The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) partners with Family Promise to provide our Affiliates and the families they serve with tools to aid in the prevention and support of missing/exploited children. This blog post is co-authored by the two organizations.
It likely comes as no surprise to hear that homeless youth face many unique challenges that may make them more vulnerable to crime and victimization.
Family factors and stressors are significant predictors of children running away, and a negative family environment has been found to increase the likelihood of children running away at an early age. When a child runs away, s/he is more susceptible to becoming involved in a perilous situation.
Homeless youth can be targeted online and in the community by sex traffickers and other criminals. One in seven children reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) as a runaway in 2017 was likely a victim of child sex trafficking, with 88% of those children being in the care of social services when they went missing.
The risks and trauma experienced by these children are unacceptable to both NCMEC and Family Promise; that’s why the two organizations have joined forces with the goal of keeping this vulnerable population safer so they can concentrate on pursuing a brighter future.
Since 2016, this partnership has allowed Family Promise to expand upon services for these vulnerable children and families with a variety of safety resources, trainings, and education. It has also equipped Family Promise Affiliates nationwide with critical resources to aid families directly when their child goes missing.
Earlier this year, a family staying with one such Affiliate in California experienced this trauma. A mother dropped off her daughter at school, only to return at pick-up to find she was gone. With the support of the Affiliate and their knowledge of NCMEC’s services, the mother immediately filed a missing person’s report. The Affiliate Director contacted NCMEC directly for additional assistance and expressed her amazement at how quickly they responded, providing bilingual support for the family and enlisting additional resources to help resolve the case. The missing teenager was found and returned to her family within 48 hours.
Additionally, NCMEC has trained Family Promise Affiliate teams working with these families to more effectively recognize red flags and indicators of risky behavior to help prevent runaway incidences and reduce the risk of solicitation and trafficking. Once these behaviors are appropriately identified, Affiliates can better teach families ways to keep their children safer with NCMEC safety programs NetSmartz and KidSmartz. Both programs educate families about the different risks children may encounter online and in the community.
NetSmartz offers materials to teach children ages 5-17 about online risks, while KidSmartz focuses on children aged 5-9, teaching them ways to stay safer in the community. These materials help further support families in transition to discuss difficult topics that could impact their child’s safety while building their lifelong skills to protect themselves, their peers and their family members.
Since the 1980s, both NCMEC and Family Promise have been committed to providing aid to at-risk children and families. Family Promise’s 200+ Affiliates work side by side with families nationwide, providing shelter, food, and additional support to help them combat homelessness and poverty. Since inception, staff and volunteers have served over 825,000 individuals, with 82 percent of those in the shelter program securing housing in less than nine weeks.
NCMEC’s mission is to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimization. The organization serves as the national clearinghouse and resource center for families, victims, private organizations, law enforcement, and the public on issues relating to missing and sexually exploited children. In the past five years, NCMEC has assisted law enforcement with nearly 85,000 reports of missing children across the country.
To learn more about the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s mission to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent future victimization visit www.missingkids.org