Survey: Parents Not Prepared for Child Abduction

ByBryan Robinson

May 23, 2001 -- Parents, brush up on your children's vital statistics — it could determine whether or not you see them again if they're ever kidnapped.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and ADVO Inc. released a survey today that found not enough parents know the height, weight and eye color of all their children — three key pieces of information needed by investigators in missing children cases.

The survey, released to mark the 16th anniversary of National Missing Children's Day, found that 34 percent of parents could not recall these vital statistics for all their children.

While the numbers show most parents — 66 percent — do know these statistics, those who helped conduct the survey say those numbers need to improve. The FBI counts 2,100 new missing-children reports every day, which are solved more easily when parents can provide this descriptive information.

"This is a both reminder and a call for awareness for parents," said an investigator who helped conduct the survey. "It's shocking how many parents admit they don't know their children's height, weight and eye color or have a recent picture of their kids. That's something most parents don't even like to admit. The survey is meant to encourage parents to know their children's statistics. So many parents don't even know what to do or how to prepare for their child's disappearance."

Vital Statistics, Vital First Hours

The online survey of 1,000 parents, which was conducted from May 5-8, found that 56 percent of the parents with two or more children said they had all the information for all of their children; 81 percent of households with just one child had all the statistics. Three out of 10 parents admitted they did not know their children's height within 1 inch while two out of 10 did not know their child's weight within 5 pounds. Most parents — 98 percent — knew their child's eye color.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and ADVO, which runs a missing children program called America's Looking for Its Missing Children, say that many missing children — one out of seven — have been found through the use of pictures, either through distribution by the United States Postal Service or through missing child direct mail cards.

But the survey stressed that pictures can take time to distribute when a child is first reported missing, making accurate physical descriptions more vital to police officers.

"When a child is abducted, the first few hours are absolutely critical in the recovery process," said John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted in a statement. "Therefore, parents should always have recent clear photographs, as well as their child's current physical statistics readily available, to use in case of an emergency."

The survey encourages parents to use the most recent photos of their children. Year-old photos, especially in younger children, are considered dated because kids can show signs of maturity so quickly. Parents are encouraged to use pictures that are less than half a year old.

The Secret Weapon: Other Children

ADVO and NCMEC said that more than 110 children have been found through missing child card programs. While 62 percent of the parents surveyed said they look at the picture always or most of the time, only 9 percent said they showed the card to their children. Children, the survey said, are secret weapons in the search for missing children: One out of six kids recovered through the missing child cards were spotted by other children.

"Children are really a huge link to the recovery process," said one surveyor. "Most people don't think to show missing child photos to children, but in reality that's the best place to look."

The most recent case involved 8-year-old Gabrielle Schulman, who was reunited earlier this month with her father in Oaxaca, Mexico, after almost a three-year disappearance. A former classmate, who had just moved to Texas from Oaxaca and was receiving her immunization shots, recognized Gabrielle when she saw the girl on a missing photo card posted at a public health clinic. Police were notified and Gabrielle was reunited with her father.

"Gabrielle Shulman, as well as several other children that we've helped to recover through our picture distribution program, were identified by their peers," said Vince Giuliano, head of ADVO's missing children program. "We hope that more parents will begin to show our cards to their children, who may be most helpful in helping law enforcement when searching for missing children."

The survey also found that women are more likely than men, even those considered the primary caregivers in their households, to review safety instructions for outside the home with their children. Sixty percent of the women surveyed said they had reviewed safety precautions with their children compared to 44 percent of the men.

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