Child alert systems are designed to alert the public, as quickly as possible, to an abduction or other high-risk child disappearance. The alerts range from media appeals to images of an abducted child being displayed on road signs.
The preliminary research is the first to examine child alert systems in Europe – specifically the UK, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Poland – which between them issued 19 of the 23 alerts in Europe in 2015.
In addition to safely recovering the missing child, the report found that child alert systems have other important benefits such as supporting the investigative process, improving the relationship between law enforcement and the child’s relatives, and meeting public expectations.
The report was authored by missing persons expert Dr Karen Shalev Greene, Director of the Centre for the Study of Missing Persons at the University of Portsmouth, and Charlie Hedges, police specialist of AMBER Alert Europe, the European Child Rescue Alert and Police Network on Missing Children.
Dr Shalev Greene said: “This is a first of its kind study in the EU, which looks at how useful this system is. The media play an important role in distributing information to the public. We need to learn how to best use this powerful tool to make sure the child is found. This study will help inform discussions and provide better understanding of the consequences.”
Mr Hedges said: “This first study, and especially further research, is crucial to understand the challenges of using child alert systems. The findings help organisations like AMBER Alert Europe and policymakers all over Europe better support law enforcement in saving the lives of missing children.”
The small sample indicated that girls aged younger than ten were the most likely to be abducted, but the response of police, media and volunteers wasn’t always fast enough – about half those being sought were found dead.
Child alert systems were created in the US, where they are called AMBER Alerts, following the abduction and murder of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman in 1996. Similar systems now exist in many countries. Sixteen EU countries have an AMBER Alert system. Eight EU countries have used their system at least once.