When the kidnapper is a family member&
For Parents... How to Protect Yourself and Your Child
- Are you in the middle of a custody battle?
- Do you argue with your child's other parent about visitation?
- Do you worry about your child when he or she is with the other parent?
If you answered YES to any of these, you and your child may be at risk of family abduction.
Family abduction happens when a family member, usually a parent, kidnaps and conceals a child for any length of time. It is a serious crime that happens to over 203,000 families a year. Life on the run for a child abducted by a family member offers many dangers: over half of family abductors have a history of violence, substance abuse, or a criminal record. In addition, children are often deprived of schooling and medical care, and learn to distrust the very authorities who could help them. The potential for harm is so great that many states prosecute family abduction as a felony.
The Polly Klaas Foundation can help you avoid the trauma and despair of family abduction. By learning more about family abduction and taking preventive steps, you can protect yourself and your child.
Why do parents kidnap their own children?
According to family abduction experts, parents cite the following reasons for kidnapping their own children:
- To force a reconciliation or continued interaction with the left-behind parent;
- To spite or punish the other parent;
- From fear of losing custody or visitation rights;
- In rare cases, to protect the child from a parent who is perceived to molest, abuse, or neglect the child.
Are you at risk for family abduction?
A direct threat of abduction should always be taken seriously, but often the warning signs are more subtle. Here are the most common signs that your child may be in danger of being kidnapped by a parent or family member:
- Your relationship with the other parent of your child is volatile and you argue often over visitation;
- A parent has a history of threatening abduction or has actually abducted the child in the past;
- A parent suspects or believes abuse has occurred and his/her friends and family support these concerns;
- A parent is paranoid delusional or severely sociopathic;
- A parent is a citizen of another country and is ending a mixed-culture marriage;
- A parent feels alienated from the legal system and has family/social support in another community;
- A parent has no strong ties to the child's home state;
- A parent has no job, is able to work anywhere or is not financially tied to the area;
- A parent is engaged in planning activities such as quitting a job, selling a home, terminating a lease, closing a bank account or applying for passports, birth certificates or school and medical records.
If any of these warning signs are present in your family, the Polly Klaas Foundation recommends following the steps described below. If you feel you need urgent intervention, please call 9-1-1 first and then contact the Polly Klaas Foundation at 1-800-587-4357.
Keeping your child safe -- Tips to prevent family abduction
Most parents who fall victim to family abduction are not aware that something like this can happen to them. While most people think strangers are to blame in child kidnappings, national statistics reveal that abductions by family are much more common than by strangers.
Michael Smith, whose children were abducted by his ex-wife in December 1997, says, "While it is devastating to know that the risk of family abduction is much higher than stranger abductions, parents can take comfort in knowing that there are preventive measures they can take to reduce the risk of family abduction, precisely because they know who the potential abductor is."
The Polly Klaas Foundation recommends taking the following cautionary steps:
- Respect the other parent's custody and visitation rights. Anger, frustration and desperation are leading causes of family abduction.
- Attempt to maintain a friendly relationship with your ex-spouse and his/her family. This may be difficult, but it can save you from experiencing the far greater trauma of family abduction. The family will be less willing to aid in an abduction if they have a relationship with you. If an abduction does occur, you will need the support of the kidnapper's family to bring your child home safely.
- Consider counseling. As little as 10 hours of intervention can effectively reduce the likelihood of family abduction. Information on obtaining counseling or mediation services is available at www.divorceinfo.com. Child Find of America (1-800-426-5678) offers a mediation hotline. Your local family court can also help you with referrals to counseling or mediation services.
- Begin the custody process immediately and get temporary custody of your child. You cannot prove your custody rights without a custody order.
- Include abduction and interference prevention measures in the custody order. The most common are:
- Having both parents post bonds. If the child is abducted, the money helps the left-behind parent with costs of recovery. It also serves as a deterrent. Companies that provide such services include Accredited and Roche Surety. For more information on posting bonds, contact the Professional Bail Agents of the United States at www.pbus.com or 1-800-833-PBUS.
- Providing detailed police procedures in case of abduction or custodial interference, and authorization for law enforcement to recover the child.
- Imposing visitation restrictions, such as supervised visits. The Supervised Visitation Network can provide more information about supervised visitations.
- Requiring that the parents passports be left at the county clerk's office during visitations.
- Keep a certified copy of the custody order with you at home. Check with your family court that it is the most recent order.
- Record and document abduction threats. Report them to the family courts or your lawyer immediately.
- Ask the police or prosecutor to intervene. If a parent threatens to abduct a child, it can help to ask the local police or prosecutor to contact the parent and warn him/her of the criminal consequences.
- Notify schools, healthcare providers, day care centers and babysitters of custody orders. Certified copies of custody orders should be on file with the school office and given to teachers, day care providers, babysitters, dentists and pediatricians with instructions not to release your child to anyone else without your permission. You should ask to be contacted immediately if the non-custodial parent attempts to pick up your child without explicit authorization.
- Keep lists of identifying information about the other parent and your child, including Social Security numbers, current photographs, license plate numbers and bank and credit card account numbers.
- Keep a complete written description of your child, including hair and eye color, height, weight, date of birth, and identifying physical features. Take color photographs of your child every six months. A head and shoulder portrait is best. Consider getting your child fingerprinted. Contact your local police department to find out how this can be done in your area. You, not the police, should retain the prints. Or use the Child ID kit available from the Polly Klaas Foundation to fingerprint and document identification information about your child.
- File or register a certified copy of the custody order in the non-custodial parent's state. This notifies the courts that a valid order has been made and must be enforced without modification. Contact your local family court for advice on how to do this.
- Obtain a passport for your child and notify the passport office that your child is not to leave the country without your written permission. Learn how to restrict your child's passport through the U.S. Department of State at www.travel.state.gov.
To keep your children safe, it is ALSO important that you:
- Keep the lines of communication open between you and your children.
- Teach your children their full name(s) and your full name. Older children should be able to easily recite their full address, city, state and country, as well as telephone number with area code.
- Practice using both a private phone and pay phone, with clear explanation of when to call home, and how to place long distance calls. You should also help them understand how and when to dial 9-1-1 and 0 for Operator, and that these calls are free, even from a pay phone.
AND MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL is something you can easily do every day:
- Be sure that your child knows that you love him/her and if anything should ever separate you that you will do everything you can to be together again. For your child's well-being, this should be conveyed without mentioning, or accusing, the other parent of being a potential threat.
The Polly Klaas Foundation has compassionate and professional case workers who can help you prevent family abduction and recover a child who has been abducted by a family member. If you have any reason to believe you and your child are in danger of family abduction, contact us immediately at 1-800-587-4357.We strongly encourage you to share this information.
You can download this fact sheet and other educational materials at www.PollyKlaas.org
, or request materials and Child ID kits for families by calling the Polly Klaas Foundation at 1-800-587-4357.
The Polly Klaas Foundation is a national nonprofit that helps find missing children and prevents children from going missing in the first place. We have helped more than 5,800 families find missing children using our compassion, experience and professionalism. Working together with the community, policy-makers and law enforcement, we can make America safe for children by promoting public policies and educating kids, parents and the entire community on how to bring children home.