How to Prevent and Handle a Lost Child Situation
A lost child is a parent’s worst nightmare. A survey of parents by the Center to Prevent Lost Children showed that 90 percent of families will experience losing a child in a public place at least once, and 20 percent said it has happened more than once. The United States Department of Justice reports that more than 300,000 children become temporarily lost for at least one hour, but the good news is that a majority of those children are quickly found and not harmed.
It is important to try to prevent a child from getting lost but even more important that the child knows what to do if they do get lost. Preparing yourself and a child can make this frightening situation become a bit easier for everyone involved.
• Before you go anywhere, talk to your family about what to do if someone gets lost. Discuss a designated place to go if you get lost or advise children to stay right where they are when they feel they are lost. Tell children to find a security officer, police officer or an employee if you are in a public place, or remind them they can ask another mom with kids for help.
• Prepare your children so that they can identify themselves. For younger children, have their identification information in their pocket. If they are old enough to speak and can relay the information, practice reciting your phone number with them, and let them know they can always call 911.
• For younger children or when clothes don’t have pockets, be creative. Make a bracelet out of numbered beads or write your phone number inside a shirt collar or on a shirt tag with a fabric marker.
• Dress children in bright colored clothing so they can easily be spotted. Lemon yellow and lime green are the suggested colors because they easily attract the eye. You might also have a piece of clothing that is only worn when the child goes out in public so you can easily remember what they are wearing.
• Take a photo of your child with your phone before you leave home or when you arrive at your destination. This will help police find a lost child because they will be aware of exactly what the child is wearing, and how they look that day.
• Positive reinforcement is the best way to prevent a child from wandering away from you when you are in a public place. Speak with your child about stranger danger, and remind them of the importance of staying with you.
• Sometimes children do get lost, and it is easy for parents and guardians to forget what to do in this scary situation. Many public places have standard procedures of what to do when a child is missing, so make sure authorities and the venue’s management are notified that the child is lost. Authorities will be able to help because they are familiar with the area’s surroundings, and could have the capability to lockdown buildings or issue an alert.
Amusement parks, festivals, malls and vacation spots are not the only places where children can get separated from their parents. This can occur at home as well. If the child is lost at home, be sure to look in the most common hiding and play spots first.
• If you are at home, search your house first before going outside. Check closets, laundry baskets and piles of clothes, in and under beds, in large appliances, in vehicles and other areas where the child may hide or play.
• If you still can’t find the child in the home, call 911 to notify them and let them know if you feel the child is in any danger. Police departments would rather be aware of the situation and called back when the child is found, rather than wasting valuable minutes to find the child. Time is crucial once a child has been separated from you.
• Stay calm. Screaming the child’s name won’t help you locate the child any faster if they are not close by. Plus yelling the child’s name could lure the wrong type of person to your child who may be screaming back for you.
• Make sure the phone number your child knows, preferably a cell phone, is on and is receiving a signal. Also, be sure to have a close family member or neighbor near your home phone so that you can stay in the area where the child was last seen.
Just like any other emergency plan, it is important to review and practice your family’s strategy if a child gets lost. Children can be better prepared to know what to do in the situation, and will feel more confident that they will be reunited with their family if they understand the family’s “lost” procedures.
Keith Kepler is the vice president and general manager at AlliedBarton Security Services.