Protecting the vulnerable

If you read through this blog at all you’ll discover that the mission of A Child is Missing (ACIM) is to protect the people in society who are most vulnerable. At the top of the list of those most vulnerable are, of course, elderly adults and children. This organization’s long-standing original mission was to find lost children and we have now evolved past simply finding the lost and have moved on to championing the measures necessary to assist in locating lost people.

ACIM also identifies specific groups that merit further need. Those afflicted with autism are one of those groups. Did you know that 1 in 68 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Like many special needs children, autistic children are susceptible to accidents. For example, between 2009 and 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91 percent total U.S. deaths reported in children and children with autism age 14-and-younger are subsequent to wandering.

Children with ASD might have average intelligence but they usually have little interest in other people, a limited verbal vocabulary, experience intense self-stimulatory behaviors such as hand-flapping, under-react to pain and over-react to sounds, have very good gross motor skills and have weaknesses in fine motor skills.

Those symptoms become more problematic when the autistic child is considered a “runner.” Wandering in autism is defined as: when a person who needs supervision to be safe and also as the act of a person leaving a safe space which exposes them to potential dangers. This may also be referred to as elopement, bolting, fleeing and running. Most of us understand the communication issues that arise when encountering autistic children so it’s understandable the anxiety that may exist when rescuing autistic children wander.

While many of us understand the obstacles to communicating with autistic people, it’s likely that many of us don’t know how to effectively reach out to people with this this disability. When seconds count in locating a lost person, this can result in a tragic hindrance if care is not taken.

Many autistic children are non-verbal or may only repeat what they hear. They may only use hand gestures to communicate and may be argumentative and stubborn. They could appear to be under the influence of drugs or walk pigeon-toed. They may not recognize danger and may be slow to recognize police vehicles or badges. To complicate matters, they are attracted to shiny objects such as badges, handcuffs and even guns.

Responses that are likely to connect with autistic people are slow movements, reassurance they will not be harmed, using as few words as possible and always remembering to look for medical ID bracelets or cards. One of the most important things to remember when communicating is that autistic people are sensitive so touching them, even to offer your hand, is probably not a good idea.

Knowing how to swiftly and effectively communicate with autistic children can be the difference between finding and losing a child. That is a difference ACIM wants to make!

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A simple thank-you!

It’s all about “thank you” and all the thanks we need is in the lives we save.

Have you noticed that people have lost many of the social skills that the 40-somethings and older learned from their parents? In a world of social media, e-mail and other digital communications, people have lost the face-to-face etiquette touch. We don’t write thank-you notes, birthday cards or Christmas cards anymore. We just pass by those who hold the door open for us without a second thought. It’s an oddity to find front-porch gatherings anymore. In some cases, we even text people from across the room!

Of course, there are exceptions. The exceptions that bind are, sadly, crises and disasters. As a nation, we came together after 9/11. We came to the rescue of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And, a missing person makes the nightly news, Amber alerts and gets us together in search parties.

Most of the time it’s in the latter cases that people take notice of the services provided by A Child is Missing. That’s okay, though. In a perfect world, our services wouldn’t be needed at all. In our flawed world, we hope our services are only needed sporadically but, unfortunately, we stay plenty busy finding lost kids and the elderly, plus issuing other varieties of community alerts. (See previous posts for more information.)

Here’s a little bit of what we’ve been up to since January 1, 2001. We have placed almost 64 million calls (yes, millions!). Of those, almost 40 million have been related to cases involving children and almost 13 million have been related to elderly alerts. ACIM has been involved in more than 40,000 cases leading to the millions of calls. How many individuals have been connected to these cases and calls? If you guessed almost 41,000 people, you would have been right!

Law enforcement agencies across the nation have credited ACIM with more than 1,417 successful save assisted recoveries. It’s estimated that A Child is Missing has also assisted in a significant number of unreported recoveries.

Again, our satisfaction comes knowing that we’ve reunited more than 1,400 families.

But our satisfaction isn’t just in the findings. We’re also proud to have trained more than 35,000 law enforcement officers in 8,000 agencies nationwide to be better equipped to find missing people. The old saying is: “The best offense is a good defense.” We contend, though, that our skilled defenders put criminals on the defensive. Until the criminals go away, we’ll continue to train.

We would not be as successful as we are, though, without caring communities and relentless law enforcement agencies. While we send out millions of notices through phone calls, faxes and e-mails, it’s the people on the scene in the affected communities that put their boots on the ground.

So, without further ado, “thank you” to all of you who have helped us the past 13 years. Even though we didn’t send you a thank-you note, please know that we appreciate all

To donate, log on to: www.achildismissing.org/donate.asp

 

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Have a happy and safe Christmas

Christmas is the time for peace and joy. It’s a time for feel-good movies and animated children’s shows. We feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing that Santa Claus and his reindeer will be arriving on our rooftops with a bag full of gifts. For most people, it’s a wonderful time of life.

By now, it’s very likely that our children have already made their wishes known to some Santa somewhere. It may have been in the mall. It may have been the Santa at the local library. It may have been the guy in a big red suit at your normal Santa stomping ground.

In any case, do you know who the Santa is that handles children for those photos and hugs? Most parents probably didn’t give that a second thought this season. One community in Texas didn’t but they decided they needed to find out.

Parents in Cleveland, Texas, were outraged when they found out their children had been posing for pictures with a Santa volunteer who was a registered sex offender. The community’s reaction inspired the city manager to change Cleveland’s policy regarding background checks.

Emily Collins told KTRK-TV about her experience with the Santa at a city Christmas celebration.

“A friend of mine recognized the Santa Claus and informed me this morning of his name and that he is a registered sex offender,” Collins said.

Background checks have become pretty standard for many youth centers, churches, schools and other volunteer groups that work directly with children. As parents, we need to feel some sort of security that our children are in good hands, literally and figuratively. Liability insurance even often requires them.

Until now, the community of Cleveland ran background checks on library employees, but it did not screen volunteers in other city departments. The city manager said the municipality is “reviewing this information and is taking action to prevent this from happening again.”

The man was 12 years old when he was convicted of a sex crime, so his records are sealed, and Texas police refused to release his identity. The “Santa Sex Offender,” as he’s been called in Texas, has served time and was not deemed a threat to children by the Texas Sex Offender Registry so it’s unclear whether a background check would have kept him from being hired for his job.

Child-on-child sex-abuse statistics are difficult to determine because the news is almost never made public. It sometimes can occur when a child with little or no sexual knowledge is first victimized by an adult and then similarly abuses another child, according to the journal Psychology in the Schools.

In this case, the fact a registered sex offender of any kind was in proximity to their children without their knowledge naturally terrified parents in the Cleveland area.

A Child Is Missing alerts the community that a predator is living in their neighborhood. I speaking with parents/guardians we advise them to check the Sex Predator Register on the Internet and see where they live.

To donate, log on to: www.achildismissing.org/donate.asp

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You can help

There’s a lot that goes on at A Child is Missing. We’re a lot more than just finding lost children. We also find the elderly and support anti-bullying initiatives. With all this going on, sometimes we just need to toss out some information that shows our accomplishments and catch us all up with the mission of the organization.

As of November 1, 2013, here are three impressive statistics of ACIM since it was established back in 1997:

  • We are working in conjunction with 5,048 law enforcement agencies nationwide;
  • We have been actively involved in 39,514 cases; and
  • We have placed 63,037,752 (that’s 63 million!) alert calls to date.

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Numbers, however, could never really speak for all the work we do at A Child is Missing. Of course, each case is more than just a number, they represent people. There are faces behind every one of those numbers. Most importantly, every case and every number represents a family that has been reunited.

We think we have accomplished a lot as a non-profit organization that relies on outside funding. We know we can do more, though. While you can’t put a price on our services, we can’t produce anything for retail sale so we depend on private donations and government funding. It’s that last opportunity we want to bring to light here because we need your help.

U.S. House Bill H.R. 3388, known as The Child and Elderly Missing Alert Program, will provide valuable funding to further the reach of organizations like A Child is Missing. CEMAP is modeled after ACIM and the government’s proposed funding fills the gap between Amber, Silver and Blue Alerts. Passage of this bill will cover the hard costs of making the outgoing calls, support law enforcement with training sessions and establish community awareness meetings involving child safety is many areas.

Once the bill is passed, it doesn’t guarantee funding for A Child is Missing but ACIM founder Sherry Friedlander is one of the bill’s strongest supporters. The funding process would involve a competitive bid process and any submission must be from a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The funding would span five years.

While ACIM believes it would be a perfect fit for the funding, it’s more important to get the bill passed so that deserving organizations will have the chance to help more children and elderly. Representative Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida) are the sponsors of the bill in the House of Representatives. Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) are sponsors of the bill in the Senate. We urge you to contact your state’s legislator in support of the bill.

Just in case you missed how important our mission is, ACIM has assisted in more than 1,400 recoveries from New Castle County, Massachusetts to Aurora County, Colorado. We’re assisting law enforcement agencies from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida to the Brooklyn Park Police Department Minnesota.

People are missing in every state. Help us secure resources to find them.

To donate, log on to: www.achildismissing.org/donate.asp

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Never forgotten

Guest blogger Sherry Friedlander, Founder of A Child is Missing

In the course of our lifetimes we encounter thousands of people. Think about it. From Wal-Mart to our place of employment, we are likely to interact with hundreds of people per week. In life we never know who is going to make a difference and sometimes it takes a while to realize who has made a difference in our lives.

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Pictured from left, U.S. Representive E. Clay Shaw (retired), Emily Shaw and Sherry Friedlander, A Child Is Missing

In 2001, Retired U.S. Representative E. Clay Shaw (FL) saw the need for A Child Is Missing alert program and how it could help find missing children, elderly (often with Alzheimer’s or dementia), disabled and others in need of emergency help.  The former mayor of Fort Lauderdale was in congress from 1981-2001 working to meet the needs of all Americans.Unexpectedly meeting the needs of ACIM, he awarded our organization an earmark (funding) that allowed ACIM to expand in Florida and into Rhode Island, Alaska and Ohio. Thrilled and surprised, we all rose to the occasion and moved forward meeting the needs of missing people. When ACIM had our 1,000 safe assisted recovery we invited Mr. Shaw to attend the ceremony at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and we presented him with a plaque and a very big “thank you.”

His comment to me was, “I didn’t know you remembered.”  That taught me that you can’t forget those who helped you along the way no matter how busy you are. Generosity should never go unnoticed, especially in a non-profit organization that relies on donations to meet the needs of the less fortunate.

Patrick Flavin is one of those people who believed in giving back. It rained buckets the day he sponsored a fundraiser for ACIM at his Riviera Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Still, it was the best party ever.  Formerly from Chicago, he was a lover of race horses, computer industry and, most importantly, people.  He believed in giving back and he proves it.

We were having a live auction at the fundraiser on a baseball that was autographed by a celebrity when Barbara Threet started biding and it got up to $1,400, which was out of her range. She looked up at Pat and pleaded, “Help me!” He bid $1,500 and won the ball with that bid. Barbara almost fainted when his kind gesture to help her. It didn’t stop there. Pat gave me the baseball back to auction off at another time.

The rain continued to come down on Fort Lauderdale Beach but the 100 guests or so huddled under the tent, belly to belly and butt to butt, continued to share a great time. Yes the food got wet, but Pat’s hospitality and outpouring of generosity made up for it.

All three of these wonderful people are deceased now but certainly not forgotten. Because of them, A Child is Missing is still reuniting children with parents and the elderly with their families. The philanthropy of Mr. Shaw, Pat and Barbara helped us to make a difference.

To donate, log on to: www.achildismissing.org/donate.asp

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IT’S NOT JUST THE CHILDREN

Children aren’t the only people are exploited.

There’s this notion among many of us that once a person becomes an adult, we can take care of ourselves. Make our own decisions. We can move out of the house. Be on our own. Come and go as we wish. We do live in a free country after all.

Truth is adults are also forced into forms of modern slavery and A Child is Missing doesn’t like that one bit either.

There are thousands of adults around the world that find themselves being sex trafficked, forced into labor, bonded labor or debt bondage and forced into domestic servitude. People can be victims regardless of whether they were born into servitude, were transported to the exploitative situation, previously consented to work for a trafficker, or participated in a crime because of being trafficked.

Many times the victim seems like an adult perfectly capable of defending themselves. In these cases, A Child is Missing goes to work assisting law enforcement in a rescue.

It’s sometimes easier for a person with moral standards to identify a child being forced into a form of modern slavery. If it seems a child is in a compromising position, then many times they are. For adults, the bondage can be a little more ambiguous.

Sex Trafficking

This happens when an adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution. Or, the person is maintained in prostitution through one of these means after initially consenting. A child cannot consent to these types of adult relationships. Adults can, though. However, a sexual relationship should always be consensual and sex trafficking is slavery, not consensual, and no person of any age should be forced.

Forced Labor

Migrants are particularly vulnerable to this form of human trafficking, but individuals also may be forced into labor in their own countries. Many migrants come to our country seeking the American Dream. That dream should not become a nightmare in any occasion.

Bonded Labor or Debt Bondage

A hope of the American Dream is to pass on resources to the generations that come behind you. Some workers, though, inherit debt. For example, in South Asia it is estimated that there are millions of trafficking victims working to pay off their ancestors’ debts.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude

And then, there are the repercussions of what happens in modern slavery. Investigators and service providers report many cases of untreated illnesses and, tragically, widespread sexual abuse, which in some cases may be symptoms of a situation of involuntary servitude.

Even though we are A Child is Missing, we care equally about adults. America’s Declaration of Independence states that people are created with unalienable rights. That’s really pretty universal. ACIM wants to make sure that all people are free to enjoy all their rights!

Methodology: The Department of State prepared parts of this Report using information from U.S. embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips to every region of the world, and information submitted to tipreport@state.gov.

To donate, log on to: www.achildismissing.org/donate.asp

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Worse than lost

It’s hard to imagine anything more gut-wrenching than a missing child.

No parent wants an Amber Alert issued for their child. Likewise, A Child is Missing doesn’t relish a call from the police to find a son or daughter. Sadly, there is probably something scarier than a lost child.

It’s child trafficking and it may be the most deplorable of all crimes against humanity.

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To exploit our innocent child for any reason is the lowest of crimes. No child deserves to be forced into labor or sex trafficking or unlawfully recruited to be a soldier. There should be a universal code of conduct that protects our children from the abuse of trafficking.

Unfortunately, there is not.

Children here, and in all parts of the world, are forced into trafficking of some kind every day. Often times local law enforcement is shocked to hear from ACIM that it happens in any size town. It’s not just a third-world plight. A Child is Missing is on a mission to end it. Before we can end it, though, it’s important to understand it so trafficking can be identified.

Child Sex Trafficking

We’ve probably all seen episodes of television crime dramas that illustrate the sexual exploitation of children. They’re heart-breaking.

We loathe the perpetrator. There’s even a code against such violators among prisoners. Surely every person wants to stop it.

It’s not hard to imagine that sex trafficking has devastating consequences for minors, including long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV and AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism and death. Everlasting scars on innocent lives.

Forced Child Labor

We have child labor laws for a reason, to protect our children. While children are our most valuable resource, they are not meant to toil as adults. As you can imagine forced labor conditions are not ideal working climates. Children deserve to live and act like kids until they need to work.

Indications of forced child labor include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who requires children to perform work that financially benefits someone outside the child’s family and does not offer the child the option of leaving. Children should leave free!

Unlawful Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers

If there is at all any kind of positive spin to this type of child trafficking, it’s that this obviously doesn’t happen in our American military. It can occur here, though. We’ve probably all seen news stories of militia groups or cults arming their children.

In addition to serving as sexual objects, some children in third-world countries are also unlawfully made to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies in the military. Boys may play war but they should never have to do it for real.

The Department of State prepared this report using information from U.S. embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips to every region of the world, and information submitted to tipreport@state.gov.

To donate, log on to: www.achildismissing.org/donate.asp

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