Taken - Protecting your child from abduction
More than 460,00 missing children in the United States
May is Missing Children’s Month and May 25 is Missing Children’s Day. The 25th coincides with the anniversary of the disappearance of Etan Patz, a 6 year old boy from New York who went missing on May 25, 1979 when he walked to the school bus for the first time. Etan was never found. In 1983, President Ronald Regan declared May 25th as National Missing Children’s Day. Etan’s disappearance highlighted the fact that there was no organized program in place to aid in the recovery of abducted children. He was also the first child to be depicted on a milk carton, a now-defunct program that used put pictures of missing children on milk cartons in an effort to aid in their rescue. In May and all the other months, let us honor the children who have been abducted and returned, those never found and those who departed this earth too soon by taking 25 minutes to talk to your child about safety. It will be time well spent.
I remember it clearly: It was a spring day, I had just moved into my first home. My car was parked in the garage and boxes were all around. The children, ages 2 and 3 at the time, were playing with empty boxes and wrapping paper in the garage. My brother was helping me get situated. I asked him to take a box into the house and I followed behind to show him where to place it. I left him in the house to unpack while I returned to the garage to continue sorting.
When I returned, I checked on the children, but I only saw one. I thought, perhaps he climbed into a box, or was hiding…I called his name. No response. I screamed his name. No response. My brother came outside. “Boogie’s gone!” I screamed. That moment, I saw my brother, 36 at the time; tear off down the cul-de-sac with a speed I had not seen since he was the anchor on the record holding high school mile relay team. I continued to search for my son, by this time in tears and my heart pounding.
Bawling and nauseous, I felt each beat in my ears. My daughter thought it was a game and started to search as well. Someone has abducted my child! Where could he have gone in such a short time? How could someone whisk him away and be unnoticed? I was filled with anxiety and dread. Then, in the midst of my terror, I saw my son, standing in the back seat of the car, smiling, watching through the rear window, as the drama unfolded. Instant relief! I grabbed him from the car and hugged him tightly, relieved that my worst fear was not realized that day.
We comfort ourselves by saying “that would never happen in America”, yet the stark reality is that children routinely go missing in the United States.
The 2015 stats show that there were 460,699 missing children entered into the National Crime Information Center, and 46,046 of those kids were from Texas. Of the kids in Texas, 2,769 children were from Tarrant County alone.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is the leading nonprofit organization that has been working for 30 years on issues related to missing and sexually exploited children. The abduction and murder of Adam Walsh (of Code Adam) in July of 1981 helped spur the formation of NCMEC. They provide valuable information on their website (www.missingkids.com) on what to do in the event of child abduction.
So as a parent, what can you do to ensure your child’s safety and even the safety of other children? The approach is common sense:
- Keep a current picture.
- When they are very young, just keep an eye on them at all times, in the store, in the mall and at the park. I have a friend who kept her son strapped into a stroller when they were out because he had a tendency to take off. I used to think the kiddie leashes were cruel, but I get it now.
- As they age and gain more independence, parents need to create scenarios like “What would you do if we got separated in the store?” “What would you do if someone you don’t know wanted to show you a puppy?” “Give you a gift?” “Who is a trusted adult and why?”
- In the tween and teen years, when they have access to the Internet and cell phones, rules need to be established for the use of technology.
- Sexting and cyberbullying need discussion, as well as what is and is not appropriate to share online. If they encounter anyone online who makes them uncomfortable, asks for or shows revealing photos, reports can be made to www.CyberTipline.com. Many teens are lured away from their homes by people that they meet online, in chat rooms and on social media sites.
NCMEC’s website www.Take25.org provides helpful, age appropriate information to parents about how to teach children about safety. There are also fun activities for children. In the event a child goes missing, call 911, and then call 1-800-THE-LOST.
Sophia R. Grant, M.D., FAAP, is a board certified child abuse pediatrician at Cook Children’s Medical Center.