Losing a child is a parent’s ultimate nightmare. The gripping horror and terror comes simultaneously with a gripping sense of panic.
Around 460,000 children in the United States are reported missing each year, according to the FBI. Many are usually found, but there are those who never find their way back home.
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In honor of those who search for missing children, and as a way to raise awareness for those who have not been found, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers these tips for parents to know what they should do in case a child goes missing.
When in a store or mall, notify the store manager or security officer at once if you can’t find your child. Then immediately call the local law enforcement agency. Many stores these days have a Code Adam plan of action in case these things happen. A “Code Adam,” named in memory of Adam Walsh, who was kidnapped from a store in Florida in 1981 and later found dead, will alert employees of a missing child. Stores usually have a protocol in place, where some employees are trained to monitor entrances and exits to ensure that no child will leave the premise.
In a more public place, like on the streets, it is best to automatically call your local law enforcement agency and report your missing child. After doing so, call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Provide the law enforcement agency with your child’s name, date of birth, height, weight, and any other unique identifiers like moles, eyeglasses, or braces. Tell them when you noticed your child was missing, and the clothes he or she was wearing at the time.
If you feel it necessary, request them to enter your child’s name and information into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center Missing Person File.
What can the NCMEC do?
The NCMEC will take the information about your child and assign a team to work with you in investing the case. As per their Web site, they can create and disseminate posters to help generate leads.
They can also rapidly review, analyze, and disseminate leads that they receive over the call line to the law enforcement agency. They will also communicate with federal agencies to provide services in assisting the recovery of the missing children.
The NCMEC will provide peer support and resources from trained volunteers who have experienced similar incidents in their own family. They also provide access to referrals that could be helpful for families in processing their emotional or counseling needs.
What does the NCMEC recommend you do?
According to the NCMEC, there are a few things you could do as a parent if your child goes missing.
First is to contact the law enforcement agency as soon as you have determined that your child is missing or has been abducted—the more you delay reporting, the more danger your child will be in.
Search the area, especially places where a child could crawl or hide in—he could be hiding and not be able to get out. These places include closets, laundry, in and under beds, large appliances, and even vehicles. Also remember to check areas where you last saw your child or any places that he could have gone in the near vicinity, including abandoned wells, caves, sheds, and even buildings and crawlspaces.
Provide law enforcement with date, time, and location where your child was last seen, as well as the names of the people (as well as their descriptions) who saw your child last.
Also secure your child’s room and belongings until law enforcement can conduct a search. In fact, access to your home—no matter where your child was last seen—should be restricted, until law enforcement gives the clear.
Identify and secure computers and devices that your child could be using, but do not attempt to conduct a search on your own. Ask law enforcement to do this for you because they know better what clues to look for in chats and social-networking sites your child may have visited.
Information about your child’s general health and medical conditions or concerns should also be provided, as well as descriptive information about your child to guarantee a faster response.
A clear, colored photo of your child, as well as a description of the clothing worn at the time your child is last seen, date of birth, hair and eye color, height, weight, complexion, and identifiers such as birthmarks and moles or even glasses and braces.
Any individual who has recently shown recent unusual attention or interest in your child should also be red-flagged, especially if you’re concerned that he or she had been abducted.
Report your missing child to the clearinghouse in your state or territory, or search for them on their Web sites.