Friday, December 18, 2015

Case Studies - "lures"

We've been going through old files and piles of stuff here at MCM, and it has been quite a journey for all of us.

Of course, Carol Watson is very familiar with all of these old stories and old documents. She's the only person who has been part of MCM from the beginning.

We came across a couple of case studies that demonstrate the importance of teaching kids to recognize "lures". "Lures" are deceptive behaviors, or attractive objects used to entice someone into danger. Whether you are talking about fish or children, or adults, the primary thing that makes a lure successful is that it appears attractive, and does not seem dangerous at first.

JAMES: an example of the "help lure" (this story was shared as part of a 1996 fund raising letter)

4-year-old James had attended a "Run, Yell & Tell!" presentation in his day care. One afternoon as he played in his front yard, a car pulled up. A nice looking man leaned out the window and asked him "Hey, could you help me for a minute?"

James was about to approach the car when he remembered what he has learned at the "Run, Yell & Tell!"  presentation: "Always ask first" before you help someone. He ran inside to ask his babysitter. When he and his babysitter returned, the car and the man were gone.

James may have prevented his own abduction by remembering what he had learned about prevention from Missing Children Minnesota.

SUSAN: an example of the lure of "understanding" and "support".

16-year-old Susan ran away from her father's home in search of a modeling career. What she found instead was an older man who took her in and treated her kindly. Eventually, the man began to sexually abuse Susan and threatened the girl when she tried to leave.

Susan was trapped.

Her father called Missing Children Minnesota soon after she left. He was frantic and very worried about his daughter. MCM checked around and soon began to hear rumors of sightings of Susan and the older man. Eventually, a "sting" was set up and Susan and the man were caught. Susan returned home with her father. The man was charged with sexual abuse.

The takeaway:

We need to remind very young children to "Always ask first" before they accept anything from someone, go anywhere with someone, or help someone with anything. If a person other than the person who is taking care of them at that time approaches them for any reason, they should "ask first!" before engaging.

Older children need to be reminded to "check in" with the person in charge whenever their plans change, or if something doesn't go as planned, or if something doesn't seem quite right.

And, of course, we need to always remember to keep our "trusted adult" hat firmly in place and be alert to difficulties, frustrations, or dangers that our children are encountering. If we don't help and guide them, there are others out there who will use their understanding of our kids needs to exploit them and violate their trust.

It is a big job, and it can be scary with so much at stake. However, remember that all you really have to do is listen, be present, be supportive. You don't have to have all the answers, you don't have to do everything right. You just have to show the kids in your life that they are important, and that you will be there to help them reach their goals and deal with their problems.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Word About "That Word": Why "closure" isn't adequate.

Being an “organization of loss” puts us in a unique community. We exist at an intersection of loss that puts us in communion with many different “organizations of loss”. As a member of that community, we dutifully maintain our awareness of the issues and ideas of other organizations that deal with loss.

I was reading the newsletter for The Central Minnesota Chapter of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children.

In it, there was an article about the stages of grief, and how grief is a sometimes cyclical process towards peace with a loss or a death.

Understanding that process doesn’t make it any easier, and does not diminish the suffering of people going through it. People in grief for a lost loves one, especially a child, do not want to hear about “the process of grief”. They are IN it, and they just need to feel whatever they are feeling right now.

When our families have a child missing over years or decades, they go through similar stages, but what stands out to me is that with no known outcome, there is no progress towards being at peace. You can’t accept an outcome that never comes.

People discuss the concept of a outcome as “closure”, but many of our left behind and searching families shake their head (and sometimes their fists) at that word. “Closure” implies an ending to the process, a close book means that you are done reading it. A close door means an end to possibilities.

But finding out what happened to your child isn’t an ending, it is a beginning. A beginning of processing an outcome, whether it is your child found unharmed, your child found with substantial injuries (physical, mental, emotional), or your child found deceased.

Until you know what your child needs from you, what they went through, what happened to them, you cannot begin to make progress.

Our parents of long-term missing go through the stages of grief without progressing towards peace, however temporary.

They endure the endless questions, the analysis, the accusations, the casual blame-game of the public, the invasive manner in which some outsiders express sympathy, the self-doubt and questioning, the depersonalization of their child’s case (“Oh your child is missing? How awful, I can’t even imagine. I just saw that special about Adam Walsh the other day!”) – and then they get up the next day and do it again.

For families of murdered children, the process of grief never truly ends. It reaches a point where they can do other things, think other things, have joy in their memories more often than pain…but that grief comes back again and again.

For families of missing children, that journey can’t even begin until their child comes home.

I’d just like to remind people that “answers” are NOT “closure”. Even “closure” isn’t “closure”…since we all know that pain and grief revisit us throughout our lives when we lose a loved one. They are never truly gone, and the pain of missing them is never truly gone.

Answers are important. They are needed and vital, and our families deserve them. But they are just a beginning, not an ending.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A word from 1987 about Chronic Runaways and why there is no "one size fits all" solution.

This article was printed in the Missing Children’s Bulletin in 1987. Missing Children's Bulletin was a small-print publication of a Missing Child Organization called I-Search. It was written by Jan Stanton, and many of the issues it raises are still going on today. Of course, in this day and age, we have learned more about the role that mental health, learning disabilities, and bullying (especially of LGBT youth) have on runaway behavior. Still, the problem space – and the shortfalls of the solution space seem to have moved little.

We still struggle with stereotyping of runaway youth and their families, which gets in the way of the individual solution needed to effectively address the problem. We still struggle with a lack of coordination of services that allows children and families to fall through the cracks.

We still have a problem with the needs of runaway youth not being enough of a social, justice system, and funding priority. We still have elements of the youth culture that encourage and glorify running away as a means to independence and self-determination.

 Pass it On: Safety Tips for Professionals
by Jan Stanton

“Chronic or habitual runaways many times are children who are searching for solutions to their problems. They are knowledgeable about the system and they realize that it hasn’t worked for them. We must address the problems of the runaway, as well as those of the professionals who work with them, and the problems within the system itself.

This “system” may include law enforcement, youth service agencies, mental health agencies, rape crisis centers and criminal justice professionals. These agencies, within the overall system, must work together to provide intervention, referral and resources for the chronic runner.

 Since law enforcement officers are not generally councilors, they must refer the youth to an appropriate agency during initial intervention. For follow-up and/or return of the youth, law enforcement’s role needs to include an in-depth interview with the youth concerning causation and details surrounding their runaway experiences.

Professionals working with runaways need to understand the dynamics and characteristics of these youths. This understanding may enable them to assist the youth in breaking their cycle of running and perhaps their cycle of victimization. For some chronic runners, reasons for running are extremely complex, and depend on how youth perceive themselves and the world around them. Some perceive their runaway episode as a step toward independence. They feel that others, especially parents, control what is happening to them. They believe parents should change, and if such changes do not take place, they are disappointed. Chronic runaways will continue to hope that their lives will improve. When they don’t, they will run again.

Runaway skills are learned, and most youths do not automatically know how to run away from home or where to go. This learning may take place through a series of social encounters which may be positive or negative. Running away demands a great deal of experimentation, taking chances and involvement on the part of the youth. Peers are often a part of those experiments as well as a critical support network for approval or discouragement of continual absences. After repeated episodes, youths may be influenced by those who may become their exploiters, thus adding to their already troubled environment.

When examining the chronic runner, parents, case workers, law enforcement officials and youth advocates must draw careful distinctions between those young people who are totally assertive and committed to a new way of living, and young people who are delinquent, troubled, or are seeking help. Young people who are testing the social boundaries on behalf of growing independence are distinctly different from young people who are bored, deprived, abused, or emotionally confused.

Given the expanded focus on runaways in today’s society, helping professionals must take a closer look at the growing problem of the chronic runner.  Upon returning home or to shelters, it is essential that a broader range of services be made available for children and parents. Young people and their parents must be given the opportunity to examine the problems that have led to the runaway episodes and explore other choices.

“To remain optimistic about the future of our nation’s youth, we just confront the many reasons underlying runaway behavior. The answer seems straightforward: there are often inadequacies in the home, the school, and the community. The youth must still be held accountable, however. But the difficult question remains: How do we develop reasonable accountability in both?” (Robbie Callaway, Director of Governmental/United Way Relations, Boy’s Clubs of America).
These system-kids who are lost in bureaucratic mazes, underfunded services and unheeding communities need our attention. Professionals who spend time working with these youth have felt our adult failures, have watched the youths struggle and have seen many succeed. The Potential is there – both for youth and for the professional. Won’t you use your skills and PASS IT ON.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Importance of Social Support in Missing Child Cases

“Social Support is the Interpersonal Factor most predictive of post-traumatic resiliency”.

-          Dr. Emery John’s Hopkins School of Public Health


The cases of missing/unidentified persons and their families are part of what has been called “The Silent Mass Disaster”. If a natural disaster or an act of terrorism affected as many people as missing and unidentified persons cases do every year, our country would respond with a massive effort on a scale that we have never seen before.

That would be awesome, since we know that support of community, friends and neighbors is the biggest indicator that someone will overcome trauma, recover, and go on to thrive.

And we need our searching families to stay strong through the trauma of missing a loved one, recover, and thrive, so that they can be that support for the missing person when he or she returns home.

In cases where the abductor feels that they have sufficient control over their victims, an abducted child may be allowed access to media. This social support can help them endure their ordeal until they have the opportunity to escape.

Missing/unidentified cases are very much a matter of public interest, public concern, and collective responsibility.

Unfortunately, missing/unidentified person cases are instead seen as individual and private tragedies, rather than a public safety or public health issue. This isolation is complicated by the drive many feel to distance themselves from those suffering misfortune.

It is almost a reflex for people to immediately blame the missing person and their family for what has happened to their loved-one. Because if that family did something to cause the misfortune, then observers can comfort themselves with the illusion that nothing of the sort will happen to them or their loved ones.

This urge takes on a whole different aspect when it is taken up by mob mentality on social media.

Social media is a powerful tool for communicating a case to the public. However, it can quickly turn on a family if they become the focus of people who are determined to blame, shame, and isolate the victims. It can lead to the strange situation of being completely isolated while at the same time, being considered public property for anyone to put their mark on.

In this day and age, when “True Crime” Drama is second only to “Reality T.V.”, and most people get their news from social media, we have a public that is engaged as never before with both entertainment and with following real-life dramas of private people.

Everyone wants to be a super-sleuth, and everyone wants to be the one who figured out “whodunnit”.

Sometimes, people get carried away and forget that there are real people and real families behind the headlines, and it is very easy for them to get into grinding their own ax at the expense of the people involved.

Every searching family has to decide (along with law-enforcement and their support team),  how much and what kind of information to put out about their child and the circumstances of their disappearance.

They have to ask themselves if this information will:

·        make my child more vulnerable?

·       signal the direction of the investigation to the people responsible?

·       give away information about what we know and how we know it?

·       reveal private things about our family that won’t help the investigation?

·       lead to retaliation against the child by the people responsible for his or her disappearance?

Many searching families are criticized for not putting out enough information, and accused of “hiding” information, “only telling part of the story”, and other accusations based on their choices to curate the information they share about their child’s case.

We have seen cases where children who have been abducted have been re-victimized in social media due to thoughtless and cruel comments.

In one national case, a teenaged girl whose mother and younger brother were murdered as part of the abduction was accused of being the mastermind of her own victimization. A self-proclaimed crime profiler and journalist wrote a number of columns accusing the child of being responsible for her own victimization. This, in spite of multiple unequivocal assertion of Law Enforcement Officers from multiple agencies that worked the case that the child was a victim.

In every case we have looked at, there are some people who find it easier to blame the missing and their families, rather than be supportive and helpful.

Our policy is to support the families and the missing through the crisis, and help connect them to resources as needed to empower them to overcome any conditions that may have contributed to the child being missing, and to help them recover from the trauma of the crisis.

Why do we do that, people wonder?

After all, common opinion says that most children are hurt by their parents, and that kids who run away are either bad kids, from bad homes or both.

Common opinion, as in many other cases, does not serve us in the case of missing children.

The best statistics that we have on missing children are very old. Newer statistics are piece-meal and incomplete.

Beyond those facts, we have the situation of effective innumeracy in our society, where people don’t understand how statistics work, and don’t pay attention to the narrow qualifiers that accompany each statistic. What those statistics tell us, is that regardless of who took the child, or if they left on their own power, it must be recognized that they must be assumed to be in danger for as long as they are missing. First and foremost, we must work to find them.


The fact of the matter is; no matter what the statistics say, each and every case must be evaluated individually to determine what actually happened THIS TIME.

Statistics indicate a line of inquiry or questioning and suggest possibilities that should not be overlooked. But what solves the case are the facts and evidence collected by the investigators, and an intelligent evaluation of that knowledge to create the theory of that crime.

Too often, arm-chair sleuths want to blurt out their initial gut reactions based on their experience in consuming “true crime” materials. They like to cast doubt on the case, and then come out with a safe-sounding opinion that they feel is backed up by statistics.

It is up to us in the majority of the responsible public to speak out when we see this and support the families and the missing, rather than let others treat them as objects for their own self-amusement.

When the case is communicated to the public, the public is given the information about that case which will best help them get involved constructively in the case – while protecting the victim as much as possible.

When you see comments along the line of “There is more to this case than meets the eye”, “There is a lot of missing information”, or “There are a lot of unanswered questions in this case”, “or, they are withholding information” this is the time to step up and say “We don’t need to know everything about this case to help this child and this family. Share the poster, and report anything you see or know to the authorities.”

If you see someone saying something horrible about the searching family, the child, or others who are involved that is the time to step up and say “Social media is not the place to report information about a crime, and gossiping about a family in crisis is disgusting. If you are gossiping, stop it. If you have information about the case, contact the authorities.”

My personal favorite is when someone refers to the victim as “not a perfect angel”, “Not completely innocent” or some other similar phrase.

Let’s just say it. Nobody is “completely innocent” Nobody is “a perfect angel”.

If that is our criteria for a victim to have recourse to the law and the support of the community, then we are all in big trouble. A plea to help find a missing child is an act of trust in a community to respond positively and humanely.

Let’s not only do that ourselves, but insist that others do the same. Our missing/unidentified persons and our searching/left behind families need our support.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Persistant Myths About Parental Abduction

I have to admit to being a little disheartened today.

In the course of getting ready for our 8th Annual Golf Classic to raise money for our programs, and getting materials ready for a public-awareness trip up to Lake of the Woods County Fair, I came across a pile of papers. In that pile was an article written in 1984 by Jan Russell, a pioneer in working to resolve the problem of parental abduction.

In this article, she describes the myths and realities of parental abduction, and talks about the barriers encountered by left-behind families in parental abduction cases.

Sadly, these myths and realities seem to be largely unchanged in the intervening 31 years. More sadly, Missing Children Minnesota has been around for 31 years working to change these myths and perceptions, and introduce a new reality. But it has become clear that one little organization running on a shoe-string budget cannot do much to move the needle on this issue.

We need the public will, and public support. Will you help us? Will you spread the word that parental kidnapping is a real issue, that it hurts children, devastates families, creates a financial and resource drain on communities, and (let’s say it again, because it is the most important) it hurts children.

I am reproducing the article here in its entirety for you to see. Please tell everyone you know about the realities of parental abduction.

To fix this, we need:

·       Public recognition that parental abduction is a serious crime that hurts kids, hurts (and often bankrupts) families, and that has a high economic and social cost for communities.

·       Public commitment to getting sufficient training for law enforcement officers so that they know they need to take a report of a missing child right away, and how to respond in the early stages of an investigation. Also, to add the manpower and resources to follow through and send the message that parental abduction is no longer a "free crime".

·       Public pressure to investigate and prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law.

Let’s not let another 31 years go by with these myths and barriers still in place. Since the beginning of the year, we have had several cases where it has taken more than a week to get a missing child report taken. A child should be considered in danger if the person who is responsible for their safety does not know where they are. Regardless of who is believed to have their child.

“You know where they are. They are with their mother.” Is not a sufficient answer if the custodial parent does not know if the mother and child are on the next block, or in Georgia. USA, Georgia in Europe, in Mexico, or in Mozambique.

Parental Kidnapping: Myths and Realities
by Jan Russel (published in 1984)

Recently a great deal of media attention has been focused on the problem of parental kidnapping. Yet the media reports, often poorly researched and inaccurate, have done little to correct the public’s misconception of this crime. Let’s review and correct the myths.

Myth: It is not illegal to take your own child.

Reality: A decade ago, this statement was pretty much true. The federal kidnapping statute (commonly known as the Lindbergh Act) specifically excluded parents from prosecution. Most jurisdictions chose to ignore the problem, while other jurisdictions , sympathetic to the plight of the left-behind parent, were forced to make do with the existing state statutes that were designed for other purposes (such as “unlawful restraint”). These efforts were, as a whole, ineffective and arbitrary.

In the late 1970’s, states began to pass legislation that in some ways prohibited interference with a custodial parent’s rights. All states have now passed laws that prohibit the removal and/or concealment of a child by natural parents.

While the passage of so many laws in less than a decade is a remarkable feat, it is important to note that not all laws are created equal. Few state laws are truly comprehensive, and some are so poorly written that they are only minimally effective. And even the best law is useless if not enforced. It is not unusual for law enforcement officers to tell left-behind parents that parental abduction is not a crime but is a civil matter. Since civil courts are unable to deal effectively with an abducting parent whose location is unknown, these parents are often left to ride a legal merry-go-round that only information or advocacy from an outside source can stop.

The effectiveness of state laws is further hampered when the prosecuting state refuses to extradite the abducting parent. The state is, in effect, rewarding parents for successful criminal behavior and signals to parents who are considering abducting their children that if you can get out of the state unapprehend, parental abduction is a “free crime”.

Myth: Parents kidnap their children because they love them too much to live apart from them; the custodial parent was unfit.

Reality: The emotion seen most often in abductions is anger. Parents abduct their children to get back at the custodial parent, to reduce or eliminate child support and/or to try to force a reconciliation with the left-behind parent.

Mothers who are declared unfit may have an additional reason to abduct their children. In our society, women are identified by their role as mothers. A mother whose child has been removed from her care is looked down on. Thus, such a mother may abduct her child because of peer pressure and the need to re-establish her identity in society.

For whatever reason a parent decides to abduct, it is never in the interest of the child.

Myth: The child is not in danger if he is being detained by a parent rather than a stranger.

Reality: While the child may be in less danger, he is not out of danger. I SEARCH, the Illinois agency created to deal with the problem of missing children, has indicated many victims of parental abduction that it helped recover in its first years of operation, were physical or sexually abused while in hiding.

Informal surveys have suggested that abducting parents are often emotionally unstable at the time of the abduction and that many such parents have a history of violent or abusive behavior, having abused their children or spouse in the past.

While on the run, the parent is under a great deal of stress. The parent is usually in a new area without the support system of friends and family; and because of fear of discovery, may not be able to get or hold a job or establish new relationships and may move frequently. The parent may begin to blame the child for the circumstances he/she is now in and take that anger out on the child.

The child also suffers psychological trauma. The left-behind parent is usually the child’s primary care-giver, that is, the person responsible for the day-to-day needs. Children expect the primary care-giver to always be there and to protect them from any harm.

Abducted children are often angry with the left-behind parent for not being with the child and for letting the abduction happen. The child often feels abandoned by the left-behind parent and may suffer because of a breach of trust with one or both parents.

 The problem is compounded when the abducting parent, in an effort to stop the child’s questions, tell the child that the left-behind parent is dead or that the parent does not love them, or want them anymore.

Under the best of circumstances, the child loses all sense of security and stability, and it is important to locate the child as quickly as possible to minimize the damage.

Myth: Parental Kidnapping is such an isolated event, it will never happen to me.

Reality: A congressional subcommittee estimated that 100,000 to 400,000 American children become victims of parental kidnapping each year. It can happen to children of any social, economic or ethnic/racial group. It can happen while their parents are still living together as well as when they are separated or divorced.

Furthermore, the likelihood of an abduction is higher for two particular groups. The children of battered women comprise the highest-risk group. Parental abduction is often the abuser’s last-ditch effort to force home a wife who has left him. The risk is greatest after a separation, but the motive in these cases often changes after the divorce from an effort at reconciliation, to revenge, and the threat rarely goes away entirely. The children of unwed mothers are also at high risk as fathers use the children to maintain deteriorating relationships.

Myth: Parental abductions are resolved quickly. The abducting parent usually returns in a week or so, sorry he/she did it. There’s no need to go searching for the parent.

Reality: It is not at all unusual for children to be gone for more than a year before being located; thousands of children have been located after being gone for several years, and a conservative estimate is that 20-30% of abducted children are never seen again by their custodial parent.

The odds for recovery are much better now than they ever have been. Contributing factors are: better laws, increased effort by law enforcement agencies, media distribution of pictures, more awareness on the part of the public and the efforts of missing children agencies. But, as in other types of crimes, the sooner an ambitious search is begun, the better the chance there is for recovery.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

8th Annual Golf Classic

Missing Children Minnesota is excited to announce our 8th Annual golf tournament to be held at Northfield Golf Club 100% of the proceeds will benefit Missing Children Minnesota (MCM)!
Our festivities have found a wonderful new home. We were able to travel to Northfield and get a look at this charming Clubhouse, and the gorgeous grounds. We were graciously treated to a tour, and we can't wait to introduce you to this gem of a golf course!
 If you already have three friends that you want to team up with, you can buy a team ticket for $400. Just make sure to let us know your team name, and the names of all your players!
If you just want to sign up yourself, and have us find a team for you, you can buy a ticket for $125, and just let us know to coordinate with other individuals and get you into a team!
You can register by sending a check and information about your team name, and the names of your players to:

Golf Classic Tickets
C/O Missing Children Minnesota
416 East Hennepin Ave
Suit #217
Minneapolis, MN 55414
OR you can register at Eventbrite with a credit card or Paypal: (Eventbrite will charge an additional fee)

All proceeds will go to support Missing Children Minnesota's Prevention Programs and Support and Referral Services for searching families.
In 2014 we educated over 4,000 Minnesotans on personal safety for children, and we helped 30 families of missing children with their search for their kids! With your help, we will be able to expand the reach of our programs and services.

We won't stop until all of the kids come home!