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Keep ‘Em Safe

About a fortnight ago, I had a piece in The Irish Examiner about child abduction. That was followed up by an appearance on Irish national TV where I gave an interview on the topic. Just yesterday, I spoke about the issue again, this time on radio.

The interest in child abduction and how to prevent it has led me to believe that more people are concerned about the issue than I had first thought. I have, therefore, decided to post about it here, and pass on the tips and information that I have in this regard.

While some of the things I have to say are very specifically pertinent to Irish parents, and those resident in Ireland, most are universal.

  • To keep your children safe, establish with them and with the school, who exactly is allowed to pick them up from school. If there is to be a deviation from this norm, for whatever reason, you must let the school know in writing. For example, if the rule is that only you are allowed to collect the children from school, but on Monday you have a dental appointment and can’t, you write to your child’s teacher explaining that your sister, Rose, will be picking up Little Johnny from school today. Make sure your children know who will be picking them up as well.
  • Have a ‘safe’ word, or ‘password’, that only you, your child and your child’s teacher know just in case you are incapacitated and need to send someone else to pick your kids up from school. Unless the person claiming to have the authority to pick up your child freely gives that word, your child is not to be released to them and the Gardaí are to be called.
  • Re-visit the rules of stranger danger and that your children are not to get in to a car with a stranger no matter what that stranger tells them. Unless the stranger knows the safeword.
  • Remember, if your ex wants to abduct your child/ren he or she may not do it personally; they may send a relative or friend to do it on their behalf.
  • Have an ‘identification pack’ ready just in case your child/ren is/are taken from you. That pack should include:

1. Around six copies of a recent photograph (update the photograph every month.

2. Height and weight (again, take these measurements and record them regularly)

3. A DNA sample – this doesn’t need to be anything dramatic, the child’s hair pulled from the hairbrush after you’ve brushed it, or their toothbrush will do fine.

4. If your child wears glasses, take pictures of them with and without their specs.

5. If your child has long hair, take pictures of them with their hair down and also pulled back – so it looks short.

6. A written description of your child, with as much detail as possible anything you can think of that could help someone identify your child is useful.

For example – Mary is X’Y” (Z cms ) tall, she weighs 25kgs and has shoulder length blonde hair with a fringe. Mary has a scar on the back of  her left hand from where she cut it when she fell last year. She has a slight stammer and is afraid of cats.

  • Become hyper-aware of what your children wear when they go out to play every day. Really look at them and train yourself to know how they were dressed. If they wear a school uniform, make sure you know the details of their school bags – any logos, badges etc.
  • The Hague Agreement offers some protection to abducted children. It is an agreement between countries that states a child taken by the non-custodial parent will be returned to the custodial parent.
  • Get your children on the ‘Stop Pass’ list. This is a list held by the Passport Office. If you worry that someone may attempt to get a passport for your child by claiming that the one they have has been lost, you can have your child added to the ‘Stop Pass’ list. You need to give grounds, substantiate your claims and confirm that you have your child’s passport, that you keep it safely and ask that no one be allowed to receive a new passport for your child but you. You will receive written confirmation from the Passport Office that your child is on the list.
  • Remember that if your child has been living in Ireland for more than twelve months and one day, they are deemed to be ‘legally resident’ here. That means that they fall under Irish jurisdiction and the Irish legal system governs their welfare.
  • A ruling in a country outside the EU has no bearing whatsoever on you.
  • To enforce a ruling in Ireland, the side that has been awarded it needs to apply for a ‘mirror order’ which is an application to the Irish courts to have a ruling similar to the one made abroad made in an Irish court. In other words, someone who is awarded custody of your child in, say, Israel, would need to apply to an Irish Court of the same level (i.e. circuit court here to match circuit court there) to make the same ruling in Ireland. Then it can be enforced here. An Irish court will only grant a mirror order if it is satisfied that to do so puts the rights of the child first.
  • Irish courts are most concerned with the rights of the child. The mother’s rights and the father’s rights come after the best interest of the child.
  • If you have serious grounds for concern, approach your local Gardaí. They will listen to you and, if they agree that your concern is valid, will open a file for you.
  • If you can, apply for sole custody of your child. This provides some legal clout here and in a number of countries abroad. You have more of a leg to stand on if your ex does swoop in and take your child because the court here will not just award sole custody just because one parent asks for it. They will notify the other parent (no matter where they live) of the proceedings and invite them to be part of the proceedings. If they do not show up, or send a legal representative or if they do not impress the judge sufficiently as to why sole custody should not be awarded, only then will one parent be awarded sole custody
  • In the event that your ex needs a visa to come to Ireland, notify the Irish Embassy in the country where your ex lives that there is a concern regarding abduction. While the Embassy cannot refuse to grant a visa just because you ask them to, they will make note of your fears and attach a reference to those fears when the visa application is forwarded to the Dept of Foreign Affairs. Abduction of Irish citizens is a very serious matter and is taken very seriously. It helps if you have a case file with your local Gardaí that you can quote the number of in your correspondence with the Irish Embassy abroad.
  • If your child is eligible for Irish citizenship – for whatever reason – make sure they have it.
Finally, if you need further advice or help, you can contact http://www.reunite.org, a wonderful organisation in the UK. Reunite offers support and advice to those who fear their children will be abducted, those whose children have been taken and those seeking to reach an agreement on access. Their website is http://www.reunite.org.
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Charity Begins….

Since I was a teenager, I have made it a point to do something for charity; something more than just drop a few coins into a bucket.  Don’t worry – I’m not going to shine my halo (but if you wanted to, I’d be delighted if you’d buy a copy of The Big Book of Hope) because I think charity is only really charity if one doesn’t crow about it.

In a recent radio interview, however, I was asked why people should contribute to a charity that helps children overseas when there are so many children in Ireland who need help. Why should Irish people send money to India or Ethiopa when there are children here who could benefit from that money?

I do not deny that there are children in Ireland who need help. There are children in Ireland who will go to bed hungry tonight. There are homeless people in Ireland who need food, clothing and shelter. There are sick children here who need – and whose families need – financial assistance. There are elders who need help. There are animal sanctuaries and community projects that all need – and deserve – help.

Most of us don’t need to leave our own towns or villages to find a person or family or cause who could use a bit of assistance. So, when I ask people to support a cause that helps Indian children, I am not asking them to do so at the expense of Irish children. I am, instead, offering them the opportunity to help in a way that might appeal to them more than other opportunities to help.

The €1 you have to spend on charity will, to be blunt about it, achieve more in Kolkota than it will in Kiltimagh. It will buy a loaf of bread and an apple (in Aldi or Lidl) but feed a family of four for a day in India. Does that mean that the people in India are more deserving? No, it doesn’t. But if you believe, as I do, that we are all connected and that no matter which way you send an act of compassion, it is received and does good, then it really is up to you what you do with your spare time, your spare pennies and your spare goodwill.

Make this year – Europe’s Year of Volunteering – the year that you do something for others on a regular basis. Find a cause – here, there or anywhere – that tugs at your heart-strings and support it. If you can afford to, set up a direct debit that benefits your chosen charity. If you’re flat broke, give of your time or your talents.

Where charity begins – at home or overseas –  is irrelevant.  What is important is that charity begins.

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Blessings – Real Friends

I’ve just had a visit from a wonderful friend. I love and value her and the gift of her friendship for a number of reasons.

I love my friend, not because she tells me what I want to hear, but because she doesn’t lie to me.

I love her, not just because she listens; but because she hears what I’m saying: And what I’m not saying.  I love her honesty and her addiction to Truth.

I love how she knows she can turn up at my home, unexpected, unannounced,  and know she’ll be welcome. I love that she can turn up at my home and take us as she finds us. I love that she can turn up for ‘a quick visit’ and, two hours later, start to think about leaving.

I love how well she knows me – and how accepting she is of who I am.

I love how she is not afraid to reveal who she is to me. That she knows she can be herself in my company is a compliment I revel in.

I love that she knows she can confide in me – her darkest moments, her worst fears and her biggest disappointments; but also her  hopes, joys, dreams and triumphs. She knows I will rejoice with her without any trace of jealousy.

I feel privileged to know her and honoured that she has chosen to have me as a friend.

As I grow as a person, she supports, encourages and facilitates my growth. She does not try to squish me back into the box I’ve just jumped out of.  She does not try to tell me that I can only be what I was. She applauds and tells me to keep going – reminding me that I have already come further than I thought possible.

Real friends are a rare and true blessing. And I am truly blessed.

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