Single parent’s guide to child safety in an emergency

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Single-parent households are increasingly becoming a common household structure in Australia. Australia’s 2021 census data showed that, for the first time, the number of single-parent families reached over one million.

This means that, in these households, there may be only one adult at home with children. This article will discuss the safety systems that can be put in place in case of an event where a single parent, and the only adult at home, is involved in a medical emergency or other emergency with a young child at home.

Educating children about emergency services

Victoria’s Triple Zero service urges parents and carers to include children as young as three and four years of age in their safety plans, including teaching them how to call 000 in a life-threatening emergency, says ESTA the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority.

ESTA CEO Julia Oxley says, “Knowing how to call triple zero can reduce the anxiety felt by children when faced with a safety or emergency situation,” she said. “It is also extremely important to teach your little ones to say their address. Our expert operators can get police, fire or ambulance help on the way when we know where they are. We tell parents and carers the life a child might save could be yours.”

Triple zero gets hundreds of calls each year from young Victorians, some as young as three years old. Families can practice when and how to call 000 with the online simulation game at the Triple Zero website. It’s also available on an app on your smartphone or tablet.

One of the first things you can teach your child is how to say their home address and phone number.

You could role-play a 000 call with your child to help them practice this and how to dial 000. For example, you could pretend to fall and collapse, and ask your child what they would do.

Jason Chambers, General Manager of Kidsafe Victoria says, “As children get older, enrolling them in a first aid class can also assist to ensure that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to respond in an emergency.”

There are also many books and online videos that teach children about what to do in an emergency.

Plan with neighbours

Glen Bhimani, CEO and Founder of BPS Security in the US advises becoming familiar with your neighbours and having a plan in place for an emergency before the emergency ever happens.

“I would get to know my neighbours, then have an 'I've got your back' plan for any situation where you or your neighbours are at home alone with a child when an emergency happens. That way you have another person to help you out.”

A pet dog

Having a pet dog may also help with alerting neighbours if something does go wrong.

Phones at home for calling 000

As part of role-playing calling emergency services with your child, it would be helpful to incorporate the phone method you think will apply to your home situation. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Landline: If you don’t already have one, you could consider installing a landline phone that children can use in an emergency situation.
  • Basic spare mobile phone: Alternatively, you could purchase a second basic mobile phone and place it in a spot they will remember to go and get it from if an emergency situation calls for it. You can include this in your role play, asking where they would get the phone from.
  • Teach your child to unlock your phone: If you don’t have either of these options, you could start to teach your child how to unlock your mobile phone to dial an emergency. For example, for an iPhone, they need to press two buttons before reaching the dial pad to dial 000. The home screen and then the “Emergency” word on the bottom left hand of the screen.

Emergency devices

Kids smartwatches

There are a number of kids smartwatches and GPS trackers available that enable children to push just one SOS button, and preselected contacts will be called automatically and sent an SMS with the real-time GPS location of where the child is.

Safety pendants

Safety pendants are a product that you can attach to your clothing or wear around your neck and help notify your trusted contacts if you fall. For example, the Opel pendant has a fall detector emergency call feature. When activated, the Medical Alert feature will call up to five contacts and send its location via SMS. This product may be particularly helpful for parents who have young babies or toddlers, who are not capable yet of calling emergency services. 

Security cameras

Home security cameras and other home security devices are helpful for the safety of your home in general, however, they can also be helpful in an emergency situation if you can link the camera to the device of a trusted friend or family member.

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Helpful apps

  • Checking in: There are a number of apps available to support people living alone, like Circle Alert, which checks in on the user at programmed times. If you don’t respond they will alert a nominated family member or friend so they can make sure you are ok.
  • When you can’t dial 000: If you wish to dial discreetly or can’t dial, Emergency Plus contacts emergency services with the tap of a button. It has a GPS to obtain your exact location and send assistance promptly.
  • Alerting people nearby: Created by the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, Help Me lets off a loud siren and sends a help message and your location to your friends or family in the event of an emergency.

Safeguarding the home

It is important to safeguard the home, to give some peace of mind that their children are safe moving around the home, even if not an in an emergency situation. The Royal Children’s Hospital provides some helpful suggestions for doing this. They suggest taking a look around your home from your child’s perspective – get down low for crawling babies and look at what a toddler or older child might want to climb on or get to. Make a list and choose products that will help secure, lock, latch or plug the spots you want to make safe. Examples include:

  • Provide a safe play space for your child, where you can safely leave them alone while you have to attend to something else, like go to the bathroom or check on something cooking.
  • Ensure dangerous items such as medicines, poisons, matches or lighters are locked away.
  • Install barriers to stop access to hazardous areas. Homesafe Kids specialise in such barriers.
  • Use safety products, such as electrical outlet plugs, cabinet and drawer locks, window stops, window guards and furniture straps and brackets to prevent furniture tip-overs.
  • Ensure you have multiple smoke alarms installed throughout your home in the event of a fire.
  • Rearrange objects and furniture to improve traffic paths and reduce tripping hazards.

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Tracey Cheung
Written by
Tracey Cheung

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