NICOLA MILLER: Keeping Burglar Bill at bay

Bury Free Press new columnist Nicola Miller ANL-140814-163911001

Bury Free Press new columnist Nicola Miller ANL-140814-163911001

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Well the police and scenes of crime officers have gone and only the silver fingerprint dust all over our front and back door is left as a reminder that this English woman’s home is not her castle.

Yes, we have had burglars and as I stand furious and stunned in my now not quite so private space, I am left wondering what to do next.

Doing the job I do as editor of Mumsnet Suffolk, the local ‘arm’ of Britain’s most popular parenting website, has turned me into a bit of a Pollyanna – I meet so many amazing people doing good things for this town and Suffolk in general, that it is easy to forget that there also exists a whole group of people whose actions make the lives of others worse, not better.

Compounding the trauma of burglary for all of us- the cancelling of cards and the replacing of driving licences and other identification; the racking of brains as to what was in my stolen bag, ‘is anything else gone?’, ‘Have I located all my house keys?’, is what to tell the children – especially young children whose awareness of thieves has been largely formed through reading the famous Janet & Allen Alberg story about Burglar Bill. And now Burglar Bill has made mummy cry.

So how do you deal with this as a parent or carer? Well the general advice is to keep explanations age appropriate – a summary of the structural inequalities in society that may or may not lead to crime is not something that a five year old is able to digest in a meaningful manner and will not stop those fears that Burglar Bill is under his bed and about to steal his Ben Ten. Neither will fundamentalist inspired rants about chopping off hands help when overheard by impressionable ten year olds (and this burglary is a test of our liberal views although at time of writing, they remain thankfully intact).

Offering children a chance to explore the fears and discuss their reactions in a calm atmosphere is recommended by Victim Support, who were very swift to call us after the police had referred our case onto them. The existence of services like Victim Support have great benefit when it comes to supporting parents so they in turn can support their own children, remain calm in the face of possible distress and help them deal with the consequences of such an event.

Victim Support was one of the earliest organisations to recognise the extent by which children can be affected by burglary and similar crimes and as a result, tailor their liaison work to take into account the needs of every family member, no matter how young.

We discovered some interesting facts – some children may develop fantasies around what the burglars are like, imbuing them with supernatural or superhuman qualities because clearly the idea that a regular person with no superhuman skills is able to access their homes and cause such trauma is not very palatable at all; children may want to stay close to home because they see it as ‘their role’ to protect their parents whilst other children may show some behavioural issues like night terrors, awakening, tantrums. Some may be comparatively unaffected, others may postpone any signs of distress until months after, suddenly sweeping their parents away with a tsunami of anger or confusion.

Reinforcing a sense that parents are there to protect can be a challenge when clearly said parents allowed Burglar Bill in through the front door (hollow laugh, oh yes, we did) and the unpredictable nature of crimes like burglary which catch us unawares and makes us feel foolish (why did we leave the door unlocked when we were in the garden?) can cause adults to play things down in a misguided attempt to shield children. This leaves children with nowhere to take their worries which inevitably manifest themselves through behaviour if they cannot be expressed via words.

Involving children in identifying how we can make our homes and their possessions more secure is great preparation for more independent life as your children grown up and spend more time away from the family nest (how to stop your bike from being stolen, how to avoid mobile phone theft and how to be safe on the street).

Suffolk Constabulary website is packed with useful information on home security which sadly we accessed after the fact. Use the checklist to make your home and possessions more secure and these steady, practical activities when shared with children can help them a great deal, from helping to choose padlocks for sheds to marking their bicycle and garden toys.

Finally, police say people are still not paying attention to home security, going out leaving windows unlocked and gardens unsecured despite warnings. I urge you all to make it really difficult for thieves by keeping everything locked because life is not like a children’s story and ‘our’ local Burglar Bill is unlikely to retire any time soon. Not voluntarily, anyway.