(image credit FBI, National Missing Children's Day 2015)
The National Center for Missing & Exploited children, the nation’s largest source of information about missing children, reports that over 800,000 children are reported missing in America every year. This number includes children who are runaways, are lost, have been injured, or have been abducted. (By far the largest percentage of abducted children have been taken by family members, often in custody disputes.) It is probable that many more have been missing briefly, and are not reported as they are located before they are formally reported as missing.
It is the most frantic moment a parent can imagine, the moment when you realize your child is missing. Callahan Walsh, child advocate for the National Center for Missing & Exploited children, says that the first few hours are the most critical, and that parents must be able to give law enforcement a detailed description of the child, including not just age, height, weight, hair and eye color but what the child was wearing when last seen.
What the child was wearing is crucial information. For example, if the law enforcement agencies are informed that the child was wearing purple shorts and a pink t-shirt, they will not be looking closely at children wearing blue jeans and a white jersey, and the missing child could easily be overlooked.
A fantastic idea suggested by Walsh to TJ Holmes on Good Morning America’s “on the lookout” segment is that parents use a cell phone to take a quick photo of their child every morning before the child leaves the house for school. The photo should show the child’s full face, as well as what they are wearing. In the unlikely event that the child should go missing, that photo will provide critical information instantly. Furthermore, it has been shown that the highest recovery rate is when photos appear everywhere, such as on facebook, twitter, on shopper bulletin boards, and so on. This great idea would assure that a current photo is immediately available.
Another important measure of protection can be added by assuring that your child carries an In Case of Emergency (ICE) card and/or wears In Case of Emergency (ICE) tags, such as those provided at www.ice-gear.com. The convenient tags can be attached to book bags, lunch boxes, zipper pulls, athletic gear bags, bicycles, and more. Because so many children who are missing are lost or have been injured, these handy cards and tags will provide law enforcement and first responders with instant access to the telephone numbers where the parents or other adults, specified by the parents, can be reached at once, even if the child is not able to provide any information such as their name.
The good news is that, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited children, 99% of the children reported missing return home alive. The two ideas above may help them to return home faster as well.