Block Parent signs disappear from N.S. windows

The red-and-white Block Parent sign that for more than 30 years signaled safety for children is disappearing from Nova Scotia windows.

The red-and-white Block Parent sign that for more than 30 years signalled a safe haven for children is disappearing from Nova Scotia windows.

Two-thirds of the Block Parent associations in the province have folded in the past six years, part of a countrywide decline blamed in part on regulations requiring more rigorous police checks.

Under the Block Parent program, a volunteer agrees to help a child or adult who needs protection from anything from bullying or bad weather to sexual assault. A sign in the window shows which homes are involved.

There used to be 60 Block Parents in the community of Dutch Settlement near Halifax, but only six remain – and they're in danger of disappearing, according to volunteer Jean Hiltz.

"I just find it very sad and disheartening, after thirteen and a half years as a Block Parent community in Dutch Settlement, that it has to come to this," Hiltz said.

She said organizers in her area tried to merge with neighbouring associations and even held a drive for volunteers – to little avail.

There are similar problems across Canada for Block Parents, which was started in London, Ont., in 1968 and has more than 300,000 volunteers from coast to coast.

Toronto police pulled the plug on the city's program in 2003 because of dwindling interest. They blamed the decline largely on the lack of stay-at-home adults these days, as single-parent and dual-income families become more common.

As well, children are more streetwise than they once were, making the program less necessary, they said.

The decline also stems in part from a recent federal rule requiring stricter screening of volunteers who have contact with children. Now when someone applies to be a Block Parent, police screen everyone in the household who is 12 years or older.

An RCMP spokesman said the extra hoops seem to deter potential volunteers.

"That has caused a real, real problem in getting the existing Block Parents re-screened, as well as enticing new Block Parents," said Const. Bill Chapman, from the RCMP detachment in Enfield, N.S.

"It's a step back for community policing."