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Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - 11:05am

Apps and Background Checks: Resources For Keeping Kids Safe

FBI statistics say that a child goes missing in America every 40 seconds. The good news: 97 percent of these children are returned safely.

But if parents do end up calling the police when their child goes missing, the first thing authorities need to know is the child’s description, such as height, weight, and clothing -- details frantic parents may not be able to recall.

The FBI made that task a little easier with their updated Child ID App.

Here’s how it works:

Parents can enter information about their children, including photos, weight, height, and even details such as pierced ears, into the app, which stores the info. If a child ever goes missing, parents can email that information to local authorities with one tap.

“It’s very important to get that information out and get it out accurately in a very short window of time after the abduction,” FBI special agent Stephen Emmett told GPB’s On The Story. “ So this device, this application, rather, addresses that.”

So, how frequently should parents update the app?

Emmett acknowledges that updating the app with daily information about a child’s attire is probably impractical, but he does have other advice.

“We have had parents tell us that whenever their child changes hairstyles or after they get a haircut -- if it’s summer, shorter hair-- they’ll update it then,” said Emmett. “That is something that we encourage.”

Patt Willis, the Executive Director of Voices for Georgia’s Children, says the best thing about the FBI Child ID app is accessibility, especially since a large percent of families in the nation own smartphones.

“This is an app and opportunity that is accessible to the entire population. And so we’re really anxious to make sure that people know how to get this app and how to use it.”

Beyond the app, Willis says a lot of parents don’t know about small steps they can take to help keep their kids safe, especially when they are away at extracurricular activities.

“There are ways that you can make sure that the people that are caring for your children don’t have the kinds of backgrounds that might lead to sexual abuse or abduction,” said Willis. “We’d really like to encourage families to use those licensed care centers that require background checks. That require fingerprints. And to ask the right questions when they bring a caregiver in.”

Background checks are particularly important when kids are out of school for the season, says Willis, especially since a lot of summer care isn’t required to be licensed.

“And so it’s important for parents when they are seeking the camp or the karate lessons for the week to ask those providers about how they check the background of the people that are delivering the services.”

The Georgia Child Advocacy Group offers some training opportunities for keeping children safe, including Stewards for Children.

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