PIKESVILLE, Md. — Thousands of kids are reported as missing each year in Maryland, although most return home to be reunited with their family.
Statistics show a missing child is more likely to be a runaway than abducted by a family member or stranger.
Maryland Center for Missing and Unidentified Persons director Carla Proudfoot wants people to reconsider their perception of what it means for a child to be a runaway.
“They're not just a runaway, you know. How are they surviving? How are they eating? Where are they sleeping? So, those are important things. There's statistics that every time a child runs, they run farther and stay away longer, until the don't come back,” Proudfoot said.
Maryland State Police Child Recovery Unit Sgt. Debbie Flory said “there's a study that shows, if you run away more than three times, chances are, you're going to need help, and you're going to get it from somebody who's going to traffic you, in some form. So, it's survival.”
Nearly 4,800 juveniles were reported as missing in Maryland in 2020. While many of those are runaways, some kids also fall victim to online predators.
Sgt. Flory said complaints in the Internet Crimes Against Children unit skyrocketed since Covid, when most kids were at home and online in virtual classrooms.
“There's so much, that you can't even keep up with it. So, you can be lured or groomed on X-Box, Playstation, TikTok, Instagram ,so there's so many multiple platforms now, that the groomer doesn't even have to leave his house,” Floyd said.
While most missing person cases involving children have a happy ending for families, there are steps parents can take to be proactive in the event their child goes missing.
Proudfoot offers some tips such as: always have a good quality, current head and shoulders photo of your child; monitor your child's cell phone, internet, and social media activity; and maintain a list of their online passwords so you can access their accounts.
“You should always have a list of your child's friends, their phone numbers, their parents' addresses, so that you have something to give law enforcement to look for. If they don't have any leads to follow, they're going out there blinded. They don't even know where to begin to look,” Proudfoot said.
“A lot of our percentage of people that run, are from a group home, because they don't want to be there. So, that brings a whole other field of where we need a picture. We need something to go on. We need to know more about them when they’re in a group home situation, it’s very hard to get that information,” Flory said.
The more information parents can give police, the better.
“I can't imagine at night, not knowing where your children are. When you're going to sleep, and even being able to sleep. So, it feels really good when we can relay those fears, and the child gets recovered and they get whatever services they might need,” Proudfoot said.
Proudfoot has dedicated 36 years to the plight of missing children at the Maryland Center for Missing and Unidentified Persons.
“I ran away when i was 11, and it was for stupid reasons. I wanted to be on my own, you know. Eleven-year-olds don't make great decisions, and even 16-year-olds don't make great decisions. I always felt like these kids are falling in the cracks. If nobody's helping them, their life is not going to have a good outcome,” Proudfoot said.
Correction: Sgt. Debbie Flory's name previously was misspelled as "Floyd."