”My pre-teen daughter found out she is eligible to go on a study abroad trip to Europe with 25 other kids around the United States. I was so excited for her and all that she is going to learn and the great experiences awaiting her so I told a friend. My friend asked me with a concerned look, 'Are you sure she will be safe?” I responded with a not so sure response, “I think so?' My friend went on to ask me what I think about sending my preteen child to a foreign country with strangers. Then it hit me, I need to know more. So I began to wonder in my head what do I need to do to find out if my daughter will have a safe experience abroad?"
If you have found yourself in this position where you are sending off your preteen or teenager on a student travel abroad program, you need to be sure of the safety and security of your child.
You need to take the time to ask the questions that need to be asked. Here are 5 questions you need to ask the student abroad company who will be responsible for your sons or daughters life while abroad. There are many more questions, but this will give you a good start:
• What type of living quarters (hostel, hotel, etc.) will my son/daughter be staying at? Has the company’s security director completed a security survey on the housing quarters to ensure they are safe? A housing unit security checklist is a basic must when looking at safe housing. Where your child is staying is extremely important. A legitimate company will be forthright and will give you the answers you need with details, demand it.
• What is your procedure for hiring the staff who will be working with my son/daughter? Do you run background checks? Find out the selection process and research the travel abroad company through the US Attorney’s General's Office and other government agencies.
• What type of training do they receive when faced with a medical, disaster, serious crime situation? Are they CPR qualified and do they have an individual plan for each students medical needs? Do they have an evacuation plan in place if manmade or natural disaster incidents happen? A realistic, well thought of contingency plan needs to be in place and they need to have a company such as International SOS on standby if needed.
• What type of transportation is my child/teen going to be taking while in country? The safest form of transportation when traveling is prearranged transportation that is set up by the company. This is more expensive, but it is safe for your child. If they are taking public transportation, question the security of the city's public transit. I am extremely skeptical, there needs to be a security check done on the safety of public transit in the area your child is staying. A child/teen should not be taking public transit without a chaperone nor should they be traveling at night. In many countries, traveling at night becomes more dangerous.
• If staying at a host family, ask what safety/security procedures the student travel abroad company has used to pick the host family? Have they been a host family before? If so, get the name of the student and give them a call, don't just go by the company's word, do your research for your child. If they won't provide the contact, that could be a red flag. If this is the host family's first time hosting, ask how they picked this home. Just like checking out the security of a hostel or a hotel, be adamant on getting a detailed explanation of how they selected the host family.
I have been in security for over 20 years and the last 5 I have been working with families and business on keeping people safe here in the US and abroad. In my book, "Securing Smiles A Guide To Family Security," I identify everyday risks to parents and give them real life examples and tips to assist them in keeping their family safe. I give personal security training to families and business to keep them safe focusing on being aware of your surroundings and always have a plan.
Also, I am a Security Director with ClearCause Foundaton, www.clearcausefoundation.org which is a nonprofit organization for safe global youth travel. At ClearCause, we understand the need for keeping our kids safe globally and also understand the importance of keeping children and teens visiting the US on abroad programs safe.
As parents we must remember that we are the only advocates for our children and it is our responsibility to make sure our kids trip abroad has been looked at closely from a safety and security approach. We must ask questions about our child's security abroad to the company we are paying money to.
Do not assume the security and safety of your child is the company's main priority; make it their priority by doing your due dilligence and supporting your child's safety. By asking the types of questions above, it will give you the peace of mind that you have done your security and safety homework, which is a must when your child or teen makes his/her trip abroad.