Losing a child is a harrowing experience for any parent, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The United States takes missing children cases very seriously, and child offenders are among the most severely punished by law – the penalty is usually long-term imprisonment, and Inmate101 can tell you more about the prisons in Texas and how they segregate offenders.
At the same time, it is reassuring to remember that most missing children simply wander off on their own and are mostly found within hours. The following precautions will help to ensure that your children stay safe at all times.
Plan with your child ahead of outings
It is always advisable to teach your child how to respond to any emergency situations. Make sure your child has memorized your cell phone number, and agree upon a central spot to head towards immediately in case you become separated.
Dress your child in brightly colored clothes to make them easier to spot in a crowd – if you’re visiting a large venue like an amusement park, write your phone number on your child’s shoulder or sleeve with a permanent marker so that they can reach out to you even if they forget your number. If your child has a mobile phone, ensure that it is fully charged and that all emergency contacts are stored on it.
Teach your children about ‘stranger danger’
While the first and most important step is to teach your children not to talk to random strangers, it is also important to teach them about strangers who could be helpful in an emergency, including police officers, front desk officials, fire-fighters or even other mothers with young children. In case your child gets lost, therefore, teach them to identify such ‘good’ strangers and approach them for help with locating you.
Take precautions for emergency situations
It is always better to prepare in advance for worst-case scenarios. Talk to your children about possible danger situations and what they should do in case something happens. When possible, take copies of your child’s fingerprints and DNA and store them safely for any emergency situation. Get the contacts of your child’s friends’ families so that you can reach out to them for information in case your child goes missing.
Share the child’s information with law enforcement
If your child has disappeared and you report the incident to the authorities, you need to provide them with some basic information about your child, including their physical appearance, any distinguishing features or birthmarks, the clothes they were last wearing, any health conditions and other relevant details. In a suspected kidnapping case, the police may issue an AMBER Alert to share the word with the community, so it is essential to share information as thoroughly as possible.
Search in your immediate vicinity
Quite often, children get lost inadvertently or by wandering off. Younger children in particular often fall asleep in places like your laundry basket or under beds, so be sure to check these places thoroughly.
If you have lost your child in a store, inform the manager immediately so that everyone can stop work and start looking for the child (the Code Adam protocol). Call any friends, neighbors or family members to check whether your child may have gone there.
Older children with phones often leave digital clues behind, so ask the authorities to investigate social media platforms for any hints on your child’s whereabouts.
In the first 48 hours after a child’s disappearance, it is critical for a guardian to stay available at all times. Keep the contact details of the investigator handy, and ensure that your phone line is available at all times for any information that may come through.
It is highly recommended that you collect and sort any bits of evidence in your child’s room – clothing, bed sheets and even trash – that the authorities may find useful. While you will understandably want to help in the physical search for your child, it is advisable for you to gather information and stay available for questions instead to help the police in their search.
Once you’ve informed your local authorities and the search has begun, inform the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). They can assist the process by putting you in touch with non-profit groups that can be of help, distributing missing posters for your children and even pulling up files on registered sex offenders in your child’s area.
While kidnapping cases are extremely rare, the NCMEC can provide you with the resources and support required to locate your child in case of a possible abduction. The NCMEC, in fact, reports a 97% recovery rate for missing children, so you can rest assured that your child is most likely safe and sound.
Quite often, children will simply be children and stroll off on their own. By following the precautions above, you can ensure that your child is protected from harm and is always recovered safely. Moreover, don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need it – the law is on your side!