July 8, 2011 -- Authorities visited the home of Phillip Garrido at least 60 times and still somehow missed the hidden compound housing Jaycee Dugard and her two daughters. There were even reports that neighbors and residents alerted authorities to sightings of Dugard and the fact that children were living in tents in the convicted sex offender's backyard. It would be the unsettling feeling experienced by two campus police officers on the University of California, Berkeley that led to the end of Dugard's 18 years in captivity, freeing her and her daughters from Nancy and Phillip Garrido.
Nancy McBride, National Safety Director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that there are several things you can look for to help a missing or exploited child.
"If a child is going to be harmed, it [usually] happens in the first three hours...if you see somebody who doesn't appear to belong or somebody who is not acting the way they should be, or somebody that keeps cruising in a car, then you need to let somebody know. Let law enforcement know," McBride said.
There are also tips you can follow to help protect your own child, McBride said.
How to Report Suspicious Behavior or a Sighting of a Missing Child
1. Call Local Law Enforcement: If you see something suspicious, always call local law enforcement.
2. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: This is the national clearinghouse for missing and exploited children. You can call them at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). The web site for this organization allows you to report a sighting of a missing child and also has a cyber tip line. It also has links to current Amber Alerts. They also have a family advocacy branch that helps families whose child has been abducted or exploited.
3. Each state has their own child protection hotline number, but you can also call the non-profit Childhelp's National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
4. FBI's Endangered Child Alert Program: The FBI regularly posts the pictures of suspects in the abduction or sexual exploitation of a child.
5. Amber Alerts: For more information on current Amber Alerts, click here.
How to Keep Your Child Safe
1. Sex Offender Registry: McBride said that parents should research and know who their kids are interacting with. One way to do this is to see if any sex offenders are living in your neighborhood. There is a national sex offender registry as well as individual registries per state. "If you know you have a registered sex offender in your neighborhood and something doesn't appear right-- children are playing there, children are in and out of the house or he's trying to entice people -- first and foremost, call law enforcement," McBride said.
2. Know Who Your Child Interacts With: Often abductors or exploiters are not strangers, but someone who knows the child, McBride said. Parents should know all those who interact with their children, from coaches to teachers to the person who runs their after school program.
3. Have a Current Photo: A photo can be pivotal in helping find a missing child, McBride said. Parents should make sure their child has an ID that they carry with him or her. Parents should also always have a current, full face, photo of their child that they keep in a place that's not readily visible. In that same place, they should keep any other important documents about their child. "That picture speaks a thousand words and people have somebody to look for and it's a real person," McBride said.
4. Stay in Groups: The most critical time for attempted abductions is when a kid is going to and from school or a school related event, McBride said. Summertime is also a time of heightened danger because kids are often alone longer and outside longer. Parents should teach their kids to stay in groups whenever possible.
5. Stranger Danger Is Wrong Message: How a child and how an adult defines a stranger are very different. Offenders are often patient, appear nice and offer kids something that doesn't seem evil—a puppy, candy. If an offender appears nice, they lose that stranger status. McBride says you shouldn't instruct your child to avoid all strangers because a stranger might be who helps them flee from an abductor or exploiter if you're not with him or her. An important message to give to your children when it comes to someone who they are suspicious of, they do not have to be polite to that person. "They do not have to respond to the person...if they get engaged in conversation, then they let their guard down," McBride said.
6. Practice and Have a Plan: McBride said that you should instruct your kids first and foremost that getting away is the most important thing. Secondly, when out with your children, discuss and practice different scenarios.