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The impact of child abduction: employee assistance professionals can educate workers to prevent and respond to the devastating crimes of child abduction and sexual exploitation and help maintain their productivity if they are victimized.

When a child is abducted or sexually, exploited, the parents' lives--both their public lives (i.e., at the workplace) and private lives (at home)--begin to unravel. The mere thought of having a child kidnapped or sexually victimized, whether by a stranger, family acquaintance, or family member, can traumatize even the most confident of mothers and fathers. As employers strive to adopt family-friendly cultures to attract and retain top talent, they may want to consider providing child-safety education and crisis intervention services.

Before making that decision, it's important they understand the magnitude and scope of the problem. A national survey commissioned by Honeywell and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) found that abductions and kidnappings are the second largest safety concerns among parents, trailing only substance abuse. The survey also revealed an alarming lack of information about child safety resources and prevention strategies.

Unfortunately, parents' fears for their children's safety and welfare are well founded. A 1999 report by the U.S. Department of Justice noted that children are the most victimized demographic segment of our society. A significant contributor to this statistic is the Internet: Internet crimes against children are fast becoming the greatest area of growth in criminal activity. In 1999, the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center conducted a study' of 1,501 children aged 10 to 17 and found that--

* 25 percent received unwanted pictures of pornography online;

* 20 percent received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet;

* 1 in 17 were either threatened or harassed; and

* 1 in 33 received an aggressive sexual solicitation in which a solicitor asked to meet them somewhere, called them on the telephone, or sent them regular mail, money, or gifts.

The study also found, however, that only one quarter of the youths told their parents what had happened, and fewer than 3 percent of the incidents were reported to authorities. These percentages are all the more unsettling given that an estimated 10 million U.S. children used the Internet in 2001, and that number is expected to reach 77 million by 2005.

REAL-LIFE SKILLS

Employee assistance professionals can play a key role in helping working parents prevent unwanted advances toward their children and respond if it happens. Prevention begins with building awareness--parents must be alert to and aware of the risks and continually remind their children of the importance of staying safe. By arming families with real-life safety skills, EA professionals can greatly reduce the risk of crimes against children and thereby minimize their potential impact on the workplace.

Education, awareness, and preparation are central to preventing the abduction and sexual exploitation of children. Many youth safety organizations have developed communications materials that EAPs can integrate into "brown bag" seminars or other presentations to workers. Providing child safety information in the workplace is a service that entails little or no additional cost and is seen by employees to be of real value.

An obvious focus of information efforts should be to teach parents to be sensitive to changes in a child's behavior or attitude after extended Internet usage. It is critical for parents to show" concern, listen compassionately, and remain calm if a child discusses a distressing incident that occurred while using the Internet. Rather than respond judgmentally or threaten to remove their child's Internet privileges, parents should see this as an ideal opportunity to reinforce the fact that people are not always who they seem to be on the Internet.

Organizing a "family day" at a workplace is also a great way to both promote child safety and encourage parents to start conversations with their children about safety rules. An EAP could, for example, sponsor a child identification program. One in six abducted children is recovered because someone recognized a child in a photograph, so organizing a child ID event will help impress upon parents the importance of having updated photos of their children.

Approximately 200,000 children are abducted each year in the United States by a family member or non-custodial parent. The odds of a non-custodial abduction increase when a parent has--

* Previously abducted the child or threatened to do so;

* Weak ties to the child's home state;

* Friends or family living abroad;

* No job, can earn a living almost anywhere, or is financially independent;

* Recently quit a job, sold a home or terminated a lease, closed a bank account, or liquidated other assets;

* A history of marital instability or lack of parental cooperation; or

* A prior criminal record.

WEALTH OF RESOURCES

Although NCMEC will search for a missing child until s/he is found, all too often the search continues for months or even years, taking a heavy toll on all aspects of an employee's life. No one knows this better than Russ McCallian, vice president and director of human resources for CH2M HILL Corporation in Denver, Colorado. His 5-year old daughter, Diane, was abducted by her non-custodial mother in April 2001.

McCallian initially contacted his EAP but had limited financial resources to help with much-needed counseling. He found it difficult to focus on work while at the same time trying desperately to find his daughter. A sympathetic boss offered complete support to help him find Diane, stay mentally healthy, and maintain his work performance.

By talking with management, personnel specialists, and EA professionals, McCallian discovered a wealth of resources that proved to be of tremendous benefit during his time of crisis:

* Corporate resources like the Intranet and e-mail system were made available to him to post and disseminate photos of his daughter;

* His business travel was restricted so he could stay in Denver in case there was news of Diane's location;

* A flexible work schedule was initiated for medical and legal needs; and

* Co-workers offered a wealth of resources and referrals to help him cope and stay mentally healthy.

McCallian discovered that Colorado has a Victims Assistance Fund that provides full funding for counseling. He was also put in touch with NCMEC's Team Hope, where he encountered a solid support group and scores of parents who shared similar experiences.

SHARING THE EXPERIENCE

Nearly a year after her abduction, Diane was found in Costa Rica and brought safely home. As McCallian looks back at the experience, he remembers the isolation he felt during Diane's absence.

"No one really understands what you're going through unless you live it," he says. "Left-behind parents tend to keep it a private issue."

EA professionals, management, and human resources staff can help an employee through this period by developing a plan to assist the employee for an extended period of time. First, EA professionals should encourage a worker to share his or her experience with management and human resources. In addition, left-behind parents should be offered extended time off or part-time hours for limited periods. This helps the parent be more productive while at work, and also provides him or her personal time to work on the case.

EA professionals can also educate management and co-workers about the left-behind parent's crisis and how they can provide comfort and assistance. EA professionals may want to consider forming an EAP network to share crisis intervention strategies and serve as support groups. NCMEC has such a support system called Team Hope. Here, EA professionals learn firsthand what parents of abducted children are experiencing.

If efforts such as these can help prevent one child from being abducted or molested and spare workers from these devastating crimes, employers will consider them well worth the effort. EA professionals looking to add value to their programs should investigate child-safety education and crisis prevention.

References

U.S. Department of Justice. 2002. "Internet Crimes Against Children." Office for Victims of Crime Bulletin, February.

Sedlack, Andrea J., David Finkelhor, Heather Hammer, and Dana J. Schultz. "National Estimates of Missing Children: An Overview," in National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Programs.

Sue Andriola is national coordinator for community outreach for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (www.ncmec.org), which provides on-site prevention workshops and corporate volunteer initiatives to help raise awareness of the importance of better protecting children.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Andriola, Sue
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
Words:1361
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