PARENTAL CHILD ABDUCTION
PARENTAL CHILD ABDUCTION
Child abductions are hard to deal with. The thought of a child been ripped from the only life they have ever known is a nightmare of any parent. The most common form of child abduction, is parental child abduction, meaning one parent has taken, detained or concealed a child from the other parent. It is all too often a common occurrence that society somehow feels ‘safer’ when the abductor is a parent of the child. These abductions do not garner the attention and support that non-family abductions do, regardless of the fact that they are just as dangerous, and exponentially more complicated to resolve.
I have recently had the privilage of coming across an organization set up here in Canada by the father of Alexander and Christopher Watkins, Stephen Watkins. The organization he has formed is iCHAPEAU. The information below has been taken from their site, and they have TONS more to offer as well as a great support system for families who are the victims of international parental abduction. Please take a look at their site, and facebook page … it is well worth your time. This is a group that we can all get behind and begin working to change our laws here in Canada.
PARENTAL CHILD ABDUCTION IS CHILD ABUSE
This is a statement that we need to ensure society understands. Parental child abductions create just as many scars and bruises as actual physical abuse, but tragically, the abuse is mental and emotional, and these are not types of abuse that are easy to single out and address. What an abducted child goes through during a parental abduction is horrifying and will leave a lasting footprint on the child’s soul.
In some cases, a child is told that they are just staying with the abductor a little longer than usual, or are going on a vacation, and in the more severe cases, the child is often told that the other parent has been harmed, or does not want them any longer. In extreme cases, children are forced to take on new identities and travel frequently to remain unfound. The negative impact this has on the child is tremendous. Abductions leave the child feeling confused, like they have to choose between their parents, like they have betrayed one or both parents or like they are the cause of all the fighting. Let’s be honest here, when a family is divided in divorce, the children involved are the only ones that are subjected to the fighting constantly. The fighting that occurs when their parents are together, and the things one parent says about another parent when they are apart, these children are the only ones hearing everything from both sides and are in the middle without any relief, and this has lasting effects on the child’s life.
The longer the child is missing, the more concern surrounds their emotional well being. Removing a child from their home and community is detrimental to the child’s health, normally a child would have their family to support them through the change of being in a new community and school. Children are made to feel safe and accepted after a move, ensuring that the experience of moving is not one that will harbor long term negative emotions. Now imagine what a child will feel when they are moved away and have contact cut off with their family, especially if the child is then isolated, not placed in school and has limited social interactions for fear of being discovered. Imagine the fear and confusion that would cause an adult, then remember it is 10,000 X worse for a child. During the time when the child remains missing, they are being alienated from the left behind parent causing feelings of being betrayed by the non-abducting parent, as well as preventing younger children from bonding with the other parent.
It cannot remain forgotten that even after a successful recovery, that child’s life has been forever altered. The child comes home and is surrounded by all the things the abducting parent has conditioned them to feel are negative. The child is unsure of their place in the family, and can be essentially stripped of their abilities to have trusting relationships.
It is always important to be proactive when you share custody of a child with an ex. You can, and should, create an ‘emergency’ binder, with all of the information law enforcement would need quick access to should your child ever be abducted. I make two binders and give one to a family member or close friend. Things that are important to include in your binder are:
- Current information of your children with photos, descriptions of distinguishing features of each of your children, your child’s fingerprints (these are super easy to get done as part of an ID kit, or at a local missing child agency). I also include any medical conditions which the children may need medical treatment for. Copies of birth certificates are also greatly helpful. Including children’s health care numbers and social insurance numbers will also come in handy should your child be abducted.
- Current information about the opposing parent such as their current job, their family and friends information when available, their current residence and living arrangements, their passport number or photocopy, their driver’s license number or photocopy, their immigration information if applicable, their email account information, their cell phone information, and contact information for any friends or family residing in a foreign country.
It can be easy to forget to inform all of the right people when concern for your child’s safety is heightened. Be sure that your child’s school, babysitter, camp, daycare etc, are aware of the custody arrangements and HAS COPIES of these custody orders. Without copies on file, the opposing parent can walk into one of these places and take your child out legally. The school’s etc. cannot detain the child from the opposing parent unless they have copies of the court order. Make sure that these people understand who is allowed to pick your child up and what to do if they are presented with a situation that has not been approved by yourself. Make sure these people can reach you at any time.
Having an ongoing conversation with your child is also vitally important. Tell them that you love them, and would never leave them. Explain to them that if you were harmed in any way, their grandparents, aunts, uncles etc. would be there to talk to them in person. Make sure they know how to contact you at any time if they find themselves in a situation where they do not feel safe. Keeping our children informed in a casual age appropriate manner goes a long way to develop your child’s instincts about situations that aren’t quite right. Encourage them to follow these instincts and assure them that if it turns out not be a situation to worry about, that you will still love them and be proud of them for speaking out.
The first thing we can do to begin to turn this situation around, is to educate ourselves on what some of the signs may be when a parent plans to abduct a child. There are some indicators which may premeditate a parental abduction. Some signs to look for would be:
- An opposing parent having already kidnapped the child
- Direct or indirect threats have been made about the removal of the child
- Direct or indirect threats to harm the opposing parent, child or themselves
- Someone with a history of controlling and or violent behavior, which may escalate to a stalking/harassing behavior
- An opposing parent showing high levels of hostility, anger or resentment
- Parents whose many arguments consist particularly regarding custody, access and parenting
- An opposing parent may have familial or other connections in another country and has expressed interest in returning to said country
- A child who has made comments that an opposing parent has told them they were about to move somewhere.
- An opposing parent has made significant changes in their life, including quitting their job, selling their home, and/or liquidating their assets, closing bank accounts, applying for a passport and/or VISA etc.
- An opposing partner continually raises unreasonable concerns of a child’s safety and well-being while in the other parents care
- There has been a court decision that an opposing parent is angry about
Not every parental abduction will be proceeded by these symptoms, and not all of these symptoms guarantee a parental abduction will occur. The best tool you have in determining if your child is at risk of parental abduction, is your instinct, so follow it. If you become very concerned that a parental child abduction may occur, it can be possible to get a court order to prevent the other parent from travelling with your child. You can also possibly get a court order prohibiting the other parent from applying for a passport for the child and/or ordering the child’s passport and travel documents be held by a third party (ex. Lawyer). You can also talk to your lawyer about options such as supervised visitation to limit the opportunity for the opposing parent to abduct the child. Taking these measures though needs to be well thought out, as doing so may inflame an already volatile situation.
If you find yourself in a position where your child has been abducted by an opposing parent, immediately follow these steps:
- Call 911 – One thing that we in Canada are doing right, is to not require a waiting period of time to report your child missing. In other countries, you have to wait until the next date you would have had custody of your child to report them missing. This gives abductors days to disappear and greatly hinders law enforcements chances of finding the child quickly and before they leave the country.
- Make law enforcement aware if you suspect your child may be taken outside of the country, and/or is at risk of harm. Make sure to convey these concerns to law enforcement so that they can take the right course of actions to help bring your child back to you safely. After making the report to police about your child being abducted, make sure you get an incident number, the name of the officer taking the report and a phone number to call for follow-up from law enforcement.
- Document any and all communication you may receive from the abducting parent, their family or their friends, and be sure to document when there began to be a complete lack of communication. DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT. I cannot stress this enough. You will never remember the details of the entire situation if you don’t document them from the very beginning as they happen. Documenting is a simple way to ensure that all authorities and lawyers receive the same, precise information and will make things 500% easier when the case begins to come together, showing the true nature of the abducting parents behaviors, thoughts and reasoning.
- Have your emergency binder on hand to disseminate vital information to law enforcement as quickly as possible.
- If you feel your child may already be outside the country, contact the Central Authority within your province to determine if you can commence a Hague Application. It would also be beneficial to consider filling out the MissingKids.ca Initial Intake form to request additional support and assistance.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the initial abduction, criminal charges may be laid, civil enforcement proceedings may be started or both processes may be initiated at the same time. However, the first and primary concern is to locate your child, so don’t be surprised if charges are not laid right away. Get advice from a lawyer, and follow their suggestions. You will need to advocate for yourself and on behalf of your child.
After the immediate shock of an abduction begins to subside, there are other ways to continue locating your child and further advancing the case with more help and information.
Flag Your Child’s Records
- Flagging your children’s school records means that you and law enforcement will be notified if the child is registered in a new school and their records are requested.
- The Canadian Border Services Agency has the ability to issue an ‘alert’ on the passport of a missing child or a suspect in a missing child case. The request to set up this alert must be requested by law enforcement, and cannot be requested by the searching parent. If a police report has been made, the case has been confirmed and there is believed to be a risk that the child or suspect would attempt to leave the country, then law enforcement may ask the Canadian Border Services Agency to place the alert. Canadian Border Services Agency officers will be alerted if your child’s or the abducting parent’s passport is used by someone trying to cross the border, and may be able to prevent them from doing so.
- Medical Records. Let your child’s doctor know about the abduction in case your child’s medical records are requested.
- Passports Canada. If you are the parent/legal guardian and you are “Concerned for the safety of your child, or fear that an unauthorized passport application may be made on behalf of your child under 16 years of age.”, your child’s information may be added to the Passport Canada System Lookout List. What this will do is alert staff that further attention is required when processing the child’s application, “ensuring all legal documents are viewed, that there are no restrictions on the child’s mobility or other information that would prevent a Canadian passport being issued in the name of the child. To have your child added to the Lookout List, visit the nearest Passport Canada Office or Canadian government office. You will need to provide the following documents to Passport Canada ensuring that your children will be placed on the Lookout List:
- The full names and birth dates of both parents and the child.
- Copies of any custody-related legal documents.
Parental abductions can be very complicated. Each abduction and circumstances surrounding the abduction is unique and decisions about how to proceed, find and recover the child will depend on a number of factors.
BE AN ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR CHILD
It is your responsibility to bring the abduction to the attention of criminal (ex. Law enforcement.) and civil (ex. Private lawyer) authorities. All of this generally happens at the same time, which again reinforces the benefit of having an emergency binder already prepared, making the process as easy as possible for you. You will not want to be trying to track down birth certificates, phone numbers etc., when your mind is already frazzled with the shock of your child being abducted.
The factors which will determine the course of action taken include:
- Whether or not you know where your child has been taken. This will help determine the appropriate organizations and authorities to involve.
- If you have a custody order or agreement in place, and what this custody order says, ex. an order with dates and times to each parent’s access to the child will be easier for law enforcement to enforce.
- Whether or not your child has been taken to another province, as you may need to register your court order in the other provinces as well, or you may need to make an application for a court order that requires law enforcement in that province to locate the child and enforce the existing order. The goal here is to ensure that law enforcement are armed with the correct court orders allowing them to maintain the authority to enforce the order in the province which the child has been taken to. Don’t let this overwhelm you, your lawyers will be able to ensure that the correct steps are taken. For those who are concerned about their financial ability to hire a lawyer, Legal Aid is available. You won’t have to go through this process alone, and Legal Aid can quickly determine your eligibility for their program.
- You will need to ensure that the custody order you have is the most recent order granted. It can be possible for the opposing parent to have sought a new order without your knowledge. Your lawyer will quickly be able to track down the most recent order, or you can check with the courts yourself. It is a simple process, go to the court house in your local area and request a document search, they clerks will be able to pull up every piece of paper ever submitted regarding the custody of your child, and for a small fee can copy the most current order for you.
- Remember that your child’s safety is law enforcements number one priority and supersedes any custody agreement.
Authorities will obviously play a big role in the search, recovery and reunification of your child. It is important to voice your concerns to law enforcement, and also important to trust that they know how to do their jobs and are working to return your child just as you are. Developing a good relationship with law enforcement involved in your child’s case can be a crucial aspect to ensuring what needs to get done, is done, and can do a lot to reinforce that you are not alone during this horrific time. Some tips to ensure you have a good working relationship with authorities are:
- Understand that the police will ask you questions regarding your child, the abducting parent and the history of your relationship. You must be COMPLETELY honest with them. It can be instinct for the left behind parent to become self-protective and leave out information which may place them in a negative light. The police are not there to judge you, they are there to help you, and by giving them the complete history of your child and former partner, you are only aiding in their ability to quickly and safely resolve the situation.
- Consult with authorities on any individual search efforts you plan to make. They may have information you are unaware of, and doing so behind their backs can hinder their ability to help you and your child.
- Develop a relationship as quickly as possible with the lead investigator in your case. You may want to involve a non-profit agency to help you make this connection.
- There will be times when authorities seem like they are not sharing much information with you. Trust them, there is most likely a very good reason for the officers to protect their investigation.
- Remember that everything from your past with your ex will come to light eventually, and it is best if these things are explained in full right away, rather than waiting for them to be brought up by a third party.
While trusting the authorities and their judgement calls on how to best resolve your case, this does not mean you cannot ask them questions. If you are unclear or unsure of anything that is going on, ask. The authorities are there to help you in your time of need, and they will be open to listening to your questions. Some things you may want to ask police are:
- Discuss with law enforcement about whether or not to release any information regarding the abduction to the media. Doing so can at times make things harder for police and therefore take attention away from your abducted child. They are trained in how to proceed with these cases, and should the time come to speak with the media, they will coach you on how to best do so.
- Ask law enforcement whether or not you should be contacting the friends and/or family of the abducting parent to try and locate or gather information.
It is important for left behind parents to understand that things won’t just ‘go back to normal’ when their child is returned home. The reunification process is a long and sensitive one, based on the length of time the child was missing. There are things which left behind parents can do to make reunification as positive and easy for a child as possible, and there are resources left behind parents can access to make this transition.
When your child comes home, it is best to consult with professionals regarding the reunification process as soon as possible. You will want to include professionals such as child psychologists, play therapists, forensic pediatrician, social workers and law enforcement in your reunification team. There are steps a parent can take to begin the process on the right note. When your child is located, you will need to consult with law enforcement about their plan of action. This may require travel, obtaining a lawyer in the location where the child is, attending court and most of all, waiting. Remember that your child’s safety is law enforcements top concern. How long your child has been missing is what really dictates how the reunification process proceeds.
You will need to take many things into consideration while you are reintroducing your child into the family. Some important things to consider and plan for are:
- Your child should be given an explanation, in an age appropriate manner, of what is taking place and why. Don’t let your child be held by their own fears and fantasies. Honesty is crucial.
- Some suggest preparing a recovery kit. You can include photos of the family and some of your child’s favorite things. If your child has been missing for a considerable amount of time, the professionals working with you on the reunification process may show your child current pictures of you and the rest of your family before you are even reunited. This is also the time when these professionals can take the opportunity to identify and address any false stories that your child has been told about you.
- Ensure that you and your family have privacy throughout the reunification process, media should not be around as it will only add to the stress and tension and can be detrimental to your child.
- This next thing will be the hardest part of what you need to do to ensure you have a successful reunification with your child. Avoid the temptation to immediately reunify with your child. Remember that they were ripped out of their life, taken on the run, and now are being dropped back in the family that they have been conditioned to think are bad people. It is important that your child understands what is happening and is supported 100% in making the reunification as stress free as possible. When the reunification does occur, it should be in a private environment.
- When the child is being recovered from the abducting parent, it is extremely important to avoid having the child witness the arrest of, or forceful recovery of the abducting parent.
Once your child and you have been reunified, you will be faced with the task of legally dealing with the abducting parent. This process is going to be emotionally charged and exceptionally volatile. It is important that you consult with your lawyer in regards on how to proceed and take the advice of professionals. The biggest question will be whether or not the abducting parent will continue to have access to your child. You may need to discuss whether supervised access is needed to mitigate the risk of another abduction. You will need to obtain a new custody order, laying out the exact access the abducting parent has to your child. Again, consulting with your lawyer will be necessary.
Once your child has settled back into life with your family, it is important to remember a few key things that you can continue to do to allow your child to continue healing.
- Do not criticize or bad mouth the abducting parent. You may not understand how your child feels about that parent, and the abducting parent may have been the only one your child has known for some time.
- Depending on the amount of time your child and yourself were separated for, you must consider how confused your child may be about everything that is happening surrounding them. They will be confused about their relationship with you, their relationship with the abducting parent, and truth about what has happened. It is so important to take all the time a child needs to process and come to an understanding of what has happened.
- Give your child time and support them in uncovering and understanding their own feelings. Don’t overwhelm them with information, what they need directly in the time after their recovery is a calm and collected environment where they feel safe to express their emotions and voice their concerns.
Regardless of how, when or why a parental abduction occurs, it is a traumatic, and highly charged event. It is every parents’ nightmare, and sometimes we as parents would rather not think about these things happening to our children. However, we need to begin making parental child abduction a topic that parents are comfortable with, and are able to educate themselves on. No one wants their child to be abducted by a stranger at the park, so we educate ourselves, and in turn our children, on how to avoid this type of situation and what to do if they find themselves in this situation. We need to ensure that we give our children the information they need if they are ever abducted by a family member. Now I am not saying you should tell your children “If Mommy/Daddy ever abducts you …”, but we can have conversations with our children and talk about how they can react if someone they know takes them somewhere without Mom or Dad knowing. Another crucial aspect of parental child abduction, is the awareness it raises in how co-parenting needs to change to ensure that are children are not disadvantaged by having parents who are no longer romantically together. Parenting needs to be done as a whole, and needs to be consistent, regardless of what parent your child is with. They need to follow the same rules in both homes, and they need to look at their parents as equals to be respected and trusted. I know that spending the rest of your life constantly seeing your ex is not your personal choice, but together you have brought a beautiful shining light into this world, and in 95% of separations, you both want what is best for your children. Keep the lines of communication open. Be prepared for some give and take, and understand that the sooner you can come to terms with how things need to be, the sooner everyone can move forward and heal, your children included.