Parental guidelines in case your child might someday be missing

The rising awareness of crimes against children - and of missing children in particular - has left many families feeling vulnerable. It is important that parents be aware and alert, but you and your child do not need to be afraid. You should be wary of gadgets and gimmicks that purport to protect your child, however.

The most important key to child safety is effective communication with your child. Remember, children who are not listened to or who do not have their needs met in the home are more vulnerable to abduction or exploitation. The first step you should take is to establish an atmosphere in the home in which your child feels truly comfortable in discussing sensitive matters and in relating experiences in which someone may have approached the child in an inappropriate manner or in a way that made the child uncomfortable. The simple truth is that children are often too afraid or too confused to report their experiences and their fears. In some ways, you should treat your children as you would your adult friends - allow them to talk freely about their likes and dislikes, their friends, their true feelings.

This page instructs parents on actions they should take to prepare for the remote possibility of their child being missing. It also provides instructions on the immediate actions parents should take when they believe their child is missing.

Preparation

There are five steps that parents should take to be prepared if their child is missing. The data collected in this preparation will help the police search for and identify the child when he or she is recovered.

  1. Keep a complete description of the child. This description must include color of hair, color of eyes, height, weight, and date of birth. In addition, the description should contain their identifiers - eyeglasses or contact lenses, braces on teeth, pierced ears, and other unique physical attributes. The complete description must be written down.
  2. Take color photographs of your child every six months. Photographs should be of high quality and in sharp focus so that the child is easily recognisable. Head and shoulder portraits from different angles, such as those taken by school photographers, are preferable.
  3. Have your dentist prepare dental charts for your child, and be sure that they are updated each time an examination or dental work is performed. Make sure that your dentist maintains accurate, up-to-date dental charts and x-rays on your child as a routine part of his or her normal office procedure. If you move, you should get a copy from your former dentist to keep yourself until a new dentist is found.
  4. Know where your child's medical records are located. Medical records, particularly x-rays, can be invaluable in helping to identify a recovered child. It is important to have all permanent scars, birthmarks, blemishes, and broken bones recorded. You should find out from your child's doctor where such records are located and how you can obtain them if the need arises.
  5. Arrange with your local police department to have your child fingerprinted. In order for fingerprints to be useful in identifying a person, they must be properly taken. Your police department has trained personnel to be sure that they are useful. The police department will give you the fingerprint card and will not keep a record of the child's prints.

Action

If you believe your child to be missing, it is critical that you act immediately. If your child is missing from home, search the house. You should check closets, piles of laundry, in and under beds, inside old refrigerators - wherever a child could crawl into or hide and possibly be asleep or not able to get out. Check with your neighbors and friends of your child. If you still cannot find your child, call the police immediately.

When you call the police, try to stay calm. Identify yourself and your location and say, Please send an officer; I want to report a missing child. You should give your child's name, date of birth, height, weight, and any unique identifiers, such as eyeglasses, pierced ears, or braces on the teeth. In addition, you should tell them when you noticed the disappearance and when you last saw your child. Knowing what clothing the child was wearing when he or she disappeared will help the police. After you have reported your child missing to the police, listen to their instructions and respond to their questions.

Any significant and unexplained deviation from your child's daily routine should prompt a timely law-enforcement response. Police response may be expedited if any of these unusual circumstances exist: 1) your child is under thirteen years of age, 2) your child is mentally incapacitated or drug dependent, or 3) your child is a potential victim of foul play or is with adults who endanger the child's welfare.