TRUE or FALSE. Kidnapping committed by a family member is considered child endangerment.
 a. True
 b. False

America’s Hidden Crime: When the Kidnapper is Kin

Table of Contents


Executive Summary

Poll Results
• Introduction and methodology
• Poll results
• Analysis

Facts and Findings
• A growing problem
• Family abduction as child endangerment
• The current system’s response

Conclusion and Recommendations
• Preventing family abductions
• Discouraging the crime
• Reducing the damage

About the Polly Klaas Foundation

Appendix A - Online resources on family abduction

Appendix B - Family abduction prevention for parents


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Conclusion and Recommendations

Education and assistance to all parties that can prevent family abduction — law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, family court judges and attorneys, social workers, counselors, and at-risk families — is critical. Protecting our children from this damaging crime will require the active involvement of everyone with the power to help. The Polly Klaas Foundation recommends adoption of specific, proven measures to prevent family abductions, discourage potential abductors, and reduce the damage of any family abductions that do occur.

Preventing family abductions

The silver lining of the problem of family abduction is that it is a preventable tragedy, largely because, unlike stranger abductions, the perpetrator is usually identifiable — the kidnapper is kin.

Research from the U.S. Department of Justice shows that when parents understand that kidnapping their own child is a crime, they are less likely to follow through with abduction plans. Identifying potential abductors and informing them that kidnapping is not only a criminal violation of the law but also causes the child irreparable psychological trauma can significantly reduce the risk of family abduction.

Including requirements for counseling in custody orders can also help prevent the problem. Research shows that as little as 10 hours of intervention effectively reduces the likelihood of family abduction.

Preventive measures such as targeted outreach and education to at-risk families — parents undergoing divorce and separation — not only save the state from costly expenses associated with search, recovery and prosecution, but can also spare the child from unnecessary pain and suffering caused by family abduction.

The Polly Klaas Foundation recommends:

  • Mandate counseling in custody orders;
  • Educate at-risk families about the realities and dangers of family abduction.

Discouraging the crime

Policymakers can play a critical role in deterring parents from kidnapping their children by raising the criminal standards of family abduction to a felony in all 50 states and passing custodial interference laws that facilitate the investigation and prosecution of family abductions.

There is also a need to pass the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act in all 50 states to ensure that custody laws are applied consistently across the nation. (See Criminal Status of Family Abduction.) Currently adopted in 35 states, UCCJEA is a critical tool in enforcing child custody laws between states and helping children return home even when they are taken across state borders. The more states that adopt this law, the fewer places family abductors can run and hide.

The Polly Klaas Foundation recommends:
  • Raise the criminal status of family abduction to a felony in all 50 states;
  • Adopt UCCJEA in all 50 states.

Reducing the damage

Because abductions of longer duration cause greater emotional trauma, rapid recovery is key to reducing the damage suffered by children in family abduction cases. Well-trained law enforcement personnel with the appropriate tools to execute an effective investigation will improve outcomes for children abducted by family members.

State and local law enforcement agencies must institutionalize written procedures that specifically address the issue, as well as develop and incorporate initial and ongoing training material to ensure all personnel are equipped to handle family abduction cases.

There are also a number of tools that have been proven effective in fighting family abductions that are not being put to use due to a lack of resources. For example, federal funding can aid the implementation of a system among schools and medical facilities whereby law enforcement must be notified if an abducted child’s records are requested.

Policymakers can also assist by helping law enforcement agencies allocate resources for sufficient staff and enhanced computer technology to make family abduction a case priority without compromising investigations on other violent crimes. Law enforcement agencies also need assistance with the costs associated with the investigation and extradition of suspected abductors.

The Polly Klaas Foundation recommends:

  • Institute written procedures for law enforcement agencies;
  • Develop and implement law enforcement training material;
  • Provide federal assistance for proven, effective tools to fight family abduction.

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P.O. Box 800, Petaluma, CA 94953
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