Scripture Union NSW have defended the recent actions of their representatives in Brunswick Heads, after a 12-year-old and his friend were led away from his mother and encouraged to enter a sandcastle competition.
Melissa Hargraves told The Echo she was at Torakina Park with her son and two friends.
She said, ‘I have brought my 12-year-old son up to not walk off with strangers and certainly not with strangers who offer money. A group with the name SUFM set up in Torakina Park last Saturday with red flags, marquees and amplifiers. My son and two friends were walking back from the bridge to our picnic site when they were approached by a group in red shirts. They were asked “Do you want to build a sandcastle and win $100?”.
‘One of the boys said no and kept walking. My son and his friend also said no but were cornered and roped into it. I then watched in horror as this group walked with my son and his friend (whom I was in care of for the day) down to the beach, away from my sight without asking any permission from me.
‘After composing myself I approached the group on the beach. I firstly spoke to my son about walking off with strangers (he has never previously done this) and his response was “We can get $100 for building a sandcastle”.
‘One of the red shirted people came over to me to ask if I had a problem. I said, “You cannot set up red flags (pardon the pun) in a park, rope in children with an offer of money then walk off with them .”
‘He said there is a registration process which was not used in this instance and that we could go back up to the park and complete the paperwork. I said it was too late and that they needed to seek permission before walking off with any children again.’
Hargraves added, ‘I am tolerant of religions and am not against people doing activities with children, but permission is so important’.
‘I was in the park when they walked off with the kids so it was easy for them to send the kids to seek my permission or come and speak to me personally.’
SU NSW replies
In reply, a Scripture Union NSW spokesperson said that the directors in question acknowledge the validity of the mother’s concern, ‘and also acknowledge one point at which their processes could perhaps be improved.’
They said the incident was ‘a minor misunderstanding, and one which was appropriately dealt with in person at the time.’
‘Scripture Union NSW takes the responsible care of children extremely seriously.
‘We have rigorous and thorough processes in place to ensure that all our programs are safe places for children and their families. We are also constantly working hard to improve our processes where we can, so we listen carefully to all feedback received. Our record in this area is, frankly, pretty exceptional.
‘The much bigger and far more positive story here is that there is a team of 45 highly committed and well-trained adults who come from a long way away every summer to run programs for families in your local community at their own expense. They give up 10 to 12 days of their annual holidays to do it (and a considerable sum of money each) because they have a genuine concern to build communities, to care for families, and to share the love of God.
‘They have a great and longstanding relationship with literally hundreds of local people and local businesses etc and they’ve been doing it every summer for the last fifty years!
‘It would not be hard to find scores of local people who feel nothing but deep gratitude for the work these volunteers do every summer and who would be glad to give their testimony.’
Hargraves said, ‘I understand they have a reputation in the community and I am certainly not one to go about destroying their good work. If it means they, or any other group doing business in our parks will seek parental consent in future, especially for 12-year-olds, then I am happy that I have said something.’
Melissa Hargraves is a former Echo journalist.