Sorry– a week flew by before I had a chance to get back to blogging about my trip to Virginia. Being away even for a few days means the work piles up….
I think I mentioned that I was invited to Virginia to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on a federal grant from the Department of Justice. The Center is a public/private partnership that was established in the 1980’s to focus on the challenges of missing children. I knew that and I knew that it was a clearinghouse for information on missing children. What I didn’t know what how their resources have developed and the services they can now offer us with this type of case. That is the reason police chiefs and 911 directors are being brought to the Center in the hopes of increasing our education and capabilities.
It was an intense two days and there was so much information that they hurried through much of it to make sure to get it all in. I sat next to a 911 director from Huntsville, TX and in front of 2 police chiefs from Kansas. We were clearly a cross section of the United States.
The Center offered us detail on data surrounding what is known about missing children cases. They gave us the most up to date information about federal laws governing family abduction and the dangers presented by that type of case. Although some might believe those cases should be lower in priority, in fact many are the most lethal type of case. The parent or family member often wants to use the child as a tool to punish the other parent. In non family cases they shared information on the most effective investigative steps. In critical cases they will even send us “consultants.” They operate on a 24×7 basis and will send these “consultants” who are retired investigators to do everything from assist with media to organize search efforts. They do fascinating work in age progression to show us what a child might look like as the grow up to help us identify missing kids years later. Their technology was excellent in how they identify photographs of sexually exploited kids to find the perpetrators and present evidence to convict them of their crimes.
The third aspect they wanted us to reconsider is the handling of chronic runaway or “throwaway” children. If you’ve not heard the term “throwaway” it refers to children who are just not wanted by their families and are abused by the very people who should love and care for them. The research of the Center is that kids who run away 5+ times per month may be experiencing physical or sexual abuse by a person who should be caring for them which precipitates the running away. If those issues can be addressed we may be able to keep those kids in a safe home instead of fueling the ever growing sex trafficking trade. Kids with no means of support can be turned into human trafficking by people who abuse their trust and their vulnerability. We can help marshal local resources to help these kids.
The Center also has great educational materials for parents and community groups about child abuse and child safety on the Internet.
We are making use of the information and materials I received by revising our operational procedures for handling this type of case. We discussed what I learned at a meeting of our command personnel on Friday and we already have a first draft of our revised policy.
These cases are tremendously difficult for everyone involved. Clearly for the families and children but also for the police officers who often struggle with their own emotions as well as the responsiblity to conduct a thorough investigation. As a part of our class, we had a session with Colleen Nick. Colleen’s 6 year old daughter Morgan was kidnapped by a stranger in 1995. She has never been found. As Mrs. Nick shared her story with us, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. She continues to search and to hope that her daughter can be found. The cases of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard give all of us new hope.
Kids are returned home safely and kidnappings thwarted by police and others–the website contains some success stories. We want to produce only success stories –continuous improvement is something that we always work toward-particularly in an area as important as this one.
Check out the Center’s website. If you can help–call them 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).