About 1.3 million children have been reported missing this year in the United States, more than 18,000 of them in Ohio. Today, there are more than 600 children unaccounted for in this state. For those children, we must never stop asking questions, never quit pursuing leads, and never give up the search.
To safeguard the children of Ohio, my office started a Crimes Against Children Initiative in 2011 to focus on identifying, arresting and convicting people who prey on children. As part of the initiative, we formed a Crimes Against Children Unit, which receives assistance from other units at the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), and the Special Prosecutions and Crime Victim Services sections of my office. In 2014, the Crimes Against Children Unit assisted 73 law enforcement agencies in 150 cases.
In a crisis, the vast resources of law enforcement and community unite with a passion to save a missing child. From the earliest moments when a child is missing, the Crimes Against Children, Missing Persons and Intelligence units at BCI start gathering information and preparing to assist local law enforcement and the family. Once the Child Abduction Response Team (CART) is called in, coordinators summon resources and help manage the recovery of the child.
In honor of the children who are still missing, we urge teachers and parents of fifth-graders to encourage them to take part in the 2016 National Missing Children’s Day Poster Contest. The contest not only gives kids a chance to exercise their creativity, but also provides an opportunity to remind children about staying safe.
The contest, whose theme is “Bring Our Missing Children Home,” is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice. Teachers should have their students create posters based on the theme and mail a winning entry from each class to the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) by March 1.
A panel of judges from the Amber Alert Steering Committee and my office will chose the top three Ohio posters. They will be judged on creativity, reflection of the contest theme, and design originality. The winners and their parents and teachers will be invited to Columbus to meet me and receive their awards. The first-place entry will be forwarded to compete in the national contest. The winner of the national contest will travel in May to Washington, D.C., to participate in the National Missing Children’s Day ceremony.
Of course, parents and teachers can do a lot to keep children safe, and should spend time talking to kids about safety. Among topics of conversation, adults can remind kids that if approached by a stranger, a child should:
Make a commotion; yell “No!” or “Help!”
Keep away from a person approaching in a car.
Take suspicious situations seriously, and don’t be afraid to hurt someone’s feelings by running away or screaming.
Try to pay attention to details such as a person’s appearance, clothing, vehicle, and license plate.
Know that it is OK to tell your parents what happened. Don’t feel ashamed.
Walk to and from school with their children, or arrange for them to walk with friends.
Know the route their children take to and from school.
Walk the route with their children and show them safe places to go in case of an emergency.
I hope the poster contest sparks some conversation and draws attention to children’s safety. All of us have a role to play in making sure children stay safe and that missing kids return home.
To read about, see photos of, or offer tips about missing persons, visit: www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/Ohio-Missing-Persons.
For an application and poster contest rules, visit www.ohioamberplan.org.
Mike Dewine is the Ohio’s Attorney General. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.