National
Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The center offers these tips for
staying safe on the trip:

* Always go with a friend when walking or riding a bike to and from
school.

* Walk or ride in well-lit areas.

* Never take shortcuts.


* Stay with a group while waiting at the bus stop.

* Never accept a ride from anyone unless your parents have told you it
is OK to do so in each instance.

* Trust your feelings. Children need to know that if someone makes them
feel scared, uncomfortable or confused, they should tell a parent, guardian
or trusted adult.

* Get away as quickly as possible from anyone who follows you.

* Always tell parents or another trusted adult what happened.

For more tips, visit www.missingkids.com. For information on the Union
County program visit www.uchd.net.

Source: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children