Australia's top Santa weighs in on lap-sitting debate
THE man responsible for Australia's Santa population thinks calls to stop children from lap-sitting in shopping centre photos are misguided and unfair.
Promoworks national Santa trainer Mark Overell, a Santa for 24 years, said he was disappointed by "alarmist" media coverage highlighting the dangers of sitting on Santa's lap after a Queensland mothers' group questioned the practice.
Hetty Johnston, of the child protection group Bravehearts, fuelled debate by calling for shopping centres to update their policies as she felt it would be better for children to stand alongside Santa instead of on his lap, unless directed by a parent.
The suggestion found Ms Johnston being accused of being anti-Santa.
In a statement yesterday, Bravehearts said they were not against children sitting on Santa's knee if they wanted to and that they were not anti-Santa.
"Our position is that kids shouldn't have to do something against their will if they feel uncomfortable or unsure about a situation," the statement said.
"We are not against children sitting on Santa's knee or receiving a hug from him, we are against kids being forced to do this."
Mr Overell said it was sad to see the issue blown out of proportion to the point where Santas were being verbally insulted.
"Our Santas are trained to ask the question 'do you want to sit on Santa's lap or do you want to stand there?'," he said.
"We don't force children to sit on our laps."
Mr Overell said potential Santas underwent extensive checks and the belief that there was something wrong with sitting on Santa's lap was unfounded.
"There's a huge amount of background requirements that need to be met, blue cards, national police checks, psychometric testing, referee checks and we look at their ability to be calm and patient with children.
All aspects are measured in some form before they get a placement.
"Statistically there's greater risk from family and friends than there ever will be from Santa.
"Santa sits in front of a security camera where he's being observed and monitored constantly. It would be insane for someone to think they could get away with something in that situation."
Despite the controversy, Mr Overell said the Santa photo was here to stay.
"To take away a little bit of imagination and fantasy from children would be a shame. We overprotect at times.
"Where do we draw the line?"