Safeguarding Against Child Abductions
When Chaplin was 3 years old, his father, Neal, received the scare of his life. They were at the busiest museum in the world at that time, The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Neal felt Chaplin let go of his hand for a second, and then he was gone. Neal found a security guard. They searched frantically, and then, after what felt like a lifetime, Neal and Chaplin saw each other in a crowd at the same time and were reunited. "It was the scariest forty-five minutes of my life," Neal says. Decades later, he is still emotional as he relives the story.
The thought of anything happening to our beloved children is terrifying. We've heard the basic safety rules: teach kids their phone number and address, tell them to go to a police officer or a checkout clerk in the store if they are separated from you -- but what do we do for kids who can walk, but can't talk?
It's challenging to keep toddlers safe. According to the Vanished Child Alliance, a child goes missing or is abducted every 40 seconds in the United States. Clearly, parents have to take active responsibility for their children's safety.
The first step is to be aware that toddlers are relatively helpless when out in the world. "A young child lost in the mall doesn't know he's lost," says Steve Cohen, a 25-year Chicago Police Force officer and father of two. This realization hurts the usual repertoire of safety rules such as staying in one place or finding a store person. "They wouldn't know whom to approach." With toddlers, Cohen says, all of the responsibility lies completely with the parent. "The child should always be within eyesight or grasp."
Sounds simple: Never leave your child unattended. But there are times when the most thoughtful parent or caregiver lets down her guard -- and puts her child in danger. For example, what's your grocery store routine? Most moms first load the kids into their car seats, then put the groceries in the trunk and return the cart -- that way the kids aren't running around the parking lot, putting themselves in harm's way. How long is your back turned when you return the cart? It only takes 30 seconds for a skilled criminal to break into a locked car and steal your most precious possession. Yes, it's wildly inconvenient, but ultimately worth it, to put your child into the car, load the groceries into the trunk and then take your child with you to return the cart.
Have your child photographed each year, four times a year the first two years of life. Make sure you have all records about your child in an easy-to-read format. Be prepared to give an accurate description of your child at any time. "Always know your child's height and weight," says Cohen. Check with your community police or sheriff's department or go to www.fingerprintamerica.com for complete kits that feature the child's fingerprints, health and dental records, space to attach a lock of hair for DNA sample, personal information such as name, address, blood type, height, weight and a current photograph.
Take preventive measures: don't buy items that display your child's name. It can give an abductor an advantage by enabling him to address your child by her name and allay her fears. If you drop your child off at day care, make sure his caregivers know that your child is to be released only to you at the end of the day.
Be careful not to let safety precautions turn into paranoia. It is important not to communicate hysteria or excessive fear. There are many active ways parents can make children participants in their own safety without scaring them. A caregiver can talk to them about who a police officer is and what he does. The docents at a museum or security officers at the mall are also authority figures a parent can point out to a child.
Explain the whys of safety and incorporate the explanations as well as the behavior into your daily routine. Just as you tell your child, "Don't touch the stove -- it's hot, and you'll hurt yourself," tell her, "Hold Mommy's hand so that you don't get lost." Remember, you are your child's strongest and most powerful ally --you protect her from herself and others.