The new bipartisan law Protecting Our Children Comes First Act (H.R. 2517, S.1829) was signed into law yesterday by President George W. Bush. The bill was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 408 to 3, and was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate. The bill reauthorizes funding for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) through 2013 and adds new programs and services to those already being offered by the organization.
NCMEC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has worked in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice to bring missing children home and to protect children from sexual exploitation for 24 years. Since the organization was created in 1984, it has helped recover 126,000 missing children and the recovery rate of missing children has increased from 62% in 1990 to 97 percent today. In 2007, NCMEC helped recover more children than any other year in the organization’s 24 year history. The bill signed into law by President Bush authorizes up to $40 million per year in federal funding to NCMEC to support 19 specific programs, mandated by statute, and designed to bring more missing children home and keep every child safe.
Heading the effort that resulted in the passage of this important legislation were longtime child advocates Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in the Senate, and Representatives Nick Lampson (D-Texas) and Judy Biggert (R-Illinois) in the House, along with Chairwoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-New York) of the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont): “As a father and grandfather, I can imagine that an abducted child is any parent’s worst nightmare,” Leahy said. “Unfortunately, it is a nightmare that happens all too often. These families need the assistance of the American people and a helping hand from Congress. I am proud that Congress and the President have also realized their obligation to our Nation’s children by supporting the Protecting Our Children Comes First Act.”
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): "For many years, I have worked closely with NCMEC and its founder, John Walsh. Together we have celebrated many important legislative victories that have improved this nation's response to crimes against children. I am pleased and proud to have helped pass this vital bill which will do so much to protect our children."
Representative Nick Lampson (D-Texas): “Child safety is a national priority that deserves every weapon in our arsenal; and every tool in our tool box,” said Lampson, founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus. “Parents form the front line when it comes to keeping children safe, but child safety is a shared responsibility. The funding we have provided will increase resources for law enforcement to capture, prosecute and incarcerate the worst of criminals that work to harm our children.”
Representative Judy Biggert (R-Illinois): “It seems like every time I open the newspaper, I read another story of a child that has been victimized,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL-13), Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Missing & Exploited Children. “Clearly more can and must be done. That’s why this bill is so important. It will provide the National Center with the tools and resources it needs to help keep our children safe, and it addresses the modern, online threats that face today’s youth. I’m very pleased that Congress and the President have been able to unite behind this critical legislation.”
Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-New York): Chairwoman McCarthy added, “the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has done vital work for nearly a quarter century. The risks that modern children face today are daunting and unprecedented. It was important that we not just reauthorize NCMEC, but that we provide clear, specific mandates to address the issues facing today’s children and their safety. I look forward to continued collaboration with NCMEC in working to keep our nation’s children, families, and communities safe.”
19 Core Programs and Services
Since 1984, NCMEC has operated the national resource center and clearinghouse on missing and exploited children; operated the national missing children’s hotline; coordinated public and private programs to locate, recover, or reunite missing children with their families; and provided training and technical assistance to law enforcement.
Today, Congress has mandated that NCMEC perform 19 specific functions on behalf of the federal government:
Operate the official national resource center and information clearinghouse for missing and exploited children;
Operate a national 24-hour toll-free missing children’s hotline;
Coordinate public and private programs that locate, recover, or reunite missing children with their families;
Provide technical assistance and training to law enforcement;
Provide assistance to families and law enforcement in locating and recovering missing and exploited children, nationally and internationally;
Provide analytical support to law enforcement through searching public records databases in locating and recovering missing and exploited children and helping to locate and identify abductors;
Provide direct on-site technical assistance to law enforcement agencies in child abduction and exploitation cases;
Provide forensic assistance to law enforcement in the identification of unidentified deceased children through facial reconstruction of skeletal remains;
Track the incidence of attempted child abductions to identify links and patterns, and provide such information to law enforcement;
Provide training and assistance to law enforcement agencies in identifying and locating non-compliant sex offenders;
Facilitate the deployment of the National Emergency Child Locator Center to assist in reuniting missing children with their families during periods of national disasters;
Operate a CyberTipline for reporting Internet-related child sexual exploitation;
Work with law enforcement, Internet service providers, electronic payment service providers, and others to reduce the distribution on the Internet of images and videos of sexually exploited children;
Operate a child victim identification program to assist law enforcement in identifying victims of child pornography and other sexual crimes;
Develop and disseminate programs to the general public, schools, public officials, youth-service organizations, and nonprofit organizations on the prevention of child abduction and sexual exploitation; and Internet safety;
Provide an annual report to the Justice Department regarding the number of missing children reported to NCMEC in four categories: total missing; nonfamily abductions; parental kidnappings; and recoveries;
Work with governments and nonprofit agencies to use school records and birth certificates to locate missing children;
Assist governments, nonprofit agencies and individuals in providing legal, restaurant, lodging and transportation services to benefit missing and exploited children and their families; and
Provide information about model programs, services and legislation that benefit missing and exploited children.