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Prevent child abduction with knowledge, planning

By Keryn Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Experts recommend teaching safety skills and instilling confidence in children to prevent a parent's worst nightmare from becoming tragic reality.

Patsilu Reeves, a Mississippi State University Extension Service family life education specialist, said parents need to be aware of predators' most commonly used tricks and teach their children not to fall for them.

"While it's important to take every possible measure to protect our children, we should avoid frightening them unnecessarily. We can have rules that ensure their safety without making them afraid," Reeves said.

Reeves advised against leaving children at home alone, regardless of their age. However, if parents have no other option, they should teach children appropriate home-alone rules.

"There are obvious signs -- such as house keys attached to neck bands or bracelets -- that tell would-be child predators a child is going to be home alone," she said. "Teach children not to tell anyone they will be home alone and to keep house keys out of sight."

Children should not wear personalized clothing or backpacks because a predator could call out their name and confuse the child.

Teach children never to go with a stranger who asks them to come see a pet or offers them candy, video games or any other items that might tempt the child. Children should be taught that adults ask other adults, not children, for help or directions.

"Another common predator trick is to tell a child their parent has been involved in an accident and they will take them to see that parent. Parents and children should have a secret code word, and children should know never to go anywhere with a person unless they know that code word," Reeves said. "It is better for the parent to call the principal's or daycare center director's office and give the name and a description of who will be picking up the child."

For older children, Reeves cautioned against allowing children to sell items door-to-door or go for job interviews unless accompanied by a parent.

"If a child is grabbed by a stranger, teach them to kick, scream and yell, 'This is not my parent!'" she said.

"Although we always think about young children, the prime targets for abduction are 10- to 13-year-olds. Parents need to warn teens not to get in a car with someone they don't know," Reeves said. "They should use the buddy system and stay in groups when in places such as a mall. All teens, and especially girls, need to be wary of people offering to make them models or stars."

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers several tips for parents to help ensure children's safety. These include:

  • Children should always check first with a parent or trusted adult before they go anywhere, accept anything or get into a car with anyone. This rule also applies to older children.
  • Children should not go out alone and should always take a friend with them when they go places or play outside.
  • Teach children they can say no if someone tries to touch them or treats them in a way that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable or confused, and to get out of these situation as quickly as possible.
  • Teach children they can tell a parent or trusted adult if they feel scared, uncomfortable or confused.
  • Children need to know that there will always be someone to help them, and they have the right to be safe.

The U.S. Department of Justice recommends parents keep a complete description of their child, recent color photographs, copies of the child's fingerprints and a sample of the child's DNA. Keep regularly updated records of the child's height, weight and hair color along with any distinguishing marks. In addition, know where the child's medical records are located, and have a dentist prepare and maintain dental charts for the child.

In case a child is missing, the department offers the following steps for parents to take:

  • Immediately report the missing child to the local law enforcement agency.
  • Ask the law enforcement agency to enter the child into the National Crime Information Center Missing Persons File.
  • Limit access to the home until law enforcement officers arrive and have the opportunity to collect possible evidence.
  • Give law enforcement investigators all available information about the child, including fingerprints, photographs and a complete description, and the facts and circumstances related to the disappearance.

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Released: June 16, 2005
Contact: Dr. Patsilu Reeves, (662) 325-3080

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