By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

Perhaps nothing is more terrifying to a parent than to think that one day their child may be abducted. Unfortunately, almost daily we hear reports of missing children or near abductions. Though not every parent has to face the experience of having a child go missing, it is important to teach your child to be cautious without causing her to become too afraid or anxious

According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Justice, 90 percent of all missing children have misunderstood directions, miscommunicated their plans, gotten lost or run away. Of the 10 percent of missing children that are abducted, the majority have been kidnapped by a family member in a custody dispute. In most cases of abduction, the child knows the kidnapper. About 100 children per year are abducted in the stereotypical way that is portrayed on television and in movies. Only about half of these children come home.

Here are some tips to help keep your children safe:

· Know where your children are at all times and whom they are with.

· Teach your child to stay in a group when he goes anywhere.

· Check with your local law enforcement to see if there are any sexual offenders in your area.

· Keep custody documents in order.

· Have ID photos taken of your child every six months, and have your child fingerprinted. Local police departments often sponsor fingerprinting (and sometimes DNA collection) programs.

· Keep your child’s medical records and dental records up-to-date.

· Teach your child online safety and be aware of any “friends” she may be talking to on the Internet.

· Set boundaries for your child concerning where he may go. Supervise him when at the mall, movie theater, park or public restrooms and when fundraising door-to-door.

· Never leave your child alone in a stroller or shopping cart.

· Choose babysitters and day care providers carefully.

· Talk to your child about strangers. Make sure she knows not to take anything from a stranger or go anywhere with someone she does not know, even if the person says that he knows you.

· Tell your child to run away and scream if someone follows him or tries to force him into a car.

· Teach her to say no to anyone who tries to make her do something that you’ve said is wrong.

· Tell your child to tell you or another trusted adult if a stranger asks personal questions, exposes himself or does anything to make him feel uncomfortable. Tell your child that it’s OK to tell you, even if the other person has made him promise not to or threatened him.

· Teach your child always to ask permission before leaving the house, yard or play area or going into someone’s house.

· Teach your child that an adult should not walk up to a child and ask for directions or help finding a lost pet.

· Make sure that your child knows her address and phone number and who to contact in case of an emergency.

If you discover your child is missing, try to remain calm and contact your local law enforcement immediately – the first few hours are critical. Obtain a case number and ask who will be handling the investigation. Ask that your child be entered into the National Crime Information Center. Provide the police with a recent photo of your child, a description of when and where you last saw him and what he was wearing. In addition to contacting the police, you may consider calling the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (800-843-5678) for support and advice.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

 The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.