The last thing you want to have happen is a child to end up missing.
I was once at a museum when my normally very responsible then-6-year-old wandered off on her own. I went to the front desk as soon as I noticed her missing and a quick scan around the area we were in did not locate her. There was an interactive scale at the museum, so her height-49.5 inches, was fresh in my mind. She was quickly found by an employee and returned, the entire missing-to-found ordeal lasting less than 5 minutes and only costing me 3 years off my life.
During the wait after her description was radioed out and she was returned, skipping and thrilled to be the center of attention, all I could see were the dozens (okay 3) doors leading out and all of the nooks and crannies a scary child snatcher could have been lurking. But the fact of the matter is, until THAT moment, I had not even considered 'something' might happen to my children. Sure, we hold hands crossing the street and they are warned against talking with strangers away from me or from getting out of my line of sight. But those are common sense things along the same lines as not jumping on the trampoline after you just ate or not running with scissors, or flushing the toilet and brushing your teeth before bed-it is automatic for a mom to say them.
Since that day, I have thought quite a bit about what to do and I realized, I don't know. If she had not been found, should I have come home with the boys or gotten a room in that town? Should I talk to the media, when do I call the police if they can't locate her immediately, after 5 minutes, an hour? What would they need from me the most to find her the fastest? Could I recall exactly what she was wearing, did I know her weight and height and size off the top of my head?
I started looking around online for what the police do need in a missing child case and it was quite a bit. The Klaas Kids Foundation has a printable checklist that has loads of information to make it easier for you to know what to collect and how to get the info to the authorities. I do suggest that you update the information twice a year until your child is at least 12 because they can change much more than you realize. One last thing is to photograph scars and birthmarks close-up. In a panic, you may not remember if it was on the left or right side, shaped like a triangle or a rectangle or the color.
In addition to this information, I also use my digital to take photos of the kids at the start of an outing, especially if we are going someplace crowded or new. The photos simply go into their digital scrapbook as part of the trip, but IF something did happen, I would have head-to-toe shot of them that very day and that could make a huge difference. In a panic, I don't trust myself to remember shirt colors, which can make a big difference. I also have a safe word that ONLY the one child and I know, their own sibling does not know it. I have never had to be away from them, but if I were and had to send for them, the person I sent would know the safe word and that would be a person they could believe.
Am I paranoid now? Nope, just very aware that no one is safe from bad things happening. Make sure your kids know your full name, their full name, their address and phone number, how to dial 911 and who to ask if they do get lost. More on how to prepare your child in the next section.