More than 800,000 children are reported missing every year. That's one child every 40 seconds, with runaways accounting for 450,000 and 350,000 being abducted.
In an effort to help bring children home safely and combat the staggering statistics, the Erath County Sheriff's Office is working to distribute identification kits through the National Child Identification Program.
While the sheriff's office has made identification kits available for several years and has provided a community service by fingerprinting children at area events and businesses, Sheriff Tommy Bryant is offering parents and caregivers take-home kits to collect the vital information on their own.
Bryant said the kits can be picked up at the sheriff's department and contain an inkless fingerprint kit, DNA collection swabs and a wallet identification card.
The kit also provides a space for recording unique characteristics, such as birthmarks, scars, previously broken bones, moles and prosthetics. In addition, there is a space where parents can record the name, address and telephone numbers for doctors and dentists for obtaining medical and dental records when needed.
Bryant also said he will be on hand at the 2010 Children's Health and Safety Fair at Henderson Junior High Saturday distributing the kits. The fair is sponsored by the Stephenville Medical and Surgical Clinic and will be held from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
As a parent and lawman, Bryant is well aware of the importance of maintaining an identification kit for all children, even teenagers.
"These kits are the strongest link in identifying a missing child," Bryant said. "If families keep this information updated and on hand, they can provide law enforcement officials with vital information in the initial moments of an investigation."
Bryant also said it is important to keep current pictures of your child at arms length at all times and said school pictures, which are typically taken twice a year, provide a quality "mug shot" for identification purposes.
According to the National Child Identification Program Web site, www.childidprogram.com, the Lone Star State has made strides in the last decade aimed at protecting children and aiding in their safe return. In 2000, under the leadership of former governor and president George W. Bush, the state distributed almost four million Child ID Kits to all kindergarten - 12 grade students; 2006-2007 under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, 2.2 million kits were provided to kindergarten - sixth grade students; and in an ongoing program that started in 2008, Perry, Wal-Mart and the Texas Sheriff's Association and the Texas Association of School Administrators are providing all incoming kindergarten students with kits each year.