Happy Birthday baby! Instead of celebrating the beginning of your 33rd year today, you remain a fading memory that informs my humanity as you guide my soul. Much has happened in 2013, some good and some bad, but there is so much left to do in this New Year that looms before us all.
2013 was not a good year for kids or crime victims, but it was a great year for criminals. While public support for our cause remains strong, political support has all but disappeared. It is as if the lessons learned from tragedy have been forgotten by policy makers and those that they represent. Unless you symbolize the cause de jour, elected officials ignore our pleas. If we can’t help them to win reelection, they have neither the time nor the inclination to stand with us or commit to our cause.
I’m afraid that child/public safety legislation has, for the most part, stalled in Federal and State legislatures, so the voice of the people is now represented in voter driven initiatives, State ballot measures and propositions. Eighty-one percent of California voters supported Proposition 35, which strengthened prison sentences for human traffickers and provided social services for victims of human trafficking, but we couldn’t muster enough support in two years of legislative lobbying to get the issue out of committee.
According to the FBI, violent crime rates have increased for the first time since you were murdered 20-years ago, yet lawmakers prefer to debate ideology, gay marriage, marijuana legalization, or any of a host of other fringe topics over public safety. In California Governor Brown continues to dump incarcerated felons into communities. As a result, property crime is at a 30-year high, and sex offenders are cutting off their GPS ankle bracelets and absconding without consequence.
I continue to be perplexed by funding within our industry. While the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children continues to rake in millions of tax payer dollars to support their golden calf in Alexandria, VA without explanation or justification, KlaasKids continues to work in the trenches on a shoestring. In 2013, we were actively involved in 106 cases. This number does not adequately reflect the total number of calls received by our Search Center but does detail the specific cases in which we provided services at the request of family or jurisdictional law enforcement agency.
KlaasKids 2013 caseload ranged from reports of SAR consultations (54%), SAR missions (25%), Human Trafficking consultations (9%), Human Trafficking rescue and extractions (5%), leads submitted to law enforcement (6%), and child abuse (1%). Of those, 77-cases have been resolved. We also certified our West Coast Search and Rescue (SAR) team, so that we will be able to provide more comprehensive national coverage for less money in 2014. None of this would have occurred without your inspiration.
Technology has not produced a silver bullet that will protect children when they venture online and engage social media. However, by combining existing technology solutions with good parenting skills and a do/don’t approach, we can ensure that kids are better protected in 2014 than they were in 2013. Kids should have fun with the Internet. They should experiment, email, chat, surf, research, play games, and create social networking profiles so that they can communicate with their friends. They just need to be careful about doing so. Kids should trust their parents and talk to them about their Internet experience, follow their rules, and allow them to monitor online activities. They should inform their parents if they see violent or pornographic images. These may be illegal images, and are certainly not intended for the eyes of children. Stay on public, monitored, child friendly rooms if they are using instant messaging or entering chat rooms. Predators have the advantage because they are anonymous on the Internet. Remember, not everybody is who they say they are.
Don’t share personal information online. Kid’s identity, address, school, phone number, passwords, etc. should never be shared with people that they don’t know in real life. Predators and rogue marketers can use this information against them. Be smart and keep social networking profiles private. By sharing social networking profiles only with friend’s children are ensuring the integrity of their friends and the validity of their profiles. Don’t reply to or start a conversation with people they don’t know. Don’t accept gifts from them or agree to meet with them. It is a terrible idea for anyone to open email attachments from people that you do not know. They may contain viruses or malware. Finally, don’t plagiarize. It is cheating to copy other people’s ideas and pass them off as your own.
The prevention front represents a shining star in the child safety constellation. One thing that Democratic and Republican elected officials agree on is the importance of investing in at-risk kids so that they have opportunity later in life. They agree that the best way to prevent crime and violence is through investments in early childhood development. Federal after-school funds served fewer than 10,000 kids in 1996, but today federal funding supports programs that serve over one million children.
One last thing before I go. Last year we also created a new fund to help the families of kidnap victims with housing costs and KlaasKids donated $6,000 to Cleveland kidnapping victim Michelle Knight. Her beautiful thank new note said, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.”
And so another year has passed. The seasons have come and gone. Tragedies occur with every rising sun and miracles grace our sunsets. People remain hopeful as our politicians dither in their legislative playpens. Music, flowers, the arts, love, family and everyday good deeds remind us that hope reigns eternal. However, I find it difficult to conceive the concept of eternity without you in my life.