Operation Kidsafe founder Mark Bott learned an important lesson two decades ago: That he – and many parents, in general – have a limited knowledge of how to truly protect a child.
“My idea of child safety was – and this is stupid, totally stupid – but my idea was, ‘I’m 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, who’s going to touch my kid?’ That’s a joke, because you’re not always an arm’s length away from your child,” Bott admitted.
The turning point, he said, came when he faced his own family safety emergency.
Ultimately Bott, whose background was in auto dealerships and training companies, sold his businesses and began volunteering. Then, 18 years ago, he founded Operation Kidsafe, which services the United States and Canada.
Now touting its success rate – over 1 million children safeguarded – its reach continues to grow. In Avondale, in particular, a new Allstate agency opened – and it provides Operation Kidsafe’s services.
“I wanted to make a difference in my community, and what better way (than) to start with our kids?” said Carlos Rosales, citing Allstate agencies on the East Coast, where he received his training, that had given him positive feedback on working with Operation Kidsafe.
In addition to Rosales’ own insurance services, his office individually crafts AMBER Alert-ready bio cards for children and special needs adults. Through the service, Rosales or his colleagues can take a photo and scan fingerprints, which are then printed on a card to be given back to a parent or guardian. Instructions and safety tips are also given.
“It’s pretty simple, but at the same time I think it brings a unique value to our agency and helps parents keep (their kids) safe,” Rosales explained.
The service is free and private; no personal information or visit records are collected. Rather, the free bio card is left blank – other than the photo and fingerprints – to be filled out later with personal details law enforcement would need in an emergency.
Privacy is paramount, Bott said.
“Back in the ‘90s, I worked four years on safety programs with John Walsh with ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ and John pretty well taught me that privacy should be No. 1 in a parent’s mind,” explained Bott, who said he had a minor role in the introduction of the AMBER Alert.
“My tip to parents is, don’t give your child’s information to anyone except your school and your medical folks locally.”
In the case of an emergency, however, he noted parents will have their card on hand to turn over to law enforcement.
But his goal is for parents to emphasize proper safety protocol, never needing to hand over a bio card. And if Operation Kidsafe were rendered irrelevant and put out of business, well, that would be OK with Bott, because it would mean the organization’s services are no longer needed.
Citing ideas like “stranger danger” and scenario-based training, like “don’t look for the puppy,” as not working, Bott touts something he calls “check first.”
“What we recommend is that you don’t ruin the kid’s (perspective on) life, you don’t put the pressure of child safety on the child, you give them some basic tools that they can use, and ours is called ‘check first,’” Bott explained.
“If anyone approaches you, they ask you to go anywhere, do anything or take anything, you have one rule: you run as fast as you can to the adult in charge and check first … You don’t need a young child learning negotiating tactics, and that’s literally what kids were being trained years ago.
“The other thing is we teach our kids to be polite to adults. That’s awesome. You should. You also need to tell them that it’s OK if someone approaches them to run to the adult in charge and let the adult make the decision.”
Individuals looking to acquire an AMBER Alert-ready bio card can stop by Rosales’ office, 1457 N. Eliseo Felix Junior Way, Suite 101, Avondale, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is recommended that photos are updated once a year.
Rosales also plans to take the service around to events, further establishing himself as a member of the West Valley community.
“I just want to give back to the community in some way, shape or form,” he said.
But the card is just one aspect of safeguarding children.
“This is only one tool, but it’s a great tool for parents to start the conversation. And that’s what it’s all about,” Bott said.