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Parents' fears 'raised by Bulger case': Children's freedom 'being curtailed'

THE IMAGE of James Bulger being led away by his two killers in a Liverpool shopping centre has imprinted itself on the nation's consciousness - making millions of parents 'irrationally' worried that their children may be abducted.

Despite the relative rarity of child abduction, and the fact that most child abusers are known to their victims, 97 per cent of parents cite abduction as their biggest worry, ahead of problems such as drugs, glue-sniffing or Aids, according to a survey published today.

Almost all parents (98 per cent) believe the world is a more dangerous place for children than when they were young: other factors cited are alcohol, gambling and promiscuous sex.

The survey, by the children's organisation Kidscape, is a follow-up to a report it published last July in the aftermath of the Bulger killing, but before the trial. A year after the murder, it says, video images of two-year-old James being led away 'are still etched on parents' minds'.

Michele Elliott, director of Kidscape, said: 'In interviews with parents, spontaneous recall of those TV images was demonstrated by parents over and over again . . . It seems that the James Bulger case has acted as a catalyst focusing parents' minds on the external dangers facing their children.'

Kidscape describes as depressing the survey findings - based on the responses of 1,000 parents who saw Yell, Run and Tell, a poster campaign sponsored by the Co-op highlighting the dangers of children talking to strangers - confirming previous research by bodies such as the Policy Studies Institute that children are losing their autonomy and freedom. However, it says many parents are now 'actively pursuing' child safety strategies with their children to help them cope with threatening situations such as approaches from strangers.

Of parents who saw the campaign, 95 per cent now teach personal safety strategies to their children: 90 per cent said they would not have thought of this without the campaign.

Kidscape, which has produced a video adaptation of the children's book The Willow Street Kids, showing children dealing with problems such as strangers, bullying and keeping secrets, argues that children should be taught how to cope with strangers in the same way as they are taught how to cross the road.

'What if. . .?' questions - taking a child through possible scenarios such as approaches from strangers or getting lost - were cited by parents as particularly effective, leading to the development of a 'safe plan of action in a calm and non- frightening manner'.

'It's no good just locking your children away with videos for company. You have to teach them practical skills so they can go out and cope with the world,' Jane Kilpatrick, of Kidscape, said yesterday. Children should be taught they can ignore strangers, or shout and run away from them, for example.

The video is available through Co-op superstores or from Kidscape, 152 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1 W9TR, costing pounds 6.99 ( pounds 7.75 including post and packing).