Missing Children and how to help

Although recent progress in combating child abduction is encouraging, much more remains to be done, on several planes. In the area of common sense, parents should never leave young children alone - in cars, strollers on sidewalks, or toy departments. Teachers should not permit an adult they don't know to pick up a child after school. Parents and children should agree on one code word, and the children should not accompany an adult or older child who claims to have been sent by a parent unless he knows the code word. Children should not hitchhike. Transportation should be arranged whenever possible so that young children need not walk by themselves in isolated circumstances. Adults who offer to do volunteer work with groups of children should be screened to be certain their motives are pure. Children might be given instruction on safety in dealing with strangers, akin to the Camp Fire program; it should be based on prudence, not fear. Persons convicted of having abducted children need to be dealt with swiftly. There are major implications in all this for latch-key children: Adult supervision ought to be arranged, formal or informal. For that matter, most children need a broader network of care - from friends, relatives, or formal institutions, such as day-care facilities. It is yet another instance in which additional time and attention provided by parents in some cases would be helpful in providing human protection for children.

Beyond this, parents and guardians need to be alert, to pray daily and vigilantly for the young's protection and safety. More than human steps are clearly called for. Children, too, should be encouraged to exercise a higher watchfulness.

Yet the steps already taken by many people are both helpful and inspiring. The focused courage of the parents of the abducted Adam Walsh, and the FBI reporting bill, for which they were so largely responsible, bring to thought Robert Penn Warren's words: ''Solution, perhaps, is public, despair personal.''

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Both personal and public solutions are needed.

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