Losing a child is a harrowing scenario that no parent wants to experience or even think about, but it is a reality that affects families every day.
On Oct. 30 at Long Beach Fire Station 2, Jeannine Pearce, 2nd-district councilmember, in partnership with the Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) and other affiliates, aimed to take an important step in addressing the issue through the introduction of the National Child ID Program, which would allow parents to collect and store their children’s fingerprints and DNA for personal records.
“What these kits do is […] provide us an opportunity to get DNA samples, fingerprints and a child photo, so that should anything happen to your child, you have that information readily available for the police department,” Pearce said at a press conference on Monday. “We know these child ID kits in the last two decades have saved thousands of children and helped us identify where they are and bring them back home safely.”
Every third-grader in the city will have access to receiving the kits through the Long Beach Fire Ambassadors (LBFA) Program, which emphasizes fire-safety awareness at home and in the community to educate children and adults. The National Child ID Program has been implemented in select cities throughout the country.
Rex Pritchard, president of the LBFA, said the program typically demonstrates fire-safety presentations to children. At the end of demonstrations, child ID kits will now be disbursed for kids to take home.
“This is something that, up and down the state throughout all California, we firefighters see, unfortunately, more often than what we’d like to,” Pritchard said during the conference. “When people call 911, we show up at the worst time and worst moment in their lives, and this is something that, hopefully, will help bring […] them back with their families.”
Pritchard told the Signal Tribune that the most important aspect of the kits is making sure they get into the hands of law enforcement.
“So, whether it’s Long Beach PD or Signal Hill PD– it doesn’t matter where you live,” he said. “It could be your grandchildren in another [area]. When you have a missing child and you’re contacting PD, that’s the first thing they’re going to ask– what’s the description, current picture, any information. So, this is something you have with everything they’re going to need to help go out and find [them], and if they do locate the child, making sure they make a correct identification.”
Child ID kits will also be available at any time at City Hall, the 2nd Council District field office at Bixby Park and the LBFD headquarters.
Pearce said children go missing for a number of reasons, whether from abduction, wandering or running away, adding that about 50 percent of children who do go missing are runaways, per a statistic from the California Fire Foundation.
Cafirefoundation.org reads that 800,000 children go missing every year– 17,000 in LA County.
At the conference, Pearce said she was almost abducted when she was a toddler. She recalled being locked behind her door, alone in her bedroom, as people ransacked her home. Her neighbors came over before anything else occurred.
Pearce said that, when she was in fifth grade, she was almost abducted by her mother’s ex-husband.
“These are things that can happen randomly to anyone at any time, and I was fortunate enough to not have the situation play out all the way out,” she said. “[…] And so while we sometimes would like to think this could never happen to us, we have to prepare for the worst. When we prepare, those are the times we can have conversations with our children about safety– not to talk to strangers or what signs to look for [and] making sure that they are always checking in with adults.”
She said, for families, disaster preparedness is usually the last thing on their minds, but crises happen every day, the same way it happened to her once.
“Sharing my personal story with Mr. Pritchard was one of those moments where we talk about how scary it is,” Pearce told the Signal Tribune. “And being a mom of a 5-year-old […] those moments in a grocery store, and you turn around, and you’re like, ‘Where’s my kid at?’ And just knowing that there’s a little bit of something that we can do to be prepared and share information. […] It takes a little bit of leadership and just talking about it and getting people comfortable with the idea that we need to be safe and protect our kids.”
To view a step-by-step process of the Child ID kit, visit bit.ly/2zsQHCX for a Facebook video, hosted by Pearce. The program is co-funded through the American Football Coaches Association, California Fire Association and California Professional Firefighters Association.