From Where I'm Standing

Musings on life during and after child-abduction by Melissa "Liss" Haviv

The Missing Side of Missing Child Services


The Missing Side of Missing Child Services
Take Root is a missing child nonprofit providing the first and only peer support program available to former missing children after their abductions are over. Every member of Take Root was once an abducted child. One thing we’ve learned is that families, the media, and society often become unwitting co-conspirators in placing a terrible burden of unreasonable expectation on newly recovered children. Although the trauma of abduction does not disappear the day a missing child is found, children recovered from abductions encounter enormous pressure to be “back to normal” from virtually the moment they come home.

Friends, family and society urge newly found victims to “put it behind them” and “move on,” while media headlines outright proclaim “It’s Over!” Unfortunately, the issues with which the abductee must contend have not been resolved. In many cases, a whole new set of challenges is just emerging. But pundits remark on children’s remarkable resiliency and ability to “bounce back.” This chorus left some members of Take Root feeling as though there was something wrong with them for not rebounding rapidly, so they used suppression skills gained during the abduction to present to those around them what they thought others wanted to see.

Take Root members have also reported feeling responsible for the pain and suffering experienced by loved ones as a result of their abductions. Understanding that the people around them would feel better if they were ok, many pretended to be just fine once “found.” Additionally, Take Root members have reported that they wanted to fit in with peers and escape stigma. The recovered abductee wants a “return to normal” every bit as much as their friends and family do. Many Take Root members therefore report having pretended everything was back to normal even when it absolutely was not.

Abducted children become skilled at reading and responding to environmental cues about what is expected. Many Take Root members simply applied this same learned survival skill again during “recovery.” At Take Root we see firsthand, every day, the end result of this kind of suppression and lack of proper care and treatment. 1 out of every 4 members surveyed has attempted suicide.

The solution? As the Take Root motto says, we must expand our nation’s missing child services “beyond recovering missing children, to helping missing children recover.” Valiant starts have been made since Take Root formed in response to the glaring service gap a decade ago but they are baby steps. The lack of substantive research into the long term impact of child abduction results in an inability to adequately train mental health professionals in evidence-based practices. Specialists in post-abduction recovery are few and far between, and, operating based on extremely limited case experience – if any. Improving the “recovery” aspect of missing-child services must become a priority and funding streams need to be made available for such work. Despite the fact that the Missing Children’s Assistance Act specifically calls for funding projects and programs that address the needs of missing children after the abduction is over, no such work is currently being federally funded that we know of, and has not been since Take Root was an early casualty of the unfolding recession and attendant discretionary budget cuts back in 2007. This is a serious gap in America’s missing child response. We must close it so that those victimized by abduction are not revictimized by the lack of qualified aftercare services and support.

Melissa Haviv , the Executive Director of Take Root, is a Fulbright Scholar and former abducted child


Reply to NYT OpED on the Hague


Ok, I see how this is going to go. I may never have that carefully, lovingly, planned and edited blog of my dreams. Post #2 is, like post #1, a quick response to a breaking media story…

This time it was this OpEd in the New York Times, on the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. I submitted the following rebuttal OpEd, which, alas, was not selected for publication (two NYT op-eds on family abduction was too much to hope for, right?) so we shall self-publish:

As the Executive Director of Take Root, an NPO that runs the first and only support program for individuals who were abducted as children, I appreciated Joan Meier’s March 5 OpEd about the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Most of the participants in Take Root’s support program for former abducted-children were abducted by a parent. Over the past decade we have amassed unprecedented knowledge on the impact of family abduction on such children and the adults they become. Returning abducted children to their place of habitual residence as required, absent certain defenses, by the Hague Convention eliminates two of the key dangers they face.

First, consider that parents never abduct when things are going well. Regardless of the parent’s motivation, family abduction is born from extreme emotional distress. When a distressed caregiver takes a child into isolation, that child is at risk regardless of the taking parent’s intent.

Second, the common traumatic experience that binds our membership across individual case circumstances is a degree of what we call “Identity Rupture,” which we define as extreme, abrupt changes in the autobiographical facts of the child’s life, all that is familiar, and the expected and acceptable behaviors.

In almost every case in our database, whether the child was taken to remove them from harm or as a pawn in their parent’s game, the identity rupture and transition from being a child to being a source of emotional support, accomplice, protector, and/or caregiver for an emotionally distressed taking parent meant the end of childhood. Children in all types of cases are typically burdened with adult fears and responsibilities, overwhelmed by incomprehensible – and unacknowledged – grief and loss, too often living a complex web of lies and deception to evade discovery, and left reeling from the shock of the identity rupture.

So while Take Root refutes the oft-repeated advocate’s mantra that “family abduction is child abuse” as hyperbolic given the reality of domestic violence, we do believe that family abduction is always child endangerment. Even in the guise of lesser evilism as a parent flees to protect life and limb, abduction itself can devastate the child.

So what are the solutions? I support the Hague (and UCCJEA, its domestic counterpart) convention of returning children to their home jurisdictions because this relieves the trauma of identity rupture and the danger of isolation with a distressed caregiver. However, that convention must be supported by home jurisdiction courts that are genuinely informed regarding the complex dynamics of family abduction, and by systemic protections for victims of domestic violence… if we perfected the latter we’d eliminate the question of whether abduction can ever be considered “justified” and would not be having this conversation to begin with. We need to improve the research and increase the public awareness around family abduction. And advocates for parents fleeing domestic violence and parents whose children are taken for less comprehensible reasons must start working together to formulate holistic conclusions, policies, and practices that encompass the complex, multifaceted issue that is family abduction.

Melissa Haviv , the Executive Director of Take Root, is a Fulbright Scholar and former abducted child

Why Increased Social Awareness of Family Abduction Can Lower the Incidence Rate and Duration



I was interviewed in the Huffington Post about family abduction today. Take Root sent a follow-up announcement asking supporters to share the article on social media to demonstrate interest in media coverage of this topic, because we have reason to believe that increased social awareness can decrease the incidence rate and shorten the duration of instances of family abduction. When someone wrote back to ask why, I realized the answer should be a public post.

Here is the reasoning and the data behind my assertion that increased social awareness of family abduction can play a role in decreasing the incidence rate and duration of instances:

1. 65% of Take Root’s family-abducted members who were surveyed report that their taking parent thought the abduction was in their kid’s best interest….but only 11% of those members agree with the taking parent’s assessment. This can be read as reinforcing abundant anecdotal evidence that many of the parents who abducted our members failed to comprehend the profound trauma and devastation being inflicted on the child (why should they be any different than most people? Few people can fully grasp the profound implications without education on the issue). We have other data demonstrating that among the cases in our membership there are abducting parents who would have been stopped by better information about the impact and outcomes for the child (I haven’t asked her, because we don’t speak, but I am pretty certain my own mother is one of them).

2. In every family abduction case in Take Root’s database, at least one other person besides the taking parent knew what the parent was planning beforehand and/or knew where the child was during the abduction . . . and remained silent. The more people understand the trauma inflicted on the child, the more likely it becomes that others will step forward to dissuade or report taking parents.

3. Not one of our members who was taken by a family member understood at the time of the event that they had been abducted and that it was an illegal act. Many members (myself included) were well into adulthood before learning that what happened to them as kids had a name and was a crime. And many have said that if they’d had a context for understanding the situation while it was occurring, they likely would have responded differently (for example, contacting left behind family or telling a teacher or policeman).

4. And, in line with #3, the more society as a whole grasps that family abduction is ABDUCTION and PROFOUNDLY TRAUMATIC and not a custody battle, the more likely it is that a teacher or policeman or anyone else in whom a family-abducted child confides will take appropriate action.

…so please, friends, visit the page containing the article in the Huffington Post today and use the social media sharing buttons you will find there to share the article on twitter and Facebook, as a way of demonstrating that there is interest in media coverage of family abduction! Here’s the link:

A great big thank you to Tony Loftis from Find Your Missing Child and his terrific editor, Kristin, for today’s coverage! I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Copyright © From Where I’m Standing [Why Increased Social Awareness of Family Abduction Can Lower the Incidence Rate and Duration], All Right Reserved. 2013.