Walking the mall today where my son and his two friends for an impromptu birthday party at the NASCAR Speed Park I am continually amazed at the ages of the children I see sitting alone on a bench, running through the main corridor of the mall and wandering around various stores unattended. This is a huge indoor mall. I am wondering are parents this oblivious to the dangers unattended children present.
In large public places or attractions I have always been more alert to my surroundings, especially when am with my children. When my children were younger whenever we would frequent a public attraction like the Saint Louis Zoo, the Magic House in Kirkwood, the Science Center, or a busy store or mall we had a routine that we followed which helped avert a disastrous outcome on more than one occasion.
The first thing we do when we arrive at our chosen destination was to snap a head to toe picture of each child. This image saved on a digital camera or cell phone documented my children’s current hairstyle and exactly what each was wearing that day. I also take a close up picture of their face. In the event, we become separated I have a picture to show people who are looking for my child. I can also show everyone what each child is wearing that day. As easy as it is to describe a 5-year-old blonde haired blue-eyed boy wearing a red top, blue jeans and sneakers, there is simply no substitution for having a photograph of a missing child.
It is times like these that a picture is priceless and in the very worst case scenario and a child is not found immediately I know have a photogragh the police can use to email, text, or print out a paper picture. This saves valuable time in running home and trying to find a recent picture. In this day of modern technology almost every cell phone ranging from a simple flip phone to a 4G smart phone comes with a camera installed and ready to use, there is no excuse not to have an updated photograph of a child with us at all times.
The second part of our routine involves my children remembering my cell phone number, along with my proper first and last name. Early on my sister decided to teach her children her cell phone number, and not the home phone, because even at home nowadays we usually have our cell phone with us. After all, I will not be waiting at home for my child to call me if I lost him at the zoo or the mall. I will instead be waiting for my cell phone to ring.
Finally, my children know if separated from a parent he or she should look for a woman, preferably a mother or grandmotherly woman with children to ask for help or to ask a store employee wearing a name badge or working behind a counter or cash register. If grabbed by someone trying to force them to leave the premises he or she should yell, “You are not my mother” or “You are not my father” and make a big scene to draw attention to what is happening.
Finally, fully charge all cell phones before leaving for an outing, including cell phones for children old enough to carry one. In addition, be sure to enter parent information as an ICE contact. ICE (In Case of Emergency) has become a well-known acronym used by the police and EMS to know whom to contact in the event of an illness or injury. For children who are unable to verbalize a parent’s name or cell phone number there are products that can be attached to a shoe or anklets with a Velcro enclosure that will provide pertinent contact information if the child wanders away.
Never spend more than a few short minutes looking for a lost child. All public places are required to have a missing child location program called a “Code Adam”. The program utilizes every employee in the building. Employees are given a verbal description over the intercom system of the lost child and begin walking every aisle, checking restrooms, storerooms, break rooms, lockers, and any other place where a child can hide or be hidden. Employees station themselves at every exit and entrance and no one leaves until their packages are checked.
If the child is not located within 10 minutes, the facility calls police to help search for the missing child and to take over the investigation. When a child wanders away or is lost, having a recent or up to date photograph of the child for employees and police to visualize is priceless. Technology is awesome and we should always use it to keep our children safe.