Parents urged not to let guard down

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By Carol A. Clark

The terrifying scene of a parent searching frantically for a child lost in a public place happens all too often, and especially during the holidays when crowds are encountered at almost every turn.Authorities are speaking out to advise parents to take appropriate precautions. “Kids wandering off in stores is one of the most common problems at this time of year because of all the excitement of lights, toys and Santa,” Los Alamos Police Det. DeWayne Williams said during an interview Friday. “It’s so easy to lose sight of a child who wanders even a few feet away in a large crowd. You take your eyes off them for just a minute and they’re gone.”Williams advises parents to keep hold of their child’s hand or if the child is small, buckle him or her into a shopping cart. Williams also cautions against leaving purchases unattended in cars while shopping. He advises shoppers to lock all purchases inside their car trunks.In an effort to avoid a tragic family incident, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is reminding parents not to let their guard down or be distracted while traveling or attending public celebrations during the 2007 holiday season. NCMEC has issued child safety tips for parents to keep children safer while shopping and traveling.Parents are urged to talk with their children about safety before heading out to a busy shopping mall or boarding a plane, train or bus this holiday season. Crowds are greater this time of year and children may easily become separated from their parents, causing confusion and fear. NCMEC explains that if it happens, parents need a plan and children should know what to do. “Unfortunately, many adults and children don’t know what to do if they lose each other in a public place or are faced with other unsafe situations,” NCMEC President and CEO Ernie Allen said in a holiday release. “That’s why the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is offering advice on how to remain safe and avoid panic and potential dangers.”Allen said NCMEC urges parents to do the following:

Always• Require children to stay with you at all times while shopping.• Accompany and supervise children in public facilities, including restrooms.• Have a plan in place in case you become separated, including a pre-designated spot to meet.• Teach children to look for people who can help, such as a uniformed security officer, salesperson or mother with children. • Remind children to remain in the area where they become separated.• Turn shopping trips into opportunities to practice safe shopping skills.

Never• Dress children in clothing that displays their first or last names, prompting unwelcome attention from people looking for an opportunity to start a conversation with your child.• Leave children in toy stores or public facilities expecting supervision from store personnel.• Go shopping or attend a public event with a child if you feel you’re going to be distracted. Make other arrangements for child care ahead of time. • Allow younger children to shop on their own to purchase surprise gifts for friends or family members.• Drop off older children at a mall or public place without agreeing on a clear plan for picking them up, including: where, what time and what to do in case of a change in plans.NCMEC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. NCMEC’s congressionally mandated CyberTipline, a reporting mechanism for child sexual exploitation, has handled more than 519,300 leads. Since its establishment in 1984, NCMEC has assisted law enforcement with more than 135,800 missing child cases, resulting in the recovery of more than 118,700 children. For more information about NCMEC, call its toll-free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST or visit www.missingkids.com.