Unidentifiable man seated at computer screen that reads: "What should law enforcement understand about family needs and expectations when responding to missing child reports?"

By Denise Gee Peacock

The Family Survival Guide parent-authors–and subject matter experts who work daily to prevent and prosecute crimes against children–want law enforcement to consider the following when working missing-child cases:

Be compassionate

“It’s easy to become immune to horrific crimes; you deal with them daily. But work to counter that. Each case is not just a number. Each case involves human beings.”
– Ahmad Rivazfar

“When someone in law enforcement tells me, ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through,’ I often think, ‘Well, you do know.’ Anyone who’s ever lost sight of their child in a crowded environment can relate.”
Jeffery Morehouse

One of the officers initially working my daughter’s missing case told me, ‘Well, I guess [your ex-husband] got tired of you and left with Muna.’ That left me speechless. Fortunately the FBI agent I ultimately worked with was deeply empathetic and helpful. He said, ‘It’s going to take a long time to help you, but we are going to help.’ ”
– Dr. Noelle Hunter

Photo of unidentified police officer with unidentified child with this quote from Charles Fleeger AATTAP Region 3 Liaison and Texas-Brazos Valley AMBER Alert Coordinator: “A runaway child is a missing child, and we must assume that the child is in danger and investigate it as such.”Know the laws—and think ahead

“I’m a father who had legal custody of my son but had to convince people of that. It’s important to know that IPCA [international parental child abduction] actions are not a custodial dispute, but a federal crime that requires local law enforcement to enter the case into NCIC. … Also, when a missing child becomes an adult, please don’t remove them from NCIC. That sorely limits parents’ resources, such as access to age-progression photos available from NCMEC.”
– Jeffery Morehouse

Federal law requires immediate entry of missing children into NCIC. … But we know what kind of stress you’re under. We know you might get four more calls after ours and then it’s time to leave your shift. But while you might forget, we don’t. These are our children.”
– Nacole Svendgard

Communicate regularly and respectfully

“When talking to parents, talk to them the way you would want to be talked to if your child was missing. Treat us with dignity. … Also, check in with us at least once a week to update us with any news or a good support resource.”
– Yvonne Ambrose

Stay current with training and technology

“Let’s train all our first responders, from dispatchers to the hospital workers who handle sexual assault exams. And let’s provide more training at the academy level, where there’s little to no time spent on the subject.”
– Nacole Svendgard

“Everything is changing for the better, but you have to know what exists and how to use it. Not knowing can be a matter of life and death.”
– Patty Wetterling

Learn the signs of sex trafficking, and why children go on the run

“Look closely into what, or who, has caused a child to leave home. There’s the real danger.”
– Yvonne Ambrose

“In talking with detectives about runaways, I’ve heard, ‘Well, she’s 17 and with her boyfriend.’ That’s when I respond, ‘Well, until she’s 18, she’s our responsibility.’ ”
– Captain Stacie Lick, CART Coordinator, Gloucester County (NJ) Prosecutor’s Office

Be cognizant of cultural bias

“Not all parents of missing children speak English or understand American laws and cultures. Sometimes I felt like my Iranian heritage had law enforcement looking at me as a criminal.”
– Ahmad Rivazfar

“Why isn’t the media reporting more on crimes involving marginalized or minority communities? Are they not learning about them from law enforcement? Or are they choosing to overlook these cases?”
– Patty Wetterling

With a family member’ doesn’t always mean ‘safe’

“Just because a child is with a biological family member does not mean they are safe. On the contrary, family abductions are the leading cause of AMBER Alerts. In my situation, law enforcement was convinced that a father could never hurt his child. That took a whole week out of the [investigation] process. So much can be lost in that time.”
– Elaine Hall

“I would often hear, ‘At least you know he’s safe; he’s with his mother’—completely discounting that a federal and state crime occurred, and that a healthy parent does not kidnap her child to a foreign country, cutting him off from the only life and people he has ever known.”
– Jeffery Morehouse

Find out what resources exist for victim & family emotional and financial support

“People think that once you and your child are reunited it’s all hugs and kisses and happily-ever-after. But that’s really when the hard part starts. It’s critical for parents to connect with a survivor-led advocacy group. Find out which therapists can ‘get’ where a child is coming from—or where they need to go as a family.”
– Nacole Svendgard

“Help parents understand what victim assistance funds may be available, and how to access them. … I know parents who just walked away from trying to find their child because of the heavy emotional and financial cost involved. It really takes a toll.”
– Dr. Noelle Hunter

Page showing various ways law enforcement can help share the new "Family Survival Guide"
>> Click here to learn how to best use and promote the Family Survival Guide.
Photo collage featuring the eight parents of current and former missing children who helped produce the new "When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide" (Fifth Edition)
>> Learn more about the Family Survival Guide parent-authors and their children here.
Book cover of Patty Wetterling's new memoir, "Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of Hope." Image shows her son Jacob and also a lantern.
>> Read about Patty’s new memoir, Dear Jacob: A Mother’s Journey of Hope—and five lessons for law enforcement—by clicking here.
Cover of the Fall 2023 AMBER Advocate double issue showing the "Family Survival Guide" team and the words "We Speak the Language of Missing"
>> Cover Story: Click here to learn how the parent-authors and others worked to update the Guide—and made lasting bonds in the process.