Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holiday Stress

As Christmas and other Holiday seasons wind down and the New Year approaches, we will be experiencing the familiar "let down" from the holiday highs and may even be feeling a bit depressed. Everyone's gifts have been opened, there are no surprises left. Family and friends have gone home and those who were able to take a brief vacation will be heading back to work. Children will be going back to school. The happy glow of sharing gifts and enjoying family time will all fade away as we settle back into our normal routines. Many of us are left feeling sad and lonely during this transition so take extra time to check in on your friends and loved ones as the holidays come to a close. Be sure to also check in on those who have lost someone close to them or who are struggling with a missing child or adult at this time. Make time to reach out to other volunteers who are working on missing children and adult cases as well.

The hustle and bustle of shopping and visiting with family and friends, and getting caught up in the festivities is supposed to be a welcome distraction from our stressful, daily grind of work and regular routines. However, it can become so busy and hectic that it is not a vacation at all but rather just adds to our stress and leaves us feeling run-down, even exhausted.

It should be an escape for those of us who spend much of our time searching for missing children. Yet, most of us do not take the holidays off from our searching. In fact, we spend even more time on line in social networking circles running down more leads and scrambling to get posters out even as we are mailing our Christmas cards.

We do this because we can't imagine what it's like for those families whose children are missing during this holiday season. Every day must be a nightmare, but Christmas has got to be especially hard because it is that magical time for children. Every child should be home for Christmas, decorating the tree, making sugar cookies and excitedly waiting to open presents from Santa. Tragically, we know all too well that many missing children will not be opening such presents this year. Yet, we hope they will be here to open them next year, and that is what we work for, that is what keeps us going.

Let us look toward the New Year and pledge to work even harder on behalf of these missing children but also look for new outlets for our stress, new ways to cope with the pressure of what we do. Talk more about it with your family, friends and colleagues. Open dialogue where you previously were reluctant to do so. Be more proactive about this very important work that we do and share your questions and concerns with others.

God Bless and Happy New Year.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Safety Tips for Young Children

Once again, it is time to go over the obvious and not-so-obvious ways to keep our children safe during the holiday shopping season.

Children have such a tendency to become distracted, no matter how many times we tell them to pay attention. As with anything else, we must lead by example here. Be aware of your surroundings and follow common sense guidelines for your own safety.

When you take small children shopping, they often get tired or hungry early and may add more drama to the experience than you would like. They can also be prone to wander, be curious and cause a little mischief. It is better to leave them in the care of a trusted relative or friend during the rush of the holiday season if at all possible.

If you must take small children, keep them at your side AT ALL TIMES. Our precious little ones become the target of would-be evildoers, especially this time of year. We must keep our guard up and teach the little ones that there are bad people out there and they must stay with mommy at all times. This is not negotiable and you must be firm and consistent about it.

With children slightly older, they will want some independence and really push those barriers. You must keep in mind that now is not the time to allow them to move into the unknown alone. Do not allow them to go unescorted to the restroom, food court, toy isle or video arcade. Do not allow them to go by themselves to "check out" something cool they saw in another shop.

Do not, under any circumstances, allow your child to go alone to the car, nor should the child be left alone in the car. You should not allow even 2 small children to go alone to the car or be left alone in the car. Safety in numbers does not include 2 small children alone in a vehicle.

Teach your children to stay with you and that if you are ever somehow separated, they must know their name, phone number and address. They should go to a person of authority at the store and tell that person to contact you. They must know it is okay to ask for help from someone who works for the store as a clerk, security person, etc. Point these people out to your child so he or she will recognize them if needed.

Tell your children to inform you if anyone is bothering them, talking to them, or following them. That is important.

While these are tips that many will find familiar, it is important to go over them and keep safety at the top of our holiday "to do" lists.

Holiday Safety Tips for the Kids at Heart

During this holiday season, keep in mind that it's not just the little ones who need to be careful. As independent and strong as we are, we are still kids at heart. We must remember to avoid the holiday distractions that prevent us from using our common sense. We have to stay aware of our surroundings and follow the time-tested methodology for staying safe out there.

Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to people and vehicles around you. Be cautious of people following you or strangers approaching you for any reason.

Make sure that you park in well-lit, well-populated areas that are close to the shopping center entrance. Shop 'til you drop can become more than a catch-phrase if you park a half-mile from the mall.

Shop early and do not stay out after dark if possible.

If possible, take someone with you. That old saying about safety in numbers is true, and there is no shame in choosing to have someone go along rather than going it alone.

If you must go alone, make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to return. Take your cell phone with you, use it.

Carry your driver's license/ID card, and credit/debit cards on your person rather than in a purse or other handbag. Do not carry cash unless absolutely necessary. If you must carry cash, keep it in your front pocket. Do not advertise that you are carrying cash.

Keep your keys handy. Do not make yourself a target by digging through your pockets or shopping bags looking for your keys.

Do not overburden yourself with bulky bags and too many packages. These can get in the way and make seeing around you more difficult. They can also prevent you from making a quick escape should that become necessary.

Dress casually and comfortably. This is wise on several fronts, but you do not want to be caught trying to run  - either to a good sale or from an assailant - when you are wearing heels.

Do not wear expensive jewelry. Again, it is not wise to advertise in this regard.

Remember, there are people out there who will be on the lookout for more than a good sale item this Christmas season, so let's watch our backs and stay safe out there...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Holidays Are Approaching...Let's Make it a Season for Miracles

The holiday season is rapidly approaching, and with it comes the familiar, warming comfort that envelopes us and makes us nostalgic, more open and inviting towards one another. It is a time in which we tend to let go of animosity that we may be harboring and embrace peace and family.

For those who have a missing loved one, however, it is also a time of bitter loss and constant reminders of their absence. Someone is missing from her regular place at the usually festive dinner table, there are no presents under the tree with her name on them, no pretty crafts or decorations made at school, no Christmas pageants to attend to watch her sing and dance. When a child is missing, every day is a struggle and requires the "one foot in front of the other" mentality just to go on at times, but the Christmas season can become a particularly cruel and difficult time to endure. It is critical that we reach out to those who are suffering at this time and assure them that we will continue searching, continue fighting for justice for their loved one. They need comfort and support now, and they need to know that we are still there, still searching.

It can be a little note or email, a text or tweet...something. Remember, what we are doing for others is reinforcing ourselves as well. Helping others is uplifting, especially during the holidays. If you are on a case now, reach out to your team with that can-do attitude and maybe something special planned for the holiday time, a new search idea perhaps. If you are not on a case now, find one. Be proactive, start a new campaign for a missing child or a cold case. Pass out flyers, start a facebook page. DO something. It will all come back to you, believe me. This is a time for miracles. You could be that miracle for some lost child out there and the family who so desperately wants them home.

We also must take advantage of the holiday season and the hopeful, inspiring message it provides. Let's focus on being hopeful and faithful that our search efforts will pay off. It is easy to be negative and pesamistic. However, let's face it, no one does what we do because it is easy. This holiday season, let's join together and double our efforts to find these children, think of new places to look and new ways to find them. Be effective, be proactive, and most of all, be hopeful.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Watch "Every Parent's Nightmare" 7pmEST/4pmPST on HLN

"Every Parent's Nightmare" is airing on Thursday and Friday HLN as part of the "Issues" Series with Jane Velez-Mitchell.
http://images.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/issues.with.jane/

This show is focusing on parents grieving for the loss of their children and yet turning that grief into action for the sake of our children.

It is difficult but we must face these issues head-on if we are to move forward. After all, isn't it time that there should be no more legislation named after abducted and murdered children? Think about that.

We must be proactive and put pressure on our government from the local level upward to insist on putting children's safety first. We must also remember that their safety begins at home and we must educate ourselves and our children and continue to do so as they grow older and encounter new challenges.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Emotional Challenges of Joining Physical Searches for Missing Children

I recently read an article, "Searching with Dread for Missing Children," written by Bob Greene, a CNN Contributor. In the article, Greene discusses some of the emotional challenges that we face as searchers. Although I would be more pleased if the author had expanded his writing to list the many times that missing children have actually been abducted or wandered off and had been rescued, I am pleased that the opinion from his viewpoint of the average searcher is a positive one and he has painted us in a positive light. I do get the sense, however, that perhaps he thinks we may be misguided even fooled at times but yet he seems to admire our tenacity nonetheless.

The article echoes many of the comments made here and in many forums in the past concerning the hopeful attitude that we must consistently maintain. While the article is focused mainly on physical searches for missing children, I found it relevant in relation to the reasoning behind the hopeful attitude we embrace while searching for missing children in any situation.

Most of us have been involved in searching for missing children via poster distribution, mass mailing, email campaigns, facebook/social networking, etc. Some of us have had the opportunity to be involved in the hands-on physical searches as well. When you are physically out there searching for clues of a child who is missing, it changes the dynamic of the search for you personally. You become intimately and actively engaged in the effort and both physically and emotionally invested in its outcome.

Many searches involve a child that has wandered off or somehow become separated from his parents. In some cases, even after extended periods of time, due to the undaunting efforts of the persistent and diligent searchers, the child is found safe and unharmed. This is rewarding beyond words but can leave searchers physically and emotionally overwhelmed. Unfortunately, many endings are not happy ones and searchers are either devastated at finding a deceased child or left in a hellish limbo when neither the child nor any clues or evidence of him is found. 

At times, when we are searching for a missing child we may be doing so under a cloud of suspicion over one or both of the child's parents or someone connected to loved ones.  Alternatively, we may learn from the outset that law enforcement suspects the child was abducted and they are canvassing the neighborhoods and interviewing sexual predators and offenders that reside in or frequent the area. When a child is missing under these circumstances, there is always an added sense of urgency. We must do our best to separate ourselves from these details, however, and stay focused on the task before us.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the reason a child is missing, when we are searching for clues to find that child or evidence of him, we do so focused on the hope that the child is alive and that we will get to him in time. We have to maintain a sense of optimism because that is what drives us forward. Without hope, we simply do not have the same mindset and motivation to keep us going, searching for that lost child.

You can volunteer to join in a search for a missing child on a single case, as a basically untrained but dedicated volunteer, or you can become a trained Search and Rescue member as an individual or part of a team. If you are interested in pursuing Search and Rescue further, I would suggest contacting the National Association for Search and Rescue via their website. They are a wonderful organization that I am proud to be a member of and they offer a wide range of training and continuing education for all levels from beginners to experts.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

HALLOWEEN SAFETY- It's Up to You

It is that time of year again....the spooky season. For most of us because of what we do, the world is a scary place enough as it is. Still, this is a really fun time for the children and a chance to escape from reality for a little while for all of us. To make this an especially fun time, we must take precautions and focus on safety first.

The most important thing we can do as parents to keep our children safe is to plan ahead and be prepared. That is true of any situation but especially so during Halloween. Consequently, we need to plan this Halloween weekend in advance.

As we plan ahead, we must remember that costume safety is one of the most important aspects of Halloween. We spend so much time and money often looking for the perfect outfit for the child that we often overlook safety precautions. Check that all parts of the costume are secure and not too restrictive. Insist that your child can move quickly and easily in the costume and that there is nothing too tightly around the neck or face that may cause difficulty breathing or seeing. Many masks can be so restrictive that the child cannot breath, see or hear properly. Make sure that the child has either glow sticks, reflective tape or a hand-held light that will make him easily visible to traffic. Children get so excited and caught up in the moment on this special night that they often forget to be careful crossing the street. It is your responsibility to remind them and to be there, or have an older, responsible child there when the younger children forget so you can protect them.

Plan a specific route. Know the trick-or-treating schedule for your community, the times, and who and where the sexual predators are in your neighborhoods. Violent predators are required to turn their porch lights out on Halloween night and not answer the door. However, it is prudent not to leave the safety of our children at the mercy of these individuals and we must, therefore, know who and where they are ahead of time. The safety of your children begins with one person: you. The next line of defense is your child, so you must prepare that child with the rules and insist that he follow them, no exceptions.

For older children who do not plan to trick-or-treat, they will often have a school dance or function. This Halloween is on a weekend, so that may not be an option. Perhaps your older child will be planning to go to a party with friends at a home. I would only allow this if you personally know the child and the parent of the home in question. If so, insist that you talk personally with the adult that will be on hand. Ensure there will be supervision the entire time, no alcohol, etc. Have a solid pick-up time that allows for your child to have a good time but is not so long that many will have left the party and your child may be alone.

Still another common plan for older kids is to see a movie, usually a horror film, on Halloween. This is acceptable if the children or going as a group or your child will be with at least 1 or 2 friends. You want to make sure the kids get safely to and from the theatre. Do not allow your child to simply go to the mall, wander around a few hours, see a movie then plan to meet you a few blocks down the street at some later point. There is too much left to chance in this scenario. Have a specific drop off and pick up location, preferably at the theatre itself. If the child is old enough to drive herself, insist that she park at the theatre, under a street light. Remind her and her friends not to wander around but to go directly from her car to inside the theatre and vice versa when she leaves. Make sure she has her cell phone (with her and fully charged) and insist that she call you when she gets to the theatre and when she is leaving.

If your children will be going for the traditional trick-or-treating, there are several safety precautions that you must take. Design a specific route based on areas you are familiar with that are well lit and not isolated. If your older child will be coming along to help, instruct them to carry a flashlight, stay away from dimly lit areas, only visit homes with porch lights on, stay away from cars and keep the smaller children in view and close by at all times. Make sure the older child escorts the younger children across streets, up to doors, everywhere. Older kids will often get distracted (texting, talking on cell phones, etc.). Make it clear to the older children that they are responsible for the safety of the younger kids and that is their number one priority. In turn, instruct the younger children to mind the older kids and you expect them to be on their best behavior. Make sure the older kids have their cell phones handy, charged up, and will be checking in often. Give them a specific time to be back to a specific meeting point. Do not allow the children to take any shortcuts. They must stay on the route and in well lit areas.

Follow along with the children as they are out on this festive night. For older kids, they may try to discourage this. Insist the children go in numbers and stay together. If an older child is not with the younger ones escorting them from house-to-house, it is up to you.  As you escort the children, make sure when people open their doors to the trick-or-treaters, they see you close by. Stay visible, both to your child and to other people. This is true even if you take the child to an event. It is important that your child and others know you are there, you are watching and paying attention.

Alternatively, you can take your children to a sponsored/sanctioned Halloween event either at a school, church, library, etc. Many communities are encouraging people to seek out these alternative choices to traditional trick-or-treating. You will find this to be a safe and fun alternative for the children where they will be showered with accolades for their clever costumes, play games, stay warm, and enjoy plenty of hot chocolate and goodies.

Speaking of those goodies, we must always remember that we need to have the candy and treats checked before the children try to eat them. Your local fire department or police department will probably have a special area where they will be checking the children's treats. Many of the sponsored events will have a special kiosk where the treats are checked as well. If you cannot find such help in your area, you can check the items yourself. Do not allow your child to eat anything that appears to have been opened or tampered with in any way (faded wrappers, wrappers with holes or tears or anything that appears to have been re-wrapped) nor should they eat anything that was homemade. Make sure that all wrappers are in tact and original. If you child has any food allergies, take that extra caution that you undoubtedly take already and closely inspect the items. As the saying goes, "When in doubt, throw it out."

Lastly, remind your child and other children that may be going along not to talk to people they do not know. Tell them not to go near cars. Remind them to stay together and that you will be close by. There will be people admiring their costumes and that is expected, but your child needs to know that they are not supposed to get close to people on the street or in homes or in cars that they do not know.

If we are all prepared and take precautions, this will be a safe and happy Halloween for all of us. Let's enjoy this Halloween, keep it safe and make it fun!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Volunteering is rewarding, but always comes with a price...

Post by Adrian, 10/20/10 from "Volunteers, in Their Own Words"

I have been involved with raising funds for children's charities for many years through a car club I belong to. However, the chairman of the club, Nigel Nessling and myself became further involved at a deeper and more personal level since Madeleine McCann disappeared. We both followed the case on-line in support of the McCann family's plight.

The reaction to our support was profound. Both myself and Nigel were stalked and intimidated by those who disliked McCann supporters at a level neither of us would have ever anticipated anyone would sink to. This of course only scratched at the surface of what the McCanns receive beyond the hurt and pain from not knowing what happened to their daughter.

Since then we became active for a UK charity supporting the parents of missing and exploited children and a support group helping the McCanns find Madeleine. This has proved to be uplifting and saddening at the same time. Talking to several parents, the one thing that keeps coming to the surface is the lack of support for people with missing young ones. Very evident and common is the finite funding law enforcement agencies are willing to spend before tucking cases under the carpet. This to an unattached observer can be logical, but to the parents it is closure on a mystery that will never be closed until the missing person is found. Emotionally and gut-wrenchingly irreconcilable. Yet, helping these people, at any level, is satisfying and good food for the soul.

The search continuity is left to the parents once law enforcement reaches a stop. This is where volunteers come in. At any level of help, volunteers are most welcome and appreciated. There are many practical ways to help families find their missing loved ones and with the help of sites such as Stacy's, many resources are shared and information is made available to build upon.

If there was one piece of advice I would share to make helping easier, it would be to keep off the forums arguing about specific cases. Too late for myself and Nigel to a degree,we will just have to grow thicker skins as the stalking, intimidation and defamation for supporting is relentless.

- Adrian Upshon, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

NEW PAGES ADDED FOR LINKS, RESOURCES, CASE UPDATES

UPDATE: I have added several pages to my blog. You can now see the following pages:

HOME
ABOUT ME
VOLUNTEER RESOURCES
TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES
LINKS
ACTIVE CASES
COLD CASES
OUT OF TRAGEDY
SHARE YOUR STORIES
VOLUNTEERS...IN THEIR OWN WORDS

The Volunteer Resources page is a listing of various resources for volunteers who are searching for missing children and adults. I have also set-up a Training page for your information and reference. If anyone is interested in the training, please contact me.

The Links page contains a wealth of important contact/resource information for your perusal. It is also a source of information for parents of missing children and others.

The Active Cases will be an ongoing process that I will update regularly. Please check back often.

If you have a case that you would like me to add to the Active Cases or Cold Cases pages please let me know.

The Out of Tragedy section deals with people who have turned their personal tragedies into something positive to help others. There are 3 such stories listed here initially: Amy St. Laurent, Adam Walsh and Amber Hagerman.

I will be updating the above pages on a regular basis. Please visit the "Share Your Stories" page and email your personal stories. I would like to hear the insights you have gained from working on various cases. Please share your thoughts with other volunteers so we can all benefit from your experience.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Staying Focused and Hopeful...Not Jaded or Cynical

As you all know, tragic news has become part of our routine here as we continue our searching for missing children. We have learned to accept this reality as part of the territory. We must not allow this, however, to make us jaded and cynical. We need to learn to turn these tragedies into something productive, something constructive that will motivate us and keep us moving forward. I believe that is critical to our emotional health and absolutely essential to continuing our work.

I've said many times that it is normal for us to have our down times and low points, especially upon hearing horrible news about a child being recovered under terrible circumstances. We are often there from the beginning and even while we know in the back of our collective mind that the outcome can be a bad one, we hold out hope until the end that the child will be found alive. When that is not the case, it is a second tragedy when hope is lost along with the child. It makes it difficult to hope the next time, harder to believe that the next one will make it. Yet, we must.

We struggle with this over and over, but we must continue to hope while we brace ourselves for the worst. Against the outcry of those who would sway us, we must press on. The next child, and there will always be one, is going to need us focused and ready. If we allow our judgment to become clouded with doubt, we are going to miss something. We must stay sharp and attentive to every detail, covering all bases as we move forward. Our mission is to stay focused on each child as we go, starting fresh and not carrying the emotional baggage of all of the cases before. We must bring the thoughts of those children along with us, to remind us of why we are here and motivate us to keep going.

The bottom line is that we all struggle with what we have to deal with on a regular basis. Most of us will not need clinical help and many of us have learned to adapt to our situations and become more resilient out of necessity. However, we can all benefit from learning how to cope with tragedy in new ways.

Some of us may need additional help and that is to be expected when you consider the thousands of volunteers that are out there searching for missing children. If you or a colleague is struggling to cope with the tragic loss of a missing child, you are not alone. If you feel it is too overwhelming for you and you need help, please call a local psychologist or therapist and get the help you need. Talk to a professional, ask a friend to go with you if you do not want to go alone. I have placed some information on the RESOURCES page that may help you and there are many other resources available out there. Depression is a serious condition and you do not need to try to handle it alone.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Focus on Encouragement

We have all found ourselves at least at one point feeling beyond frustrated that a case has not moved forward, not moved fast enough or worse, that not enough was being done to bring a missing child home.

As many of us have worked in several different groups and teams, no doubt many of you have encountered in-fighting and internal strife amongst our volunteer groups. It seems odd that we would result to turning on each other when we have all come together in this common cause. However, it's only natural that people working together under high stress situations would occasionally lash out at each other in response to this pressure and stress that the anxiety brings. It's important to remember that this is normal and we must recognize it for what it is.

We must make every effort to control our frustration and channel that energy into something productive, thinking of new and innovative ways to help in the search for missing children. What can we do that we have not tried? Who might know something that we had not previously considered? We must constantly keep our focus on the child. It is very easy to become angry about the fact that the child is missing, endangered, and a positive outcome much less a resolution of any kind is not guaranteed. As human beings, we do not like such things to be out of our control. Yet so many times this is the case with missing children. Consequently, when we have some control over the situation, i.e. we are leading a team at the direction of investigators or we have begun our own search team and are preparing tasks for others, we have the tendency to grab all the control we possibly can. This gives us a sense of security and comfort about the direction the case is going in. However, our ascertiveness can be seen by others as aggressive, overbearing behavior that can lead to volunteers feeling less important and not appreciated for all they do and the ideas they have to contribute.

We must remember that all of us are here to help the children and we ALL have something to offer. Encourage the sharing of new ideas and reach out to each other for input. Do not simply pass out tasks with a mere "thanks" and then lend a deaf ear when someone is trying to make a new suggestion. It is counterproductive and quite frankly, it is bad business. The old phrase "you will draw more flies with honey than with vinegar" has been time tested because it is TRUE. Anyone can bark out orders and push paper. A real leader will encourage her team to reach the goals she has set for them and inspire them to reach the goals they set for themselves. This will lead to more volunteers coming on-board, more of them staying on-board, and more children being found. More happy endings, that is why we are all here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Caring for Ourselves First...Our Emotional Well Being

Whether you have been volunteering for a long time or just began your journey, you have undoubtedly been told at some point, "If you don't take care of yourself, you're not going to be any good to anyone." As parents, we are often scolded by our peers because we spend so much time taking care of our children's needs that we often neglect our own. We accept that as part of the deal, right? However, when it's another person's child, a missing one at that who is undoubtedly in danger, we tend to feel an incredible sense of urgency. "This child needs me- now! If I don't devote every possible second to searching...something horrible is going to happen!" Then the next thought is, "My child is safe...what about this poor woman? Her child is gone and she doesn't know when or if she will see her again...I've got to do something!" We recognize the guilt we feel that our children are safe and someone else's child is not. We have all felt that deep worry and sometimes guilt, time and time again. This emotional roller coaster that we got on some time ago never stops, it's just like the mail.

We often talk to each other about how we need to take better care of our physical health. Our chat rooms and facebook pages are riddled with accounts of getting fit, eating right, trying to get better sleep. What about our mental and emotional well being? Even among our tightest knit groups-and there are some really good ones out there-there is a reluctancy to talk about our biggest challenge of all...depression and anxiety.

We have to learn new ways to deal with the anxiety that our worrying tends to breed. We must learn to face our worry over the possible outcome of each case, to deal with it, compartmentalize it. If not, we run the risk of becoming obsessed with anxiety and unable to function, unable to help that missing child or the next one that is sure to follow.

Recognizing when we are giving in to anxiety and becoming fatigued is key. We must watch for the signs of depression and withdrawal among our colleagues and in ourselves. This is not simply a matter of being "a little down" as is normal in the course of our daily activities. I'm referring to actively withdrawing from our daily routines, becoming so depressed that what began as a sincere concern for a stranger has turned into an overwhelming sense of doom that consumes your thoughts regularly. I'm talking about not being able to function in your normal routines, no longer caring about your appearance, your job, your family and friends. I'm referring to no longer enjoying hobbies and interests that use to occupy at least a moderate amount of your time.

If you notice signs of depression and fatigue in yourself or your colleagues, tell someone and get help. Many times, we think of ourselves as the ones out there helping others, but there is NO shame in saying that we need help sometimes, too.

If you notice a colleague hasn't been acting like her "normal, cheery self" or isn't calling, texting, chatting, emailing you like usual; if you think she may be turning to alcohol or drugs to "numb" the emotions she is facing; if you don't see her on the regular facebook, twitter and blogs that she normally visits...say something, ask the question, "Can we talk about this?" Be proactive and don't dismiss it if initially she seems fine. Use humor, your close friendship, your concern for her, whatever you can. Be tactful, but be persuasive.

We all know how difficult it is for us to talk with outsiders about what we do. Consequently, you may be the only line of defense for a friend or colleague who is suffering from depression and anxiety. As we are there for strangers, we must be there for each other.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dealing with Personal Tragedy While Helping Others

Most of us are maintaining very busy schedules and yet make time to assist on multiple missing person cases, and many of us have done so for years. Consequently, it is only natural that we have encountered our own personal setbacks and low points over these time periods. Likewise, we have also witnessed the heartache of family members and fellow searchers over many tragic endings to the searches we have been involved in.

It's important to note that we must recognize we are human, we will have personal issues that must be dealt with, and that is normal. Learning how to bounce back from such setbacks so that we can get back to searching is not so obvious. It can also help us to better support the families of those who face such heartache.

I recall a very critical moment in my life many years ago when I learned that my boyfriend at the time had been killed in a car accident. It felt as though someone had literally punched me in the chest, knocking the wind out of me. I felt as though I was still, in the middle of the eye of a hurricane, while everyone and everything continued around me as if nothing had happened. I remember thinking, "What is wrong with everyone? Don't they understand that everything is different now? Why is everything going on like normal?" I did not know how to deal with my grief, but I NEEDED and WANTED to talk about it. Unfortunately for me, no one else did. He was young and no one wanted to think about his death, to talk about it, or be reminded of it. It was a very lonely place to be.

It is the same for any of us when tragedy strikes, even if it is a missing child that we never met but have come to know over weeks, months or even years of searching. We get to know the families many times. We feel a part of what is happening, and that is normal. When the outcome is a particularly horrific one, it is even more brutal. It is senseless, and we often feel we could have done more. What we forget sometimes is how we can continue to support the family when the outcome is horrible. They need our support at that terrible time, more than ever.

It's important that we learn the skills to assist each other through these difficult times, and it is equally important that we are there for the families, in joy and sorrow.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Resilience...We need to be strong for one another, now more than ever...

Having worked as a poster partner and volunteer for national missing children organizations, as well as individual groups and cases, I have seen my share of heartbreaking and horrific outcomes to missing children cases. The scars left behind are deep and maintaining a level of optimism over the long term cases can be overwhelming and both physically and mentally exhausting. Holding on to hope in the face of no real evidence to support it requires a persistent determination that is as demanding as it is daunting. However, it is something that we must do...because the only other option- giving up - is one that is no viable option at all. Many people have asked me over the years, "Why do you do this? How can you invest so much of yourself into the lives of people you don't even know?" My response has always been, "How can I not?" Every moment that I am not doing something to help, is a moment that I have lost and cannot get back.If I keep trying, keep searching, keep thinking of new ways to get the word out of a missing child, that one tip-that one person who sees that poster or reads that Amber Alert...that could make all the difference. One moment to me can change a lifetime for someone else. That's why we all do it...we simply cannot afford not to...

Trying to juggle a full time job and family while trying to find missing children is not an easy task. When I get worn down from the stress of it all, trying to talk about the situation to people outside of the loop who do not see these cases and come to know these children can be almost as difficult. People don't want to talk about the horrible things that happen to missing children...They do not want to speak of the evil that men do. I have come to accept that reality but was many years in denial. I use to think that I wasn't wording it right, or was not articulating the facts properly, or was too blunt. The cold hard truth of it is that engaging people in conversation about the horrific outcomes of child exploitation, trafficking, abduction and murder is almost too much for the average person to bear.

So where do we go for support? Who do we go to when we NEED to just talk about a frustrating case or our fears for a child, or more often than not, our sorrow and anguish over the discovery of another abducted and murdered child? We need to learn to REALLY be a strong support group for each other. We NEED the kind of resilience skills that can lift us up and carry us over the depths of despair in these cases so we can carry on, because carry on we must.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Public is Often Misinformed About the Missing

Often times, the public has a misguided view of not only the volunteers, but the missing children we are trying to find.


Many people misunderstand the real danger faced by children who are abducted from a noncustodial parent. It's a parent, after all, so how could we devote our resources that are already stretched too thin to concern ourselves with these cases? Anyone who has worked in this field for longer than 2 months can verify that there is a reason the abductor is a noncustodial parent, and all missing children are endangered.

People tend to categorize all runaways the same...some spoiled brat who didn't appreciate his or her parents and took off. That is not always the case. True, many missing children are runaways, but not all runaways have left voluntarily and not all runaways can easily get home. Many runaways are funneled into the sex trade industry and exploited. We must constantly work to bring awareness of this issue to the public.

Public Misconceptions About Volunteers Looking for the Missing

We all know how critical volunteer efforts are- including physical searches, poster distribution and amber alert notifications- in the search for abducted children and apprehension of the perpetrators. However, the general public has often misunderstood the very nature of what we do and who we are.

The public often erroneously assumes that there is a massive enforcement group out there of highly trained individuals skilled in law enforcement techniques and practices and working on salary who distribute the posters and hunt down the predators/abductors. While many if not all of us have acquired some investigation skills and finely tuned our attention to detail techniques, we do not have the same skill sets as trained, law enforcement personnel. While we work many times hand-in-hand with law enforcement, our roles are very distinctive. Most of us are not formally trained in the practices we employ and we do not get paid for what we do. We maintain other full-time jobs, families, and continuing education while volunteering on the side. When the average person learns of this, he is simply baffled. If you have so little free time, why would you spend it doing something like this? Shouldn't you be golfing? And for no compensation? What positive thing could you possibly get out of this? For volunteers, this line of thinking is entirely foreign to us.


Many outsiders who become distraught over the highly publicized cases they see  periodically on their nightly news programs are under the misconception that this does not happen that often. After all, if it did, wouldn't it be in the news more? The fact is that there is a non family/endangered missing abduction every 3 days in the United States. That's over 100 each year, and of those typically 3 or 4 make the evening news over the entire year. Our volunteers know all the cases, all the faces, and the posters never stop. This takes a toll on a person especially when that person has been volunteering for a long period of time. We need to learn to watch for signs of fatigue and stress from each other.

Our society has literally become so entrenched in the fast-food train of thought that the public assumes we should be able to find a missing child, apprehend the abductor and "close the case" in about the same span of time as a Law & Order Special Victims Unit episode.

We are out there searching, constantly, until days sometimes turn into weeks, months or even years. The longer it goes on, the more weary we all become. That is when we need each other the most. Unfortunately, an hour-long episode of CSI Miami might play well on prime time but it is not case in the real world. I am working on a half-dozen cases right now that involve children that were abducted over 2 years ago, and I am not alone.

The public often cannot appreciate the wide variety of volunteers from all walks of life, from many different backgrounds, who hold many different religious and political affiliations. We are scattered all of the country and even all over the world on many international cases we work on. We may not share the same ideals or even philosophies, but we come together to find missing children. We put our personal differences aside and work in an organized, professional manner to achieve this common goal. Our struggle is not without occasional differences in how a case should be managed or approached; we are human. However, at the end of the day, I would defy you to find any other group in the world that is more dedicated and more devoted than the group of individuals I am proud to work with.

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