Being lost can be absolutely terrifying for young children (and parents) so getting reunited as swiftly as possible is really important. And although you know they will be OK in the end, the experience can still be pretty traumatic even if it’s only a few moments.
Rest assured that at any decent family-friendly festival, staff and stewards should be fully trained to deal with a missing child situation – in fact often it’s all over so quickly the children are unaware they had even been lost. The parent will be a gibbering wreck though!
Please read our fantastic guest blog Diary of a Lost Kids Officer from festival welfare expert and Angel Gardens founder, Angel Sam. With tips, and a full explanation of what goes on behind the scenes when children are separated from their parents at festivals, it’s well worth a read.
Many festivals operate a Child Registration Scheme, so find out what happens at the festival you are going to and if there is a scheme in place USE IT.
Once you have settled on what tactics you are taking for dealing with a separation in your family group, then it’s a really good idea to have several calm and casual ‘what to do if you can’t see Mummy or Daddy anymore’ conversations in the days leading up to the festival. Not so much as to create fear, but repeated often so they remember what to do and see the possibility of being separated as ‘normal and easy to fix, rather than a terrifying ordeal’.
Once you are on-site point out landmarks in the camping area so they can locate their tent in the campsite (see also finding your tent – flags and fairy lights), show them what stewards and the ‘safe adults’ wear and go and say ‘Hi’, visit the Welfare/Lost Children points, so it’s not all new to them if they end up there.
Explain that it’s the place ‘where the friendly staff will give you stuff to play with while you wait for Mummy to come and get you’…, etc. Going and talking to the Stewards and Lost Kids staff teaches your child that they are friendly and approachable and will make them feel more comfortable asking for help if they need it.
Remind your children each day what you want them to do if they can’t find you (the procedure you opt for will depend on the festival’s procedures and also to a certain extent your children’s ages and familiarity with the site). If your children are old enough point out landmarks and agree rendezvous points in case you get separated.
TIP: Becca, who works in lost kids areas at festivals, also suggests you teach your children to call you by NAME as there will be thousands of ‘Mums’ and ‘Dads’ on site!
DO write your mobile number(s) on your child’s arm out of sight or INSIDE their wristband with a permanent marker and ensure you CHECK it is still legible each day. Tattoo pens work well too.
DO NOT write the child’s name on the wristband as it could be used to gain the child’s trust. And remember that mobile phones are useless as a contact method if you don’t hear them, they are out of battery, or they simply don’t have network coverage at the festival.
After 3 days of mud, sweat and festival rain, kid’s paper wristbands often get very tatty and hard to read (and they are rather uncomfortable too, especially when trying to get to sleep). Some parents like to use a safety bracelet instead – personalised with your own phone number. But again, keep the bracelet under long sleeves so that personal details are not on show unless needed.
If your child is old enough to use a mobile themselves they can be very useful but make sure you agree a back-up plan in case your mobile reception is poor, a phone gets lost, or your battery runs out. Cheap older phones will stay charged much longer than smart phones and will not make your child a walking target for thieves! Walkie-talkies are brilliant if the children can use them effectively, but avoid using the same frequency as security or the stewards – you won’t be popular!!.
Allergies and Other Medial Needs
If your child has additional needs, such as serious allergies, ASD, etc… then please do put an ID band on them with all the necessary details, just in case. We found some cute comfortable reusable ones on Amazon, which come in loads of different colours. They also keep personal details hidden until needed.
Another quick tip is to take a photo of your child each morning with your phone – it can be hard to remember what they were wearing if you are in a blind panic and trying to give descriptions. If your child changes clothes frequently during the day you could try to make a habit of taking their photo with each new outfit under the guise of documenting their festival exploits.
Dress your kids in something bright and distinctive during the day so you can spot them in a crowd. Fancy Dress is great for this, but do make sure they are wearing something you actually recognise! Other festival goers will notice distinctive outfits too, and might be able to shed light on your errant child’s general direction.
Consider attaching a flag pole to your buggy or wagon to make YOU easier to spot for your kids too.
At night, make sure they have glowsticks, flashy head boppers, LED zip pulls, glow balloons or something on them. Bright clothes help you pick them out quickly in a crowd and keep tabs on them if they are drifting. See our related blogs too: Glow in the dark kids and Space Buggy.
The same principles of lighting up your kids apply in reverse too… if YOU are easy to spot then your child is less likely to lose sight of you! So light up your backpack, get out your own glow sticks and rave on!
If you have a child that frequently gets distracted or wanders off then perhaps a child locator device might be useful for you.
These devices have a unit for the parent and one for the child. If you press a button on the parent unit then the child’s unit will make a really loud beeping to let you know where they are.
Another version emits an audible alarm if the child wanders over 30ft away – (useful for younger toddlers, hugely annoying for older children as a 30ft threshold is often too low). These are around £21.95 for the standard version, or £25.95 for the advanced model with alarm feature – there are also various other options on Amazon.
Remember prevention is better than a cure. Nothing can replace your supervision and instilling good common sense. Keep a close eye on your children – so when it gets very busy hold hands, carry them, even use reins if you have to… it only takes a second to lose them in a dense crowd.
KEEP KIDS SAFE!
Angel Sam’s Top Tips (read the full post here):
- If there is a child registration scheme USE IT!
- Write mobile numbers on the INSIDE of wristbands.
- Make your first trip at the festival a trip to the lost kids office! Say ‘Hi’ and meet the staff, help your child feel comfortable to approach them if they need to.
- Over the weekend point out ‘SAFE ADULTS’ – stewards, security, children area workers! Say ‘Hi’ to them too, show your child they are approachable… you will find most have a stash of sticker in their pocket for this reason.
- If your child goes missing go straight to the lost children point and stay there with staff.
- DON’T LOOK FOR THEM YOURSELF. Stay with the lost child officer till you are reunited.
- Check your phone will have signal in advance, most festivals will say on the website if they don’t have coverage for certain networks. You can get a cheap pay as you go card for less than £10 (it can be your festival phone!). Also bear in mind that even areas that normally have good coverage may suddenly find it is patchy when several thousand people are trying to use a network in a field usually occupied by a couple of sheep!
- Put your phone on VIBRATE and NEAR YOUR SKIN when you are by the main stage or having a boogie.
- Be very clear if you are arranging meeting places with older children. Visit it first together so you know exactly where to meet and Sync your watches!!!
- Don’t leave your younger children in the kids area, most festivals are offering family activities not a babysitting service. You may find a child you left in a workshop making a wand will be calling you from the Lost Kids ffice after staff accompanied them over after the activity finished.
- Stay together! Festival as a family! 90% of reported lost children is when parents ‘nip to the loo’ or ‘arrange to meet them by the flags in ten minutes’ – kids lose their nerve quickly, so do stuff together.
- Communicate with each other, make sure you know who has the kids when you are in a big group… even if you need to make a joke by putting large groups of kids in pairs or do head counts… You’d be amazed how many times a child goes walkabout from a large group and isn’t noticed straight away.
- Invest in walkie talkies! The kids will find it brilliant fun, we used to put ours in little hi-vis jackets and haver their walkie talking on a strap around their body… they thought they were spies and we played games with them so they got used to using them.
- (Well I couldn’t leave it at 13 …that would be unlucky) So finally, have fun!!! Enjoy encouraging your children be part of a very safe and friendly community. Festival as a family, stay together and have some fun!!!!
Things don’t often go wrong at festivals and I have only ever had one serious issue to deal with in all my time doing this work. But it’s good to be safe and good to be educated… now go forth and party!!