Getting To Your Children and Keeping Them Safe: Help For An Absentee Parent- Part 1, by J.C.

The United States has nearly 1.2 million divorces* of married couples. There are an estimated 25 million children* living in single parent households, and many parents travel long distances for work, spending nights away from home. Setting aside for a moment the reasons for these situations, the fact is that a large portion of children are away from either one or both parents for extended periods of time. If you are a parent who spends time away from your child, how do you plan to save them in a SHTF moment, or more importantly, get to them in a crisis when time is against you?

If you are a divorced father who only sees your children on the weekends or are a mother who travels for work every day and relies on daycares, schools, or babysitters, you might both have the same problem in an emergency situation. You are miles away from your children and have no idea what to do next. Now is the time to make your plans, put things in order, and prepare to get to your children before an event keeps them from you.

The first step is research and information gathering. Would it surprise you to learn that some parents may not know the address of their child’s school? Even more people don’t know the locations of their children’s friends whom they visit. This occurs even more frequently for parents who don’t live in the same household as their children. Ask yourself if you had to find your child right now without the aid of your phone, GPS, or the other parent, could you do it? Where is their school? Where is the babysitter’s house? Do they stay with extended family, and do you know where those houses are? These are critical details for a parent to have at their fingertips in times of crisis. A perfect place to start is a small pocket notebook or binder that can stay with you in your vehicle, suitcase, or bug out bag.

Items to record:

  1. Each child’s school address, main phone number, and specifically their teacher’s full name and cell phone number will need to be collected. This can be important if the office lines are overloaded with calls. Knowing how to work around the primary phone numbers may be the difference between getting an answer and getting a busy signal. Many principals or school administrators have a direct line, and those numbers would be important to add to the list. The key here is to be able to immediately reach someone who can verify where your child is and that he or she is safe. This also allows you to offer specific instructions about your child directly to their teacher. The usual bus route your child takes can also be helpful information.
  2. Record additional locations your child could be spending time. Family members, friends, and private day cares are a common resource for single parents. Do you know where they all are? Even if they are ex-in-laws due to divorce, do they watch your children? You need that information, including addresses and phone numbers of those in charge.
  3. For older children, you need to gather the details of their friends and other common places they frequent. This can include activity schedules for sports, band, 4-H, church outings, and scout meetings. Get as many phone numbers and addresses as possible. This information is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to gather quickly in a crisis.
  4. Locate hospitals, clinics, doctor offices, and pharmacies. Out of town parents will not be familiar with these, and that information would prove invaluable for medical emergencies.

Once you have all those critical pieces of information, it is time to move onto mapping out these locations. You will need a good (and recent) local map showing street names and landmarks. Be prepared to make multiple copies of this final map when completed. Clearly mark each location, and list what each one represents. Remember, you may not be local, and some parents spend very little time in the town where their children reside. Make sure you print clearly what each location represents in permanent ink.

Once this is complete, the map should show some obvious patterns. Look for major travel routes and secondary access routes to these locations. Include a compass and GPS unit with this map for backup. For the GPS, you can cross reference the locations on Google Earth and record the latitude and longitude coordinates, or if you routinely visit these places they can be saved into the unit while you are there. The most important factor is knowing how to get from one place to the next as quickly as possible. If you are ever put into a situation where you have to search for your children, the time you invest now could save their lives.

The next stage of information gathering is going to relate to the child’s important documents. If you are not the parent who handles doctor visits, paperwork, or permission slips, you might not be aware of certain allergies or smaller medical issues. If you don’t file them on your taxes or sign them up for activities, do you have copies of their birth certificates? How about a copy of any custody arrangements? This is where we will bring up some legal aspects of emergency situations for divorced parents.

Unless there is a full grid down societal collapse going on, you will be expected to follow the normal rules and guidelines of your specific situation. It will be up to you to determine the level of emergency and your response to that emergency. Please remember that the rule of law might be slow to react during a crisis, but you will most assuredly be held accountable for your actions at some point in the future. Be aware of your rights and what you can and cannot do, if you have a legally binding custody agreement with the other parent. Consulting a quality family law attorney beforehand to discuss this would be recommended, if your situation fits this description.

Children’s records you will need:

  1. Up-to-date medical records. Make sure to include allergies, known conditions, blood types, and descriptions of any medications they take regularly. Include contact information for any medical personnel (doctors, specialists, et cetera) that would be relevant. Also include copies of health insurance cards and plan details along with policy numbers and office contact numbers.
  2. Originals (or copies) of birth certificates, social security cards, passports, and other legal paperwork you have for each child. Hard copies are best, but have a secure digital copy available as a convenient back up.

Now that you have collected everything listed so far, it is time to evaluate and make a plan. Keep it simple. Identify strengths and weaknesses. Consider and plan for as many variables as possible.

  1. Assess each child’s maturity and skill level accurately and objectively.
  2. Will you be traveling to them, or are they older children who can travel to a specific location?
  3. Are there multiple children in multiple locations?
  4. Can you set primary and secondary rendezvous sites?
  5. What will you do if there is no communication available?
  6. Is there any special gear needed for the terrain or weather?
  7. What about transportation needs or alternatives, if primary transportation fails?
  8. Who are the family relationships or people you can trust to work with you on getting your children to safety?
  9. Are there local emergency agencies that would be an asset, resource, or hindrance?
  10. Are there any potentially dangerous facilities along the travel routes– chemical plants, nuclear facilities, waste storage locations, et cetera?
  11. What bridges, overpasses, and other infrastructure might be damaged during natural disasters?
  12. Are there dangerous neighborhoods to avoid?

Let’s assess the children first. A good way to look at this is to split them into younger and older categories. This is less about specific ages as it is about their maturity level. Younger children are going to need direct supervision. They won’t be able to travel by themselves and may need special items for their care. Older children may be able to drive, or are capable of traveling to some degree by themselves. The amount of experience and training they have will need to be factored into the plan. Older children should have some level of training in basic outdoor survival. Skills in constructing a temporary shelter, fire building, purifying water, preparing food, and navigation are all important to surviving even a short-term event. First aid and personal protection will be additional topics that could save their lives. If they do not have this basic skill set, then you know what should be first on your list.

Younger children are going to be tougher to plan around. They will be expected to remain wherever they are when the crisis hits. Sheltering in place is going to be the safest option, but going back to the research part of this plan, success depends on each parent knowing exactly where that child is located. Because there are so many potential variables in making a final plan, it will be up to the reader to determine the most appropriate solution. Make sure the plan is simple and easy to follow with several back up options. Be ready to immediately implement the plan and ensure that everyone involved is fully informed.