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
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