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Preventing Child Abduction

Feb 28, 2009 04:00PM ● By Super Admin

Ask almost any mom, and she’ll remember a time when her son or daughter went missing – if only for a moment. She’ll likely describe the aching panic in the pit of her stomach at the thought her child might have been kidnapped. But for parents who have actually experienced the reality, they say the nightmare is indescribable.

While child abduction cases are thankfully rare in our community, local law enforcement leaders say it’s important for parents and children, from toddlers to teenagers, to stay educated, prepared and alert.

New Tools and Old Beliefs
Over the past decade, the child safety playing field has changed considerably. Advancements in technology have led to the AMBER Alert notification system and an international database for missing children. Yet, we’ve also witnessed the growing popularity of a dangerous new tool for child predators – the Internet.

Unfortunately, old myths about kidnap prevention remain, such as teaching “stranger danger,” and the need to wait 24 hours before reporting a missing child – two mistakes that could be deadly.

Detective Sergeant Dennis Walsh with the Placer County Sheriff’s Department says that statistically, the vast majority of child abductions are perpetrated by someone familiar to the child or the family.

That’s why national experts say the “stranger danger” message gives children a false sense of security around familiar faces, while at the same time promotes a fear of strangers whom actually could be rescuers.

Kidnap Prevention Techniques
The key to reducing the risk of child abductions, say authorities, is a combined effort on behalf of parents, children, law enforcement and the community, focused in three areas – education, awareness and preparation. They offer the following tips:

For Parents of Younger Children:
  • Make sure your child knows their address, full phone number and parents’ full names.
  • Don’t put your child’s name on the outside of clothing, backpacks or lunch boxes.
  • Warn children about approaching a vehicle or giving out personal information, such as name, address or school, to strangers.
  • Remind children that adults should ask other adults, not children, for things like directions, or help finding a lost pet. Role play other scenarios with examples of common enticements such as candy or ice cream.
  • Watch for teachable moments where you can practice “what if” scenarios and point out “strange” adults (security officers, other parents) your child might safely approach if lost.
  • Have your child’s picture taken yearly and keep a photo and their fingerprints with you at all times.
  • Consider purchasing a GPS-enabled wristwatch or bracelet, or child-locating device.
  • Never leave children unattended in a vehicle.
  • Have your child practice the Buddy System, even in public restrooms.
  • Establish a family code word for emergencies.
  • Screen babysitters and caregivers carefully. Be aware of others who may live or work at the same facility.
  • Teach your child that if a stranger tries to grab him, he should yell loudly for “HELP!” or “I DON’T KNOW YOU!” And then run.

Without a doubt, one of the best tools for prevention is community involvement, says El Dorado County Sheriff Sergeant Bryan Golmitz. He says over the last year his office received multiple calls reporting strangers approaching young children, and they thoroughly investigated every one. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to identify and report suspicious circumstances immediately to law enforcement,” Golmitz says. “We can’t help if we don’t know about it.”