THE BLOG

Can We Be 'Too' Over-Protective of Our Children?

22/05/2014 15:54 BST | Updated 22/07/2014 10:59 BST

As parents today we're often accused of over protecting our children, it's said they'll grow up without learning independence or self reliance because of the homogenised world in which we bring them up. There is some truth in that - before I was 10 years old I was thrown out of the house at holidays and weekends (not literally obviously - sorry Mum) in the morning to play and off I would go on my bike for hours at a time with no means of contact. Nowadays it's seen as neglect not to have your child monitored every minute of every hour of the day.

So how have we got to this place; because the reality is that children do go missing - in fact 140,000 children and young people go missing in the UK every year, and in 2011-12, 273 child abductions by strangers were reported to police. Thankfully three quarters of those were attempted abductions and the chance of a small child being grabbed in the vicinity of their home or parents, is still incredibly rare. However looking at those figures clearly many vulnerable children and young people still disappear and are more difficult to categorise, we hear little about their plight unless the parents are able to relentlessly pursue authority and publicity, and even then the opportunities are fleeting.

On 14 September 2007 14-year-old Andrew Gosden left for school as usual closely followed by his parents going off to work. He returned a short while later, changed his clothes and proceeded to empty his bank account of his savings - just £200. He bought a one-way ticket to Kings Cross station where his last sighting was taken from CCTV footage. He has never been seen again. This was out of character. His family were frantic, every weekend they travelled to London to visit all the places they could think of; he was academically very bright and loved museums. They put up posters, visited hostels, cafes - anywhere where he might have been drawn to. But nothing.

The effect on the family was devastating, his father attempted suicide a few months later and left his job, his mother has received counselling. They have relentlessly kept looking, determined to see Andrew again. They set up a website www.helpusfindandrew.weebly.com, which includes a heart rending direct letter to Andrew in the hope he will see it. His bedroom remains as it was, but empty.

As a mother of a 14-year-old son I go cold with fear at the mere idea of him trying to survive on his own in London. I don't care how outwardly street smart children appear on the surface, they are vulnerable to the exploitation of adults and we should never stop looking for them.

This Sunday 25 May, is International Missing Children Day. The Missing People Charity (www.missingpeople.org) is co-ordinating events in partnership with the National Crime Agency, including a Tweet-a-thon - every half hour for 24 hours details of a missing child will be tweeted by @missingpeople. Last years response was fantastic with 58,000 retweets and two children being found as a result. It would be truly wonderful if we could top that this year.

I have been working with Sky News to highlight the events of the day, which will include the re-launch of Child Rescue Alert, an early warning system which quickly circulates information if a child goes missing. So often when this happens we would love to help but in fact feel helpless. Well now you can help, we all can. By entering your details on the Child Rescue Alert website you will receive an immediate message giving details and a description should a child go missing nearby, thereby using everyone nearby to search for the child. On Sunday we'll be encouraging everyone to sign up with their mobile phone numbers so they can receive these alerts. For more information go to www.childrescuealert.org.uk .

As has been seen with the relentless search for Madeline McCann, social media has provided the means to engage the public in the search for missing children in ways we previously never thought possible. Historically, however much we wanted to help, we all felt so useless, but things have changed you can get involved, you can help from the comfort of your living room. When a child goes missing we can rally the country to find them and bring life back to a family and re-fill the empty bedroom. Follow us now on #crimenwswatch