The holidays bring a lot of joy, but they can also bring safety concerns, especially for children. Between hectic trips to the mall for holiday shopping and frenzied airport terminals, it can be difficult to keep track of your little ones in the chaos. If you and your child are separated, having a safety plan can save their life.
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), over four hundred thousand children go missing every year in the United States. NCMEC states the first three hours after the child’s disappearance are the most crucial window of time for an initial response. For this reason, it is important to be prepared.
Communication is Key
Talk to your children before venturing out into the holiday frenzy. Explain that it is important that they stay within your sight and set some ground rules.
Don’t leave the area. Instruct your children to remain in the area should you become separated. Let them know you would never leave without them.
Use the “two big steps” rule. Encourage your children to not be farther than two big steps away from you. This will help them not wander away.
Look for “safe strangers”. Let your children know if they are separated from you, they should look for a “safe stranger” such as a cashier or other store employee or another mom with children.
Establish a “check first” rule. For older children, make sure they check with you first before leaving the area or going into a different store.
Prepare and Prevent
There are a few things you can do to avoid being separated with your child in public.
Be observant! Make a mental note of what your child is wearing. Dress your child in brightly colored clothing so they are easier for you to spot.
Make an emergency ID kit. Creating an ID kit can be extremely helpful in an emergency situation. Keep a log with your child’s full name, any nicknames they respond to, address, date of birth, height, weight, hair and eye color, distinguishing characteristics such as birth marks or glasses, medical information, and an up-to-date photo of them.
Set a meeting place. Establish an agreed upon meeting place. Let your child know that if they can’t find you, to go to that spot and wait for you.
What to Do
Should the worst happen and you become separated with your child, act immediately by calling 911. Be prepared to give a detailed description of your child, as mentioned in the ID kit above.
After calling local law enforcement you should:
Call the NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). When you call NCMEC, a call center specialist will begin working directly with your family and the law enforcement agency investigating your case. They will offer technical assistance tailored to your case to help ensure all available search and recover methods are used.
Notify the store manager or security office if your child cannot be found. Many stores have a plan of action in place for these kinds of emergencies.
Continue to search the area. Look in any place your child could crawl or hide and possibly be asleep or unable to get out. Check areas where your child was last seen or may have played.
Alena Schuckmann is the Digital Communications Specialist for The Center for Family Safety and Healing. Alena graduated with a degree in communications and a minor in art from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. Alena is a skilled digital content creator who has had various articles and photographs published locally and nationwide.
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