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March 2013: Recovery and Reunification Following Abduction

Smiling childrenThe victimology of child abduction is complex and often misunderstood. There are many misconceptions about parental abduction and the depth of the emotional damage that children experience from abduction to recovery and beyond. It is critical that criminal justice professionals understand the trauma that abducted children face, advocate for the victims, and provide the proper services to both the child and searching-family.

To provide the most effective immediate and long-term services and reduce the trauma of parental abduction, we must first take a step back and look at the abduction from the child’s point of view. Throughout a missing child’s case, many resources are made available to the searching family; however, once the child has been reconnected with their family, those resources may diminish. This is a serious oversight that begs to be addressed.

This month’s MECP newsletter looks at parental abduction from the perspective of the child. The first article describes the March MECP webinar with Melissa “Liss” Haviv, Executive Director of Take Root, which identifies ways that the recovery and reunification process can cause additional trauma to the child and makes recommendations for professionals to reduce trauma and serve in the best interests of the child during reunification. The second article was contributed by Sheri Chiosie, who shares her story of being abducted by her mother and discusses the importance of having additional support available throughout the recovery process. Lastly, the Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse looks at the role of Child Abduction Response Teams, or CARTs, in missing child cases and offers tips to help them alleviate further upheaval to the child and family.


Webinar: Abduction and Recovery Through the Eyes of the Child

In March, MECP partnered with Melissa “Liss” Haviv, Executive Director of Take Root, who discussed “Abduction and Recovery Through the Eyes of the Child: Hard-Won Wisdom and Advice From Former Missing Kids.” As a former victim of family abduction, Haviv has a unique perspective on the trauma that children face as victims of parental abduction. Her work with Take Root’s peer support program for former missing kids has given her additional insight into the complex world surrounding parental abduction and what criminal justice professionals can do to help diminish further damage to the abducted child and aid in the healing process.

In her presentation, Haviv addresses misconceptions about parental abduction and identifies the points of rupture that children of parental abduction face throughout the recovery and reunification process. She offers suggestions for those who handle child abduction cases, including the best way to transition a child victim of parental abduction back into what may feel like a totally new family, and recommends resources that should be available to both the child and the left-behind-family.

To view this recorded webinar, please visit MECP’s Webinar Page.


My Story, From Abduction to Recovery

Provided by Sheri Chiosie

My whole life has been shaped by the crime of family abduction. When I was only eight months old, my mother and her boyfriend kidnapped my three-year-old brother and me from our father. We were missing for 10 years, and during that time I had no clue I was abducted. I grew up thinking that my mom’s boyfriend was my father. I grew up thinking we had a normal life.

The illusion crashed one November evening in 1989. Our story was told on a television show, which resulted in a tip that led the police to be waiting in our driveway when we returned from dinner. The man I had spent my entire life thinking was my dad saw the police and took off down the road, giving us just enough of a head start for him to pull over and say, “Sheri, I’m not your father,” before the police caught up.

In the space of that one moment everything changed. My “parents” became my abductors. My younger brother became my younger half-brother. My paternal grandmother became … no one.

My whole family was split up that night. My parents went to jail, my younger brother to our — his — grandmother’s house, my older brother and I to a foster home for a few days until our father came to get us. Our father recovered us in time for us to spend Thanksgiving with an elated family of whom we had absolutely no recollection.

For me, there was no trauma in being abducted. It was being “recovered” that shattered my life. Thankfully, the police made sure that my father had access to our home so we could take a few belongings with us. I know a lot of abducted kids who weren’t so lucky. And we were never forced to be involved in the court proceedings that sent my mom and dad — my abductors, as other people call them — to prison.

But there were a lot of things that could have been handled differently, to make it easier on my brother and me. As kind as the police were, they should have had a mental health professional on the scene to explain that we had been abducted and help us process what was happening. The police did the best they could, but we were in shock and we needed professional crisis intervention.

Looking back, portions of my adolescent years are a blur. I can remember everything up until the time I was 10 years old, and I can remember everything after around age 20, but the years in between are a strange mixture of bright clarity and blurry memory, because most of those years were merely survived and not lived. At a very young age, I experienced a trauma that most people will never know. What I went through is so unusual that I have spent most of my life feeling alone. But about four years ago my life changed again when I found an organization of other survivors, called Take Root.

Through Take Root’s peer support program for former missing kids, I’ve met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever known — true survivors of abduction. Adults who not only survived, but thrived. Meeting people who truly understand what I went through and how I feel, and who have experienced and felt the same things I have, has made a vast difference in my perspective and in my ability to move on. I realize that although I still struggle with the impact of my abduction, my experiences have made me strong and caring. They made me a survivor.

But Take Root doesn’t just give us an opportunity to connect with other survivors. It funnels our experiences into helping others by using our ideas to create child-centered professional training, public education and advocacy initiatives.

It took me 20 years to get to this point, but finally, when I reflect on the trauma of my abduction, I no longer feel alone. I feel that I am in good company, and I feel proud knowing I’ve had a hand in creating programs and resources that truly help others.


Child Abduction Response Teams

Provided by the Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse

When responding to an abducted child report, law enforcement officials use every tool possible. They draw upon the training they have received, the cases they have observed, and the mock abductions in which they have participated. To improve their response, law enforcement agencies across the country have formed Child Abduction Response Teams, or CARTs. Through training and on-the-job experience, these teams have honed their skills to a remarkable degree, but two areas require additional focus and development: recovery and reunification.

After a missing or abducted child has been recovered, several law enforcement-related processes continue. Officers must remember that the child will need to be interviewed, the child’s body or clothing may contain material of an evidentiary nature, and the child should be seen by a physician who is trained to handle these types of cases.

Upon recovery of the child, law enforcement must move both strategically and caringly to obtain these items while inflicting no further harm on the child. Consider: Would you have a set of clothing from the child’s home to exchange with the clothing you wish to seize for forensic analysis? Would you have a favorite stuffed animal at hand?

Remember that you may have to retrieve the child’s favorite item from a secondary location if the article was used for bloodhound scent discrimination. Also, following the recovery, there are several concurrent time pressures: the parents want their child back, evidence on the child may be losing value by the hour, and the media, which has helped you generate tips, may want a story.

First and foremost, law enforcement must remember despite all those pressures that this is about the child. To ensure that a child abducted from your area receives proper treatment, CARTs should recruit victim advocates, members of the medical community, and facilities that house child-friendly interview rooms, like Child Advocacy Centers, to be part of the team.

Here are some helpful tips to help your agency move forward with confidence:

  • Assign members of your agency or CART to the reunification and recovery process.
  • Ensure that victim families receive information about the victim services available in your area.
  • Train officers to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of victim families; though it may be a case to police, it is an excruciating trauma for families and friends.
  • Provide search teams with basic first aid kits so the child’s immediate medical conditions, such as cuts or dehydration, can be treated.
  • Assign an officer to obtain custody documents in parental abduction cases.
  • Designate one officer to serve 24/7 as liaison to the family to facilitate communication and reunification efforts.

Additional resources are available for those working with abducted children and their families during the recovery and reunification process:

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Victim and Family Support

Family Advocacy Outreach Network

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Reunification of Missing Children Training Manual

For more information about the Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse, please visit here.


Upcoming Events

MECP 3rd Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. Webinar Series

April’s MECP webinar will focus on how multidisciplinary team (MDT) investigations affect victim recovery and the benefits of criminal justice professionals working together to reduce trauma during investigations. Maria Gallagher, from the Northeast Regional Children’s Advocacy Center, and Dave Betz, retired Lieutenant of the Harford County, MD Sheriff’s Office and former Director for the Harford County Child Advocacy Center  will discuss MDT standards, including each member’s roles, and how an MDT can support victims and their families.

To register for this April’s webinar and learn more, please visit MECP’s Distance Learning Page.

MECP is pleased to announce the following webinars are now available in Spanish:

Additional webinar translations will be announced and made available via MECP’s Distance Learning Page. Please check back regularly.


MECP’s Training Center

AMBER Advocate. The 21st issue of The AMBER Advocate is now available. This newsletter is a primary tool for communicating recent developments in the field, sharing personal stories and recommending improvements to our response to incidents involving missing, endangered and abducted children. To view the current issue, please visit here.

April 16–18, 2013: Crimes Against Children in Indian Country Conference. Sponsored by the National Criminal Justice Training Center, this conference will address the latest drug and substance abuse trends, sex offender registration and monitoring, Internet crimes, and cyberbullying. The focus will be on strengthening relationships among public and private agencies, tribes, and states to promote a multidisciplinary, multijurisdictional approach to serving tribal youth and families.

May 8–10, 2013: National AMBER Alert Symposium-POSTPONED. The 2013 National AMBER Alert Symposium that was to be held in Jacksonville, Florida, May 8 – 10th, 2013 has been postponed. For more information, contact the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program by calling (877)-71-AMBER or emailing [email protected].

Advertise Your Event to MECP Newsletter Readers. To submit a request to have your event advertised through the MECP Training Center, please click here.

We Want to Hear From You. MECP invites you to share your stories about your organization’s contributions to the juvenile justice field. It is our goal to expand awareness about all the issues surrounding missing children and child exploitation as well as increase understanding of the impact of your work — its value for practice, policy, ongoing research, advocacy and more importantly, for youth, their families and their communities. We’d also like to promote networking opportunities so organizations across the country can connect with one another.

Help others by sharing your success story. The best ones will be featured in our monthly newsletter. To submit your story, please visit us online. Thank you for all you do to make a positive difference in our children’s lives.

Request Training and Technical Assistance From MECP. MECP offers training and technical assistance tailored to meet the specific needs of state, local and tribal law enforcement, nonprofit organizations and other juvenile justice practitioners. For more information on how your agency or organization can receive training and technical assistance on missing and exploited children’s issues, please contact MECP at 1-888-347-5610 or [email protected]. To submit a request for training and technical assistance, please complete a training and technical assistance form.