Having a lost or missing child can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Fortunately, most of the children that get reported as missing was the result of a misunderstanding of where the child was supposed to be. Contrary to popular belief, only about 25% of child abductions are done by strangers. Pediatricians can arm parents with facts, resources, and prevention strategies to help with this travesty.
At a well child visit, part of the anticipatory guidance should discuss the child’s knowledge of his/her home address, parental phone number, and appropriate situations to dial 911. Parents should be advised to have a current photo of their child (at least one taken every 6 months) and may consider having their child fingerprinted if this service is available through local law enforcement. Additionally, parents and the pediatrician should consistently enforce that children be careful around strangers, especially ones that are seeking interactions with unusual behavior such as giving out candy or asking for help find a pet. Lastly, children should not wear clothing that has their name on it, as they are more likely to trust a stranger that “knows” their name.
If a child is lost, local law enforcement should be immediately contacted and then the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST. The National Clearinghouse can help families with networking and disseminating information, along with other activities. Additional resources are available through National Crime and Information Center and the Child Protection Education of America.
Jennifer Williams, MD