From sadness came power to change a nation

It’s a plain red shirt made recognisable for the saddest of reasons, yet one which is now worn to honour the life of a 13 year-old boy whose disappearance captured the attention of our nation.

Daniel Morcombe was last seen wearing a red shirt whilst waiting for a bus in Woombye, Queensland, before he was abducted in 2003. The red shirt became a symbol of hope as his parents, Bruce and Denise, campaigned tirelessly with Queensland police to ensure the nation didn’t stop looking for their son. In March, 2014,after an excruciating 11-year search, clues into Daniel’s disappearance finally led police to the truth, and ultimately, the conviction of Daniel’s abductor and murderer.

For Bruce and Denise, who had already established The Daniel Morcombe Foundation, their red symbol of hope began to take on a new meaning:child safety. They have committed themselves to ensuring children all across Australia become very familiar with it.

Bruce and Denise are currently touring Australia in a bright red truck to educate primary and secondary school students about child safety through their ‘Keeping Kids Safe’ campaign. Recently the pair arrived at St Joseph’s Primary School Gloucester to speak about how to stay safe in a physical and online environment. It was a sea of red as staff, students and parents wore red shirts in honour of Daniel and listened to Bruce and Denise talk about the need to be vigilant where crimes against children are concerned.

Teacher at St Joseph’s, Lee Sullivan, arranged for the Morcombes to visit his school after being inspired by hearing them speak in Taree. “After I attended the workshop I put in place many of the strategies with my daughter. These are simple but highly effective,” Mr Sullivan said. 

One of the “simple but effective” strategies Bruce spoke about included creating a family password. He told the children “It’s a very simple thing to do. When you go home and you’re sitting around the dinner table, come up with a family password together, that only people at the family table know.”

Bruce explained that sometimes Mum or Dad might be running late to pick up the kids from school or sport, but children will know not to get in a car with a stranger or friend of the family unless they have the password.

“You know you never get in the car with a stranger, so if they don’t know the password, no-go!” Bruce said.

Having already travelled to more than 400 schools, Denise spoke about schools in small towns and said vigilance is key, especially when a lot of the kids in small towns think they’re safe and the parents think they’re safe also. “We’re teaching children to recognise an unsafe situation; you need to react by removing yourself and going to a safe location and report what happened to you to an adult in your safety network,” Denise said.

The Morcombe Foundation sees its role in the community as assisting educators and parents in the education of children about their personal safety.    

The Daniel Morcombe Child Safety Curriculum has been mapped to the National Curriculum and recommended for inclusion.

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Emma Blackford

Emma Blackford worked for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle from 2009-2017. During this time, Emma held the positions of Communications Manager for the Catholic Schools Office, Communications Manager for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and Marketing and Communications Manager for CatholicCare Hunter-Manning.

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