Protecting children seems to be a full-time job these days. Many programs have been established to assist in providing for the safety of children, including the prevention and the recovery of abducted children. This paper will review a variety of programs used state and nation-wide, including fingerprinting programs for children, the AMBER alert system and the CODE ADAM system, and educational programs. This writer believes that the protection of children will require a combination of the aforementioned programs. The fingerprinting program may not prevent child abduction but it will aid in the recovery and identification of a missing child. In addition, the fingerprint is accessible to juries. The AMBER alert system has proven to be effective. CODE ADAM has proven to be effective in the business world. But to prevent and recover a child that has been abducted, a combination of efforts need to take place.
It is every parent’s worst nightmare, every communities fear. The words “missing child” call to mind tragic and frightening stories of children being kidnapped. But there are many reasons why children are missing which make it difficult to establish accurate statistics. A non-custodial parent or other family member abducts some children. Some children runaway. Some children are thrown away. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, during 1999, an estimated 58,200 children were victims of non-family abduction. Teenagers were by far the most frequent victims of both stereotypical kidnapping and non-family abductions. Nearly half of all child victims of stereotypical kidnapping and non-family abductions are also victims of sexual abuse. (www.missingkids.com, 2002)
The response to solve this crisis has received national attention and cooperation. On April 30, 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 into law.
This Act codified the national coordination of state and local AMBER Alert programs,
including the development of guidance for issuance and dissemination of AMBER Alerts
and the appointment of a national AMBER Alert Coordinator.
The response to the national issue of child abduction has included a variety of
techniques, including educating children and their parents, national call centers, AMBER
alert systems, fingerprinting, photographs and video recording, and DNA testing. Each
system provides some protection or prevention but all include some advantages and
perhaps some disadvantages.
AMBER Alert System
The AMBER Plan was created in 1997 as a powerful legacy to 9-year-old Amber
Hagerman who was kidnapped and brutally murdered while riding her bicycle in
Arlington, Texas. Residents of the Dallas area were horrified and compelled to act. They
called local radio stations and suggested they provide an alert system over the radio.
The next year local law enforcement and broadcasters created the AMBER Plan in
Amber Hagerman’s honor. The AMBER Plan, also known as America’s Missing:
Broadcast Emergency Response Plan, is a program in which broadcasters and
transportation authorities immediately distribute information about recent child
abductions to the public, enabling the entire community to assist in the search for and
safe recovery of the child.
Once law enforcement has received a report of an abducted child, they must
determine if the situation meets the criteria for enacting an AMBER alert. The criteria is
· There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that the abduction did occur
· The child is 17 years old or younger
· Law enforcement believes the child is in imminent danger
· There is enough descriptive information to issue an AMBER alert
· The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer
If the criteria are met, all descriptive information are gathered for public
distribution. Information is then faxed to radio stations designated as primary stations.
Those primary stations then distribute to other radio stations and television stations.
Some states have begun to use billboards to further the distribution of this information.
To date, there have been 256 recoveries as a direct result of the AMBER alert system. In
the United States there are a total of 116 AMBER alert plans, 51 state plans, 27 regional
plans, and 37 local plans. (www.missingkids.com, 2006) Every state in America has
enacted specific policy and procedures for their AMBER alert system. Technology
continues to benefit the AMBER alert system through wireless AMBER alerts and
with the use of the internet. (www.amberalert.com)
Child ID Program
The National Child Identification Program (NCIDP) was created in 1997 by the
American Football Coaches Association as a community service initiative to help protect
America’s youth and change the statistics related to missing children. Each year
approximately 800,000 children go missing every year. That is one child every 40
seconds. The NCIDP provides parents and guardians with a clean, convenient way to
record their child’s fingerprints and physical characteristics on a card they can keep at
home. The NCIP has become the largest child identification effort ever conducted. Since
1997, more than 14 million inkless Child I.D. Kits have been distributed by various
organizations at football stadiums and in schools across the country. The NCIDP is
working toward fingerprinting all 60 million children in the United States. In the state of
Texas, government resolutions were passed in 1999 to ensure that every child in the state
of Texas who attended a public school would be offered a kit.
Child Lures Prevention Initiative
In September of 2005, the state of Illinois implemented the Child Lures
Prevention Initiative. The Child Lures program teaches children life skills to keep them
safe from sexual abuse, date rape, abduction, Internet crime, drugs and violence. Since
the Governor created a new AMBER Alert system for Illinois, more than a dozen
missing children have been found. In addition, over the last two years, the Governor’s
mandate to the Department of Children and Family Services to find missing kids has
resulted in a reduction in the number of children missing from state custody by nearly
half, from more than 600 in 2003 to just over 300 in 2005.
Child Safety Net
ChildSafeNet offers community-based Child Safety Programs, free of charge for
both adults kids audiences in Fairfax County, Virginia. Committed to the belief
that an educated community provides the best protection for kids, ChildSafeNet
sponsors programs that bring together law enforcement and non-profit
organization child abuse experts to raise public awareness of the types of threats
posed to children by sexual predators, both online on the Internet and in the
The goal of every ChildSafeNet program is to empower citizens by
introducing them to the knowledge, skills and resources needed to prevent kids
from becoming victims, and to provide information on where to turn for
assistance should the need arise. Topics include:
· Protecting Children Against Sex Offenders –The P’CASO Partnership Program
· Staying Safe Online – Safety Rules for the Internet Age
· The Sex Offender Registry – “What Is It? How Does It Work?”
· Empowering Kids – Resisting Aggression Defensively
· Taking Care – The S.A.F.E. Program for Women and Teenage Girls
· Make Your Community Safer for Children – Child Safety and the Role of the Neighborhood Watch Program
· Safety Begins at Home – Home Security for Everyone
· Behind the Scenes – The Value and Importance of Background Checks
· Where To Turn – Helpful Resources for Parents, Kids and Educators
Internet Crimes Against Children
The recent arrest of a Homeland Security agent on charges of use of a computer to
seduce a child and transmission of harmful material to a minor, is a clear indication of
how vulnerable our children are. These charges were issued out of Polk County, Florida.
The internet has created a new threat to our children. In San Diego, a task force was
created to deal with these issues. The Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task
force was created as a national resource to combat the threat of offenders who use the
internet to lure children. The ICAC provides resources to parents to assist them in
monitoring their child’s use of the internet, along with the creation of a Cybertipline.
Safe Child ID Card
In June of 2005, Governor Pataki of New York, introduced the launch of Operation
SAFE CHILD. The purpose of this program is to make Operation ID cards more readily
available to parents throughout the state of New York. This is the most comprehensive program
offered across the country. Statistics show that 34 percent of parents in the United States do not
know their child’s exact height, weight and eye color. When a child is reported missing,
time can be the most critical element in the hope of recovery. Maintaining up-to-date
photographs and detailed information about a child can prove to be important proactive measures
that can greatly assist local law enforcement officials to quickly respond to a child’s
The Safe Child ID card will contain child’s name, biographical information (date of birth,
gender, height, weight, hair color, eye color, etc.), and a fingerprint image of both index fingers.
The card can be made in less than two minutes and can be easily carried in a wallet or
pocketbook. In the event a child is missing, this card can be immediately presented to law
enforcement officials and eliminate the wasted minutes that are often used to gather information
rather than search for a missing child. SAFE CHILD ID Card will serve as an important tool
when used in conjunction with the NYS AMBER Alert and the NYS DCJS Missing Child Alert
programs. These identification cards will allow essential missing child information to be
electronically disseminated, statewide if necessary, within minutes and dramatically increase the
possibility of bringing a missing child home unharmed. The likely success of this program is do
to the combination of a physical description, fingerprints, and accessibility.
Approximately 2,100 children are reported missing each day. All of these cases will be
solved more easily if parents maintain current documents on their height, weight, eye and hair
color and a recent photo. The following are strategies that parents can implement to reduce the
likelihood of abduction;
· Make sure custody documents are in order.
· Have ID-like photos taken of your children every 6 months, and have your
children fingerprinted. Many local police departments sponsor fingerprinting
programs – check if they’re available in your town.
· Keep your children’s medical and dental records up to date.
· Make online safety a priority. The Internet is a great tool, but it’s also a perfect
place for predators to stalk children. Be aware of your children’s Internet
activities and chat room “friends,” and remind them never to give out personal
information. Avoid posting identifying information or photos of your children
· Set boundaries about the places your children go. Supervise them in places like
malls, movie theaters, parks, public bathrooms, or while fundraising door to door.
· Never leave children alone in a car or stroller, even for a minute.
· Choose caregivers – babysitters, day-care providers, and nannies – carefully and
check their references. If you’ve arranged for someone to pick up your children
from school or child care, discuss the arrangements beforehand with your children
and with the school or child-care center.
· Avoid dressing your children in clothing with their names on it – children tend to
trust adults who know their names.
In addition, make sure younger children know their names, address, phone number
including area code, and who to call in case of an emergency. Review with your child how to
use 911 or local emergency number. Discuss what to do if they get lost in a public place or store
most places have emergency procedures for handling lost children. Remind your children that
they should never go to the parking lot to look for you. Instruct your children to ask a cashier for
help or stand near the registers or front of the building away from the doors. Point out the homes
of friends around the neighborhood where your children can go in case of trouble. Be sure your
children know in whose car they may ride and in whose they may not. Teach them to move away
from any car that pulls up beside them and is driven by a stranger, even if that person looks lost
or confused. Develop code words for caregivers other than mom or dad, and remind your
children never to tell anyone the code word. Teach your children not to ride with anyone they
don’t know or with anyone who doesn’t know the code word. If your children are old enough to
stay home alone, make sure they keep the door locked and never tell anyone who knocks or calls
they are home alone. Educating our communities and our families will provide the greatest
protection. Although education helps to prevent abduction, it does not address the issues of
recovering a child quickly.
When a parent or guardian separates from a child, the parent locates and notifies the nearest employee, and gives him or her a complete description of the child. The employee then notifies and pages all employees, they announce a Code Adam, followed by a description of the child. Different companies may employ different codes, for example, Target uses a Code Yellow.
If the child is located with a person other than the parent or guardian, the local authorities are contacted. If possible, the stranger is detained by the business until authorities arrive. Local authorities are also notified if the child is not found within ten minutes. An AMBER alert may follow depending on the circumstances involved.
Fingerprinting as a Means of Protection and Recovery
We all believe that our fingerprints are permanent, which is why they have been a
standard record used in a variety of contexts. However, children’s fingerprints are actually
changing the first five to seven years of life. On average, it takes children eighteen to twenty-
one months before their fingerprints are developed enough to be of use, which is why footprints
are used at birth. For this reason, it becomes the parents task to update the child’s fingerprints on
an annual basis.
Fingerprint evidence is highly reliable and particularly accessible to juries: You don’t
need a Ph.D. or a scientific lecture on genetics to understand that your own fingers contain a
contour map of ridges and whorls that is completely unique. Unlike the theories behind
DNA matching, no one seriously doubts this assumption. Fingerprint evidence rests on two
· A person’s “friction ridge patterns” (the swirled skin on their fingertips) don’t change.
· No two people have the same pattern of friction ridges.
Police officers can use fingerprints to identify defendants and crime victims if a print matches
one already on file. People’s fingerprints can be on file for a variety of reasons. For example,
people may be fingerprinted when they are arrested, or when they begin certain occupations. And
it is increasingly popular for parents to ask local police departments or schools to fingerprint
their young children, as a means of identifying and protecting their children.
Many law enforcement agencies give away fingerprint kits to parents. Numerous kits are
available online at a nominal cost. Fingerprinting in today’s environment of increased security
concerns, more and more companies are coming to rely on fingerprinting to confirm that
prospective employees do not have criminal records. There are no formal programs in place that
require parents to fingerprint their children. All programs are voluntary and usually run by
volunteers, sponsored by local businesses or human service agencies.
Most agencies that handle missing children agree that fingerprints, as well as dental
records, can be quite helpful. Though most useful in the identification of children that have been
found, fingerprints are valuable means of positive identification where photographs and physical
description may fail. Photographs may become outdated if a child is missing for a long time. In
addition, when the police are given fingerprint records, they can avoid calling parents down to
the station to identify each child that matches their missing youngster’s description and spare
parents much anguish.
Often, fingerprints serve humanitarian ends, such as identifying unknown victims of
accident, crime, or natural disaster. Daycare centers and schools provide fingerprinting
programs for children to aid in the identification of runaways and kidnap victims. In these cases,
fingerprints provide added security to society as a whole. Other identifiers, such as facial
appearance or signatures may change over time or may be falsified, but fingerprints do not alter
with time and are not susceptible to forgery.
Keeping children safe will take a combination effort. Educating families is critical to
prevention. Fingerprinting provides a picture, a one-of-a-kind image for authorities to search for.
The successful resolution of finding abducted children is likely to lie in the combination of many
ventures. Fingerprints change as a child grows and if parents do not keep them up to date, they
will not be as useful as they would otherwise. Fingerprints in combination with video, up –to-
date photographs, and other identifying factors are most useful.
To date, the AMBER alert as a national program has proven to be the most successful in
the quick recovery of abducted children. The AMBER alert is well publicized and raises an
awareness in people that might not otherwise be there. The use of wireless technology combined
with the use of email and scrolling banners on the internet increases the effectiveness.
In business settings, the implementation of CODE ADAM is effective. Employees are
trained in the necessary measures and procedures are in place that will ensure alerting the
authorities in a prompt time frame, therefore increasing the likelihood that a child will be
Fingerprints in and of themselves are not likely to be a deterrent to child abductions.
However, fingerprints used in combination with education and programs for the public and
policies that enable people to respond quickly and efficiently, are likely to bring our children
home and home safely.
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The Child Project. 26 Apr. 2006 ;http://www.thechildproject.org/faq.html;.
Irwin, Scott. The All I Need . 26 Apr. 2006 ;http://www.theallineed.com/family/06030809.htm;.
New York State. 26 Apr. 2006 ;http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/pio/press_releases/2005-06-14_pressrelease.htm;.
Wikipedia. 26 Apr. 2006 ;http://www.wikipedia.com;.