Naperville Police Department Announces Discontinuation of Helping Hand Program
Changing times, prevalence of technology have decreased program participation
The Helping Hand Program, which recruited private residences to serve as safe places for kids to go when lost, hurt or in danger, is being discontinued as officials see program participation dwindle and costs increase due to changing times and regulations, respectively.
The Helping Hand Program began in the late 1960s to provide safe places for kids to go to receive emergency adult assistance. Those safe places were vetted through background checks conducted by the Police Department every two years and designated by a red and white Helping Hand sign in the front window of the residence.
Changing regulations regarding background checks have increased the program’s cost significantly in recent months while the prevalence of cell phones and other social changes have rendered the program outdated.
Since the fall of 2015, no Helping Hand volunteers have contacted Naperville Police – as required by the program – to indicate they assisted a child through the program. There are no records before the fall of 2015 regarding the usage of the program, but anecdotally, staff is unable to remember the last time the program was utilized by a child in need.
“The Helping Hand Program served its purpose and our community well for a long time, but we have to acknowledge that times have changed since the program started back in the 1960s,” said Police Chief Robert Marshall. “These days, more and more youth are carrying cell phones and more families are working, leaving those Helping Hand households unoccupied during the day. We have to change with the times and deploy resources where they make sense.”
Changing regulations regarding background checks makes it a violation for Naperville Police to run criminal background checks through its current system for purposes of the program. Instead, the department must pay $35 per background check of each person over the age of 18 in a Helping Hand household every two years.
“We have more than 1,500 Helping Hand households with at least one adult requiring a background check every two years to remain active, which is a significant expense for a program that isn’t being used,” said Chief Marshall. “We also acknowledge that while we have no documented issues surrounding it, this program is actually a liability for the Police Department, the City, the program volunteers, and the children because it has never included any waivers.”
In coming months, program volunteers will be asked to return their Helping Hand signs to the Naperville Police Department or their neighborhood school for destruction. In addition, parents and educators are being asked to no longer speak to their children about the Helping Hand Program when discussing safety.
“The Naperville Police Department will continue to teach safety tips and best practices to our community’s youth through school programs and at Safety Town,” said Chief Marshall, further encouraging parents to do the same. “The Helping Hand Program just won’t be part of those lessons.”
The City of Naperville and the Naperville Police Department thank the many longtime supporters of the Helping Hand Program for their dedication and commitment to safety in Naperville.
About Naperville: Located 28 miles west of Chicago, Naperville, Ill., is home to approximately 145,000 people. This vibrant, thriving city consistently ranks as a top community in the nation in which to live, raise children and retire. The city is home to acclaimed public and parochial schools, the best public library system in the country, an array of healthcare options and an exceptionally low crime rate. Naperville has ready access to a variety of public transportation, housing and employment options. The city’s diversified employer base features high technology firms, retailers and factories, as well as small and home-based businesses. Residents also enjoy world-class parks, diverse worship options, the opportunity to serve on several City boards and commissions, a thriving downtown shopping and dining area, a renowned outdoor history museum known as Naper Settlement and an active civic community. For more information, please visit our website at www.naperville.il.us.