Editorial: Prevent child abduction — empower the child

March 1, 2005

How can child abductions be averted? Should pediatricians accept some responsibility for preventing them?

How can child abductions be averted? Should pediatricians accept some responsibility for preventing them?

Andrew Schuman, MD, a general pediatrician in New Hampshire and long-time contributing editor for Contemporary Pediatrics, tackles those questions in this issue . He provides a Guide for Parents that offers methods for preventing abduction, and he concludes that your discussion with parents "alerting them to ... strategies that can prevent child abduction is an overdue addition to the health-maintenance visit." But what should those strategies be?

Dr. Schuman cites the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics in its recent Clinical Report on the subject,1 but he proposes a more aggressive approach, including developing and maintaining a child ID kit, as advocated by the KlaasKids Foundation. That ID kit, according to the foundation, should include hair samples and fingerprints. However, before you begin posting signs in the waiting room advising parents to have their child's fingerprints taken, or recommending that they purchase an electronic device that tracks their child's whereabouts, I remind you: None of these methods has been demonstrated to prevent abduction.

Both Dr. Schuman and the authors of the AAP Clinical Report stress the importance of the epidemiology of child abduction in understanding the danger:

In the context of these observations, fingerprinting and electronic devices imply helpless vulnerability and may suggest to parents-and to children-that abduction should be their continual fear.

So, what do we tell parents? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recommends that parents enforce three rules for older children:

That's good advice for preventing a variety of unsafe and unwise interactions. One more thing: I still advocate offering the advice I gave to my children when they were small: When you're lost or otherwise in need, ask a stranger for help.

REFERENCE1. Howard BJ, Broughton DD, American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on the Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health: The pediatrician’s role in the prevention of missing children. Pediatrics 2004;114:1100