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Black Children Missing in Alarming Numbers

ED GORDON, host:

Today, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children hosts its 5th annual Hope Awards in Washington, D.C. According to the group, about 800,000 kids are reported missing a year. Of that number, 33 percent are African American. Herb Jones is Vice President of external affairs for the center. Earlier, I asked him about the concerns of some who believe authorities move slower in cases that involve missing black children.

Mr. HERB JONES (Vice President, External Affairs, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children): I think once law enforcement in particular receives information about a child being missing, and particularly young children, there and immediate response to it. And they will respond no matter what color, because a innocent child is out there some place unknown and probably in harm's way.

There is a concern about, when we receive calls or when law enforcement receives calls, from 13 years and up that they tend to think that that child is a runaway. This could be correct, but in instances when it has not been correct, then the worst case scenario develops. So we try to encourage law enforcement to take all of these calls very seriously.

GORDON: And the reason I raise that question is as we have heard with in particular missing women, but we see this to some degree with missing children, it that the media does not as quickly or give the same kind of coverage to kids of color as they do to white children?

Mr. JONES: We have heard that and I think in some cases that may be true. But we have to understand what the media looks for. They look for circumstances, plus they look for grassroots involvement and how to get the community involved, and understanding what the media is looking for.

I think if we are more involved, once a child has been reported missing, and we get that groundswell within our communities; and people start responding and making phone calls to the media; and making demands from the media, that this child is just as important as any other child; we may get better coverage. We have heard this. We have seen it, and we have questioned it, particularly not only in the African-American community, but also in the Hispanic community. In which we feel, and have seen or have heard, that the media is not responding as fast or as quickly, as they are when it comes to the white race.

GORDON: What are the signs that you want to look for? And what typically are the reasons that these kids run away?

Mr. JONES: Well, there are withdrawal signs, in which the kids basically will not interact with the parent, and that's the reason we encourage parents to really pay attention to what they children saying to them. If a child is being inappropriately touched, or advances made to that child, that child must have confidence in the parents - that they can to them without fear of any punishment. One of the grave concerns we is the Internet and children using the computer, which we have about 25 million per that's using the computer. One thing parents need to know, is to take the computer out of the bedroom. Put it in a public area.

GORDON: There is a bit of good news. We should note that a number of people were concerned, rightfully so, after Katrina, when we saw so many children separated from their parents due to the evacuation efforts, and the inability, always, to be able to take families at the same time. We should note that trying to reunite those families has been an arduous, six-month effort. But there's good news on the front.

Mr. JONES: Very good news and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was given the responsibility of reuniting these families, and that we have recovered 100 percent of the children that were reported missing to us. There were over 5,000 of these children that were reported missing. And it was a very tough situation, but it was a situation in which we, as Americans, had never had to encounter before, and the lessons learned. We do understand a lot about what happened, but we're concerned now about the after-effects of these--this incident on the children, what psychological effects that it's having on them. And the reports that we're receiving that there're a number of children who have not adequately adjusted back into mainstream society because of that experience.

GORDON: All right, Mr. Jones. Thank you so much for speaking with us on an issue, particularly as we move into summer that becomes vitally important for people who have children, and as you suggest, it really is about being involved in your child's life and keeping your eyes open. We appreciate your time.

Mr. JONES: Thank you very much.

GORDON: Herb Jones is Vice President of external affairs for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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GORDON: Coming up on our roundtable, the latest on a South-African scandal, and the president of Iran reaches out to the White House. We'll bring you these stories and more, up next. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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