What To Do When The Children Go Missing

 

Let me give you a scenario: You’re waiting at the bus stop for your two elementary school girls to be dropped off. You are casually talking with the other parents about the plans for the weekend; you’re asking who you think will win the football games, what the weather forecast is predicting, and just generally sharing in the good spirits that comes with Friday afternoon. The bus arrives and off come the kids, excited that their school week is finished and ready to have a fun weekend.

But then you realize something is wrong. Something is… off. One of your little girls has gotten off the bus. She has dutifully made her way to the car and showered you with hugs and a chatty demeanor. One little girl.

“Where is your sister?” You ask, concerned.

Blank stare. Your daughter looks to her left and then to her right. She shrugs her shoulders slowly and gives you a look of perplexity.

“Where is your sister?!” You ask again, more to make sure she heard you right.

She heard you. Her eyes start to well up with tears.

The bus is empty. It slowly rolls away. You can’t catch it.

Something is very, very wrong.

Your mind is racing. It is now Friday afternoon, but not a pleasant Friday afternoon anymore. It’s a Friday afternoon where the school is already closed for the weekend. The teachers don’t stick around on Friday; it’s closed faster than an FBI case on Hillary Clinton. The doors are locked; the phones are transferred to voicemail. There’s no one there. The school is already a ghost town.

In a panic, you call your spouse at work. Maybe they know something, know anything. Maybe they worked something out with a friend to pick up your daughter. Because that’s realistic. It’s just like a spouse not to tell their significant other that their child is with someone else. Yeah, right.

As you suspect, they don’t know where your little girl is. You are both terrified.

It’s Friday afternoon. You’re standing at a bus stop waiting on your daughters. One is there, sobbing. One is missing.

Who do you call? What do you do?

 

lost

If you’re a parent then you know it’s one of the worst feelings on Earth when you misplace your child. Most times you haven’t misplaced them; they’ve misplaced themselves. They’ve wandered off or they are just distracted. Or in the case of the bus stop situation, the little girl fell asleep on the bus and no one saw her tucked away in her chair. Oh yes, this was quite a real situation and happened not more than 48-hours ago to close friends of mine. My wife and I didn’t think that our friends should have all the “excitement” of losing a child, so we went ahead and lost BOTH of ours at our school’s Fall Festival just yesterday. My daughter and son decided to take it upon themselves to find their way to the “bounce house,” conveniently forgetting to let us know that they were heading that way.

In my previous career as a Secret Service Agent, I was quite good at making sure I knew where the President of the United States was when I was watching him, but I seem to have missed the mark when it comes to keeping my own children in my sight. Worst. Agent. Ever.

The truth is that it happens to every parent, even the very best and most vigilant. It’s terribly unfortunate; it’s overwhelmingly terrifying. And it’s also legitimately expected. If you are a parent then your child has gotten away from you. It has probably happened if you are a babysitter or a grandparent too. Kids are slippery little suckers. When I found mine yesterday my first inclination was to lock them in their rooms for the rest of their lives. I figured that they would miss out on a lot of things as they grew up, but at least I would know where they were and that they would be safe. Instead I sat them down and explained to them the importance of respecting my concern for their safety, and how dangerous it was to leave without me knowing (and then I dished out a healthy weekend of punishment on the side so they got the message loud and clear).

Kids don’t leave their parents because they want to scare mom and dad; they do it because their own curiosity or excitement or energy has replaced their respect for their parents’ feelings. When they head to the bounce house or walk off in the mall, they do so because they don’t really care about anything but their own interests.

Those disrespectful little….

Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Sometimes kids are tired and they just fall asleep on buses.

But this doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything about it. You can both prepare, you and your child, if/when it happens that there are steps in place to get back together again quickly.

 

Safe Zones – Have a safe place set up for your children in case they get lost. Have them pick the place so it’s easier for them to remember. Make it a public place.

Phone Numbers – I’m shocked how many of my friends children don’t know their parents cell phone number by memory. Seriously? My son knew mine when he was four.

Big and Bold – Put your kids in bold, unique outfits, and take pictures of them on your phone before you head out. The very first thing the police will want is a photograph. A recent one in the day’s clothing will help immensely.

Don’t Count On Anyone Else – I adore the family and friends at our children’s school, but they would likely not pay too much attention if they saw an adult leaving with my children. Just as I wouldn’t if I saw their children leaving with an adult. I would assume that the adult was a family friend. Truth is, even though you may be at a familiar place surrounded by friends, like a party or a festival, you can’t rely on others to watch your child. I see this time and time again and it is very dangerous. Predators come to large functions like these and blend with crowds. They watch for opportunities when a child is vulnerable, and they use the confusion and complacency of the environment to their advantage.

Role-Play – I make it a point to ensure that my children know how to talk to the right stranger if they are lost: A store clerk or a police officer for example. I will take them to one of these people when we are out shopping and have them talk to the adult for a moment and act out what to do if they are lost. Employees and police are fantastic when asked to help out with role-playing, and often very helpful with recommending what the child should tell them. It is empowering for the child to act these scenarios out. If they are ever truly lost, they will likely act like they practiced.

 

Lastly, I would say that the best thing a parent can do is to be decisive. My friend from the bus stop (after calling his wife) immediately contacted 9-1-1 and gave them all the information that he had. His actions immediately alerted the local transportation division that ran all of the buses, as well as the school hotline system. The daughter was quickly found, and returned safely (if seriously embarrassed for taking her nap).

Too often, parents and guardians wait for the child to turn up, fearing that they are just over-reacting. Remember the situation: Your child is missing. As such, you are never over-reacting. Never assume that they just fell asleep on the school bus or wandered off to the bounce house.

 

Jason Wells is an author, blogger and specialist in strategizing security programs for schools, businesses and communities. His first book, “Our Path To Safety: A U.S. Secret Service Agent’s Guide To A Safe Community” will be out this Fall.

Jason is a former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service, as well as a veteran having served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He holds a degree from the Virginia Military Institute and a Master’s Degree in Strategic Security and Protection Management, and is currently pursuing his doctorate. Additionally, Jason is the founder of the National Advancements for Proactive Safety, a 501(c)3 non-profit  dedicated to training and educating our community in safety methodologies, as well as a board member of the National Senior Citizens Committee.  He is a weekly contributing writer to the online publication Robious Corridor and has been a featured writer in the Huffington Post, Fatherly.com, Slate and Forbes.