There has been a lot of interest in the issue of whether children should be left home alone and of how old children should be before they can be left alone. The interest is shown by the number of parents from all over the country who have come to this Blog seeking information. This a a rather long post, so I want to let all of my readers know that there is a checklist for you to use to assess whether a child is ready to be left home along.
We discussed this topic on the State Bar of Michigan Listserv not long ago. Several family lawyers cited examples of why children should not be waiting alone at a bus stop for even 5 minutes just so Mom (or Dad) could get to work on time.
Then came this chilling reminder of two lost boys. One of them, Ben Ownby, 13 years old, was forcibly kidnapped in January 2007 in Missouri as he was walking home alone from his school bus stop. An anonymous call led to the recovery of Ben 4 days later and also the recovery of Shawn Hornbeck, now 16, who was snatched in 2002 while riding his bike and held for more than four years. Both had been held in captivity and sexually abused by Devlin.
What more can be said? This isn’t an Ozzie and Harriet world. Parents all want to keep their children safe. Parents need to safeguard their children. Even though state laws might lead one to conclude that 11 or 12 is the appropriate age when children can be left alone, clearly that was not the case for Ben and Shawn.
You can read the New York Times story here: Man Sentenced to Life for Kidnapping Boy. A one-time registration may be required.
Here are some FAQs and some safety tips for parents and children:
Michigan's Missing Child Information Clearinghouse
Michigan's Missing Child Information Clearinghouse (MMCIC) was established under HB4482, 5/20/95. The clearinghouse is housed within the Prevention Services Section of the Special Operations Division of the Michigan Department of State Police. The clearinghouse operates as an information and referral resource to the public, local law enforcement, and other state clearinghouses. It provides information and guidance, where possible, to these entities.
The clearinghouse oversees and ensures that law enforcement agencies follow the mandates of the law as it relates to the immediate entry of missing children (less than 17 years) into Michigan's Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN)/National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. It establishes that parents have followed all the proper procedures for reporting a missing child to their local police department and getting said child entered into LEIN/NCIC. Reports of runaway, parentally abducted or otherwise missing or exploited children are made directly to local law enforcement agencies. Information on the sighting, or possible sighting, of a missing child may be made directly to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST. Click here to visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children www.missingkids.com (NCMEC) web site.
A study conducted by the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) of 1,214 juvenile kidnappings from jurisdictions in twelve states in 1997, revealed the following information:
* Kidnapping makes up less than 2% of all violent crime against juveniles reported to police.
* Based on the identity of the perpetrator, there are three distinct type of kidnapers; kidnapping by a relative of a victim or "family kidnapping" (49%), kidnapping by an acquaintance of the victim or "acquaintance kidnapping" (27%), and kidnapping by a stranger to the victim or "stranger kidnapping" (24%).
* Family kidnapping is primarily committed by parents, involves a larger percentage of female perpetrators (43%) than other types of kidnapping offenses, occurs more frequently to children under the age of six, equally victimizes juveniles of both sexes, and most often originates in the home.
* Acquaintance kidnapping involves a high percentage of juvenile perpetrators, has the largest percentage of female and teenage victims, and is more often associated with other crimes like sexual and physical assault. Acquaintance kidnapping occurs in homes and residences, and has the highest percentage of injured victims.
* Stranger kidnapping victimizes more females than males, occurs primarily at outdoor locations, victimizes both teenagers and school-aged children, is associated with sexual assaults in the case of female victims and robberies in the case of male victims (although not exclusively so), and is the type of kidnapping most likely to involve the use of a firearm.
According to the State of Washington's Office of the Attorney General, "the murder of a child who is abducted…. is a rare event. There are estimated to be about 100 such incidents in the United States each year, less than one-half of one percent of the murders committed;" however, "74% of abducted children who are murdered are dead within 3 hours of the abduction."
In October of 2002, the United States Department of Justice released the second annual National Incident Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children. The data from this report spanned the years 1997 to 1999. When examining non-family abduction of children, key findings from the study revealed:
* During the study year, there was an estimated 115 stereotypical kidnappings, defined as abductions perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance and involving a child who was transported 50 or more miles, detained overnight, held for ransom or with intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.
* In 40% of the stereotypical kidnappings, the child was killed, and in another 4%, the child was not recovered.
* There were an estimated 58,200 child victims of non-family abductions, defined more broadly to include all non-family perpetrators (friends, acquaintances, strangers) and crimes involving lesser amounts of forced movement or detention in addition to the more serious crimes entailed in stereotypical kidnappings.
* 57% of the children abducted by a non-family perpetrator were missing from caretakers for at least 1 hour, and the police were contacted to help locate 21% of the abducted children.
* Teenage children were by far the most frequent victims of both stereotypical kidnappings and non-family abductions.
* Nearly half of all child victims of stereotypical kidnappings and non-family abductions were sexually assaulted by the perpetrator.
The Michigan State Police suggest the follow safety tips to help parents to keep their children safe:
* Parents should take an active role in their children's lives. Parents should know where their children are at all times, and be familiar with their children's friends and daily activities.
* Parents should teach their children to ask for permission from them first before going anywhere or with anyone.
* Parents should teach their children to use the "buddy system" and to never travel alone.
* Parents should teach their children that if something makes them feel uneasy or uncomfortable, they should get away quickly and tell their parents or a trusted adult about what had happened.
* Parents should teach their children that it is okay to be suspicious of an adult asking for assistance, many child predators use this technique to isolate and distract a possible child victim.
* Parents should assure their children that they have the right to say "no" when they sense something is wrong.
* Children should know their home address and telephone number, and know how to contact their parents if there is an emergency (for example; a relative's telephone number or the parent's work telephone number).
* The parents should devise a code word that the child can learn in case there is an emergency, and a trusted adult needs to contact the child. The child should be taught that the code word is special and should not be shared with their friends.
* Parents should teach their children how to dial "911" when asking for help in an emergency. Parents should teach their children that when they are talking on the telephone to the "911" operator, they should tell the person their name, speak loudly, slowly and clearly, and not to hang-up.
The Michigan State Police and Michigan's Missing Children Information Clearinghouse has several programs to assist law enforcement when investigating incidents of child abduction; LOCATER, Amber Alert of Michigan, and the Eagle Eye/Child Net program.
Eagle Eye/Child Net Program - A partnership with the United States Postal Service that utilizes postal carriers in the search for missing children. Postal carriers are provided a missing child flier, and while they are on their normal delivery routes they search for the child.
LOCATER - "Lost Child Alert Technology Resource" will soon be operational to assist law enforcement in Michigan find missing children. LOCATER is an advanced computer system with software that creates posters of missing children for distribution nation-wide.
Amber Alert of Michigan - The Michigan Amber Alert plan is a partnership between law enforcement and the media to help in the immediate dissemination of information to the public about an endangered missing child. Amber Alert of Michigan is supported by the Michigan Department of State Police, Michigan Department of Transportation, Michigan Sheriff's Association, Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.
By working cooperatively and diligently to find Michigan's missing children, the Michigan State Police and Michigan's Missing Children Information Clearinghouse has taken a leading role in law enforcement. Armed with the technology to fight child abduction the Michigan Department of State Police is assisting families to reunite with their lost children.
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