Parental guidelines in finding professional help in case your child is missing or the victim of sexual abuse or exploitation

Families faced with the problem of a missing or sexually exploited child may benefit from the help of a knowledgeable and experienced professional. In missing child cases of all types, parents may need to call upon the services of a qualified and experienced therapist to help them deal with the family stress during the missing event, child recovery, and family reunification, or the grieving process if the child is recovered deceased. In family abduction cases in particular, the searching parent will need an attorney to assist in filing a civil legal action, recovering the child, and ensuring that law-enforcement bring the abductor parent to justice. In cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse, therapists and physicians are helpful both in diagnosing that abuse took place and in treating the problems caused by the abuse.

The following guidelines have been compiled by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (Child Find Canada's sister south of the border) in cooperation with the National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse and the Center for the Study of Trauma at the University of California at San Francisco, to help parents find professionals - therapists, physicians, and attorneys - to assist in treating and resolving cases of missing or exploited children.

Counseling in Cases of Missing or Exploited Children

Child disappearance for any reason - whether a non-family abduction, family abduction, or runaway episode - is a loss that usually creates extreme stress within families. Parents and other children in the family may experience anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, or guilt. While there may be little prior life experience to prepare families for this traumatic event, each family develops its own way of coping. You may choose to rely on your own resources along with the support of relatives and friends. Other families, however, may find that counseling can give family members the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about the disappearance, to reorganize family responsibilities, and to keep communication open during a difficult and often painful period.

Every family with a missing child hopes for a successful recovery. This recovery, however, is only the first part of a family reunification process. The family and the recovered child will need to discuss their experiences during the missing event and then begin to rebuild family life. Because the experiences of child victims of non-family abduction, family abduction, or a runaway episode may be very different, the tasks of the family and the recovered child during reunification may vary.

If your child has been abducted by a non-family member, reunification counseling should begin with an evaluation of the impact of the missing event upon both family and child as well as an assessment of their coping efforts. Non-family abductions frequently involve physical, sexual, or psychological abuse of the child. While family counseling fosters the communication essential to rebuilding family life, individual counseling of the child may be necessary to address fears and traumatic experiences that he or she may be reluctant to express in a family setting. In cases of extreme tragedy in which the child dies while missing, a family will need counseling to help cope with their grief and other feelings.

If your child has been abducted by the noncustodial parent, reunification counseling may be needed to address the child's feelings of separation or loss from the abductor parent. The custodial parent may find it difficult to talk with the child about such feelings, in light of his or her own anxiety or anger toward the abducting parent. Counseling can make it easier for such reactions to be discussed.

The act of running away usually results from a combination of unresolved family problems and individual problems, and preventing future runaway incidents. Counseling should address all events that occurred during the runaway incident, as runaway children are at high risk for substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and sexual and physical abuse.

When a child has been sexually exploited or abused, the child should be seen by a therapist as soon as possible after disclosing the abuse. Therapy can help your child understand that he or she is not to blame and can help the child cope with the overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame that some children have. While physical evidence of sexual abuse is often lacking, have the child examined by a physician to make sure that the child has not been physically injured during the abuse. If the police or child protective services have not already taken your child to a therapist or physician as part of the investigation, you should seek such a professional on your own.