My latest novel The Babysitter is a different take on your regular child abduction story. It was an idea that came to me whilst watching a show about people being reported missing and I wanted to explore all motives behind the taking of a child from their parent or custodian.
Children go missing for all sorts of reasons, many run away, sometimes from abuse or neglect at home. Other reasons can be down to trafficking, sexual exploitation, mental health issues or parental custody conflict. However stranger abduction cases are rare.
The figures are bleak, children that are looked after, also referred to as ‘in care’ are more likely to be reported missing. 1 in 10 of looked after children are reported missing, compared to 1 in 200 of those living with relatives.
On the positive side 80% of children reported missing are found within 24 hours, and 90% found within two days. Only 2% of children go missing for more than a week.
Since COVID-19 hit, children and adults have been spending more time online due to school closures and social distancing measures. Sexual predators have resorted to using the darknet to discuss the pandemic to entice children to produce sexually explicit material.
Some child traffickers adjusted to the reluctance of buyers to meet in-person and are now offering options for subscription-based services in which buyers pay to access online images and videos of the child.
While the NCMEC (National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children) is not seeing a direct correlation between COVID-19 and an increase in missing child cases, they are aware of reports in which some children have run away from home in frustration with the “stay-at-home” restrictions.
COVID-19 has been difficult for many people’s mental health. Separated parents during lockdown have found it torturous not being allowed access to their children. With one in three children living without their father.
The survey of 1,006 separated parents across the UK was conducted between 1st – 8th February 2021 and found the following:
Separated fathers are being more heavily impacted with one in ten dads not having seen their kids since March last year. On average fathers surveyed have gone almost three months (11 weeks) without hugging their child since the pandemic began.
Fathers4Justice founder Matt O’Connor: “COVID-19 and consecutive lockdowns have had a dramatic impact on the parental separation of children and their parents, but especially fathers who have struggled to maintain contact with their children.”
“There is an increasing public health emergency facing separated dads who are at a greater risk of suicide, depression and anxiety exasperated by restrictions on accessing public health services during the pandemic, as well as an increased risk of death from COVID-19,” Mr O’Connor said.
Each missing child case is different however those caused by conflict in shared custody cases could be avoided with mediation. Communication is key between separated parents who have joint custody of their children which can be difficult when emotions run high. The most important issue, which is sometimes overlooked, is that the child’s needs must come before the parents to ensure their care and protection.