When a child disappears, police can't instantly rush out and start looking, although that's what everyone would like to happen. First, officers need details. Lots of them.
The first thing that happens when a missing-child report is filed is the information-gathering process, which can be time-consuming. Officers need a clear, representative photo, full vital statistics, any identifying marks like scars or birthmarks and other details that can aid in the search. Collecting those details can take a while when parents are out of their minds with worry. That's where a child ID comes in. If the parents have set one up, they can just hand all of that information to the police, answer a few additional questions and the search is under way.
The information stored in a child ID kit can vary, but all of them contain certain basics, including hair and eye color, height, weight, identifying marks and a recent photo, all of which should be updated at least every six months. Some kits also contain dental impressions, fingerprints and DNA, although these details are somewhat controversial, since in the missing-child context they're probably only going to be useful once the child is found. In the middle of an abduction scenario, authorities seldom have time to dust for prints or test for DNA.
Still, many people choose to include this information to be thorough. And in some instances the information may prove helpful: The Page County Sheriff's office in Virginia, for instance, which fingerprinted children for child IDs, is storing the information in a central database along with things like special needs, such as medication or disabilities, as an overall child-protection measure.
This database concept is actually somewhat controversial, too. Some child ID proponents claim that storing the information in a database that police can access makes the information-gathering process even faster in the event that the worst happens. Along the same lines, some child ID providers advise parents to give all caretakers access to the ID in case the child goes missing when he or she is in someone else's care. But other organizations, like the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, disagree with this advice. They say that only parents and full-time guardians should have access to the information, and that central databases should be avoided, in order to prevent unauthorized eyes from looking at your child's information.
The access question is one of the primary details that differ among the various child ID providers out there. So, when choosing a provider, what should you look for?