It inevitably happens each year — a youngster heading home from school gets on the wrong bus, off at the wrong stop, heads home with a friend or goes to an activity his or her parent didn’t know about or forgot about.
Now, with the temperatures falling, the sun setting earlier in the evenings and the changing of sports seasons and after-school activities, parents and students should be extra cautious and cognizant of what to do in the event a child goes missing after school or does not show up when and where his or her parent expected.
In the case of a missing child, what should parents and families do? What does Archuleta School District do? What role does law enforcement play?
While the following is not comprehensive, it aims to give families an idea of what would happen if the unlikely day does come that their child is lost, as well as some tools to arm themselves, the school district, law enforcement and their youngster to best handle the situation.
So, if your child doesn’t make it home after school, what should you do?
Archuleta School District Superintendent Linda Reed explained, “It depends. If the child rides the bus, the best thing to do is contact the transportation office, or the school.”
She explained that there is always someone who works late at each building. In addition, Reed said she stays late in the central office almost every night.
Pagosa Springs Police Chief William Rockensock noted that parents should also report the child missing to law enforcement. Reports can be made to Archuleta County Combined Dispatch by calling 731-2160.
“The sooner we get involved, the better,” Rockensock said. “Time is of the essence when you have a missing child.”
Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez agreed, stating that as soon as a report is made, area law enforcement gathers resources and determines what needs to be done if the child is not found in a short period of time.
Rockensock also said every PSPD patrol car is equipped with a checklist of what to do in the event of a missing or abducted child.
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so Reed also recommended parents communicate with each other and be aware of the school’s bell schedule. Parents may not realize, especially at the beginning of the school year, that school releases early every Friday.
However, the most important thing is to make sure the school has the most up-to-date contact information for both parents.
As far as district protocol, Reed said, “If I were to get a call, first of all, I would ask, ‘Have you checked here? Have you checked there? What is your procedure and protocol with your kids?’ I think a lot of times parents don’t have one. So I would ask them a bunch of questions to try and narrow down what were the expectations.”
Once she has a list of possible places the child might have gone, she starts making phone calls. “Before we call the police, we try to get more information from the parents and try to problem-solve with them.”
Reed and Rockensock both reiterated the importance of updating contact information with the schools every time something changes, so a parent can be reached, not only if there is a situation with his or her own child, but also if one of the child’s friends is missing.
Information is key
Information is of the utmost importance to help schools, law enforcement and parents locate children that are not accounted for. In addition to keeping all contact and relevant information up to date with the schools, parents and children should arm themselves with the information and resources to help any incidents be resolved quickly and safely.
Children should either memorize or keep basic information written down and in their backpack in the event that they get off the bus at the wrong stop or find themselves lost, Rockensock reminded.
Youngsters should know information such as their parents’ names, phone number(s), their home address and where their parents work.
Valdez added that parents should be aware of who their child’s friends are and who their child hangs out with.
Rockensock also recommends that families keep the DNA of each child (kits are available to swab a child’s cheeks for DNA to keep in the freezer) in case it is ever needed.
In the event a child is missing, some parents expect Amber Alerts will be issued, but that is not often the case.
Amber Alerts cannot be issued for every missing child, but instead are issued according to guidelines set forth by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Rockensock explained.
According to the DOJ, those guidelines include:
• Law enforcement must reasonably believe that an abduction has occurred.
• The law enforcement agency must believe that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
• There should be enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
• The child must be 17 or younger.
• The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, must be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.
Free resources to help you and your children be ready in the event that they are lost are available from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com/Families.