WAYS TO BUILD AWARENESS
Media strategies are usually the go-to option when it comes to raising public awareness, but there are other ways that the community can help raise public awareness and engagement in the case of a missing child. The Public Awareness Coordinator should, in addition to organizing media, consider the following options to getting the message out:
Working with the Administrative Coordinator, volunteers can help disseminate posters throughout the community and/or their networks.
Volunteers can be useful in putting posters up in local businesses, on street posts, and in high traffic areas.
Keep a log of all the places where posters are put up as this will greatly assist in ensuring all posters are removed when they are no longer needed.
If the community is planning any fundraising events in support of the missing child search effort, you may use this opportunity to raise the profile of the case.
If there are events planned in your community pertaining to the issue of missing children and child safety, you may want to approach the organizers to identify any potential partnership.
Research large public events in your community where awareness raising may be an option (i.e. large sporting events, music concerts, etc.). At these types of events mention of the search can be made or information about the missing child can be distributed.
Vigils, if coordinated effectively and with the support of the searching family, can be a meaningful way to engage the public in the missing child case.
Vigils can personalize the missing child case for members of the public and may increase their participation in the search.
Seeing the impact that the missing child case has had on a community can elicit a response from a wider audience.
If coordinated properly and supported appropriately, vigils can provide a healthy opportunity for the involvement of the child’s peers and many of those impacted by the child’s disappearance.
In situations where police are actively investigating, and there is a limited role for the community, vigils can be a way to show the searching family and the child that the community cares.
In Canada, a green ribbon has been adopted by Child Find Canada and the provincial Child Find offices as a symbol of hope that a child will be located. In 1992, following the abduction and murder of Kristen French, the staff and students at Holy Cross Secondary School in St. Catherines, Ontario, approached the Child Find Canada network and requested that in memory of Kristen the green ribbon be adopted as a symbol of hope for all missing children. This has led to the Green Ribbon of Hope campaign which runs throughout the month of May every year. Each year green ribbons are distributed to the Canadian public to wear as a sign of recognition of our country’s missing children.
As a community, you may want to adopt the green ribbon as your symbol, or create new ribbon that would represent the missing child.
Ribbons are a great way to get children and youth involved in the location effort. In many areas, volunteers will need to be over 18 years of age, however, creating symbols of hope to be used in the awareness effort can be an appropriate task for younger volunteers.
Raising Awareness on the Internet
While the media may represent the most obvious choice when attempting to raise public awareness, there are many other options to consider and explore as well. Be sure to consult with the police and the searching family before employing any new public awareness strategy and always consider the permanence of the information you may be posting online.
The Internet can be an invaluable tool. However, in the case of a missing child, using the Internet to distribute information or a missing child poster must be done with caution and care. Once information or an image is distributed on the Internet it is impossible to ensure that it is ever completely removed. Rather than posting information in several places, you may want to consider posting the information only on a reputable website like missingkids.ca and drawing people’s attention to the site. This will make it easier to remove the information when a child is located. This is a safer choice, but again you must recognize that any picture or information that is posted online can be copied.
You may want to create a database of email addresses for local community members and businesses in case of an emergency or to share public updates. Your local missing children services organization or missingkids.ca may assist you in this process. If you choose to distribute a missing child poster through personal email, make sure you track emails sent using the Poster Tracking Form.
It is important to track all email notifications so that appropriate follow up can be completed upon location of the child. Again, you may wish to instead forward a link to a reputable missing child website that may host up-to-date information on your case.
With such technological as social networking sites, information can be sent quickly and to many people, which can be beneficial in some cases. However, in many missing child cases where their general whereabouts (including city, province, or even country) are known, it may not be necessary to expose the child and his/her information in such an unrestrained way that social networking sites may allow.
Please be aware that due to the way social networking sites such as Facebook work, it may be impossible to ever fully remove the information you post there.
Consider the impact that sharing information on social networking sites, through email, etc. may have on the police investigation. Extending the search beyond the reasonable location of a child can open up challenges for the investigation. For example, police could become burdened with sightings and tips to follow that have no reasonable basis. In cases that become criminal investigations, police are often required to follow up on every tip and sighting, and this can create barriers to successful prosecution.
When trying to raise the public’s awareness using options such as social networking sites, remember that these sites must be actively monitored. Information posted by others on to the site may need to be forwarded to the police or removed if hurtful or offensive.
Engaging prominent community figures/celebrities
In order to continue to increase the public’s awareness of the ongoing search for a missing child you may choose to engage a well-known public figure in your effort.
Make sure that this person or entity is aware of the sensitivity of the situation. While raising awareness is extremely important, you need to ensure that this public person has the same good intentions that the rest of the Community Response Plan Team does.
Depending on the nature of your missing child case, political advocacy could become very important. For example, if your child has been taken to another country, it may be helpful to get certain politicians involved.
Start with local community politicians to advocate on your behalf.