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MEDIATING THE BATTLE OF MISSING CHILDREN
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MEDIATING THE BATTLE OF MISSING CHILDREN

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Jim, a 35-year-old divorced father living in New Jersey, abducted his daughter Jenny from his wife in 1987 because he thought she was being neglected and was not developing normally. After five months, he grew tired of moving around and became concerned because the child kept asking for her mother.

Another dad kidnapped his 1-year-old daughter because he believed her mother wasn't taking proper care of her. After two days, he discovered he was ill-equipped to take care of a baby.Both parents contacted Child Find of America's Mediation Program, designed to peacefully return children to their parent. Through mediation, both children were returned.

Mediation is a new program of Child Find, a 10-year-old private nonprofit organization that assists parents in locating missing children. So far, 2,000 children have been located through Child Find, which, with The Advertising Council, sponsored the milk carton photo campaign of several years ago.

Since the inception of the mediation program, 19 children have been returned.

The program is the first of its kind and is designed ``to get the parents out of conflict and get the children out of the battleground,' says Carolyn Zogg, executive director, who visited Greensboro on an awareness campaign for the Mediation Program.

Parental abductions account for almost 90 percent of Child Find's registered missing children. One out of 22 divorces end in a kidnapping by a parent. In North Carolina, as in 46 other states, such kidnapping is a felony.

As well as mediating actual abduction cases, Child Find talks with parents contemplating kidnapping their children.

The reasons for abductions by parents vary, but they include violation of visitation rights, a belief the child is being abused or isn't being taken care of properly or a feeling that a parent has been treated unfairly by the court system.

The initial contact for mediation must come from the in-flight parent. Many times, the abducting parent takes a child out of state and must keep moving in order to escape detection and, if the other parent presses charges, possible conviction.

Child Find has created a special toll-free line for parents who have abducted their children: 1-800-A-WAY-OUT.

Child snatching has become increasingly prevalent. A recently publicized case was that of Dr. Elizabeth Morgan, who sent her daughter Hilary overseas to live with her grandparents when she suspected her husband, Dr. Eric Foretich, of child abuse. Morgan wouldn't tell the judge where child was and was jailed for contempt for two years. Hilary was eventually traced to New Zealand, where her father is now attempting to gain custody.

Many parents in desperate situations turn to The Underground, begun by Atlanta mother Faye Yager. The Underground offers parents who abduct their children a network of houses in which to stay to escape detection and, if necessary, circumvent the justice system.

``The Underground is not the way to do it,' Zogg says. ``It's not right to work against the law.'

Zogg emphasizes that although Child Find mediators try to work with the law, they don't act as police. They don't attempt to trace the location of the abductor; rather, they try to get the parents to talk and settle their differences through the use of a mediator.

If charges have been filed, many times they are dropped.

Here's what happens when the parent who has abducted a child calls the mediation line:

The call is first answered by an answering service person who gathers information by asking the parent questions from a script. Then the call is transferred to a mediation coordinator who gets additional information, including the name and address of the parent left behind, and arranges for a mediator, usually from the part of the country from which the call is made.

The mediator talks with the parent with the child first, then the parent left behind to see if he or she is willing to mediate.

If the parent left behind is interested in mediating, the mediator begins the negotiations, usually with the parents individually. If the talks proceed, the parents might actually talk to each other through a conference call with the mediator.

In a recent case, a divorced mother who abducted her 3-year-old son and went into hiding was not only able to mediate a settlement with the child's father, but the couple reconciled their differences and plan to remarry.

In certain cases, relations are so vitriolic mediation isn't possible.

``Mediation is not for everyone,' Zogg says, ``but it does give parents on the point of desperation an alternative.'

In North Carolina, 44 children abducted by a parent have been registered with Child Find of America since 1980.

So far, the mediation program has received thousands of calls, 16 from parents in North Carolina contemplating abduction.

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