As a rash of child abductions and murders sweeps across the nation, experts are urging parents to create ID kits for their children and to open serious discussions on how to prevent an abduction.
Over 840,000 adults and juveniles disappeared for some period of time in 2001, according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. About 85-90 percent of those were juveniles.
The Washington state attorney general’s office has estimated that there are about 100 incidents a year throughout the United States in which a child is killed after being abducted. But 74 percent of abducted children who are murdered are dead within three hours of abduction.
Advocates for missing children say the best thing parents can do to prevent an abduction is to educate their children on what to do if approached by a stranger.
And in the awful event of a kidnapping they say parents should have a very clear photo available and be able to describe what their child looks like in detail.
Surprisingly, many parents aren’t able to do this.
According to a survey released last year by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCEMEC), not only do parents lack information that is often critical to recovering children when abductions happen, but they often miss opportunities to prevent kidnappings.
The survey shows that 22 percent of parents do not know offhand the height, weight and eye color information of their children. For households with two or more children, 29 percent do not have all of that information for their kids. While 90 percent of parents can provide that information for their teenagers, about one in four parents cannot give that same data for children ages 6 and under.
Missing children’s groups are urging parents to make kits for their kids to change these statistics.
Groups such as NCMEC and the Oregon-based National Missing Children’s Locate Center help parents put together ID kits with descriptive information of their child included. These kits also may include anything from a hair sample for DNA purposes to biometric data.
"We ask parents to keep clear, updated head and shoulder shots of their children," said NCEMEC spokeswoman Tina Schwartz.
One in six missing kids are found as a result of the public seeing those pictures and contacting authorities, Schwartz said.
NCEMEC and Polaroid created Project KidCare, a national child safety and standardized photo identification program. With a price tag that totals up to $870, the kits contain an instant camera, passport-style IDs, plastic ID holders, standardized backdrop, and film. Along with a set of basic safety tips, the kits accommodate updated photos, a child’s vital statistics and emergency information. Some items can be purchased separately.
"It’s like a safety measure if your child goes missing," Schwartz said. "It gets families focused on child safety."
Parents can also surf the Net at www.sexoffender.com and buy a child ID kit there for $3.95. Those kits, supported by the National Missing Children’s Locate Center, include a child ID for the parent's wallet and another for a sitter or nanny. Also included is an ID card with vitals, allergies and doctor’s name and number, as well as all known contacts to the child. There is also a DNA collection kit and instructions included.
The Oregon center works with the FBI and local authorities to also distribute materials to parents on topics such as how to pick a safe babysitter.
"It’s a good awareness program," said Stephen Jenkevice, chief investigator for the National Missing Children’s Locate Center and vice president of its board of director.
Jenkevice said that since the recent kidnappings, he has seen a slight increase in the number of people wanting to volunteer their time to run ID kit programs, fingerprinting projects and other programs in their communities. The center also asks for professionals, such as photographers, to volunteer their services for these programs.
"No matter where they are in the country, we always are looking for people to get the word out," Jenkevice said. "We try to get the community working with us."
But these same experts warn that the cards cannot take the place of parents sitting down with their kids and talking about dangerous scenarios.
"No piece of paper or card or anything like that are going to help prevent any kind of abduction of child molestation or anything like that," Jenkevice said. "The prevention part of it would be that … hopefully, parents would share that [information] with the kids and take the precautions."