Family Abduction Legislative History
In 2004, after having success with Amber Alert policies and programs being developed and implemented, the Polly Klaas Foundation® (PKF) began focusing on the issue of Family Abductions, a very high stakes type of abduction with the most child victims affected each year in our country. We implemented a new campaign and website called Stop Family Abductions Now and over the next several years, we proposed, co-authored, participated in the development of, and lobbied for legislation across the country to make our world safer for our children who were being victimized at the hands of their parents.
There are a lot of misconceptions about this crime and the one we hear the most is that kids are safe because they are with a parent or family member. It was important to us then, and still is today, that people understand that the principal motive for family abductions is revenge and vindictiveness, not the child’s safety. Also, more than half of abducting parents have a history of violent behavior, a criminal record, or a substance abuse problem. Being removed from a stable home environment and being forced to live on the run with an abducting parent who is now in a high-stakes situation as a fugitive, creates a situation where the victims of this crime often suffer lifelong emotional damage, abusive situations, and unfortunately, many lose their lives. To combat that, we began working with Congressional members to develop legislation that would address these issues to get these children home quickly and safely.
Family Abduction Prevention Act of 2004 (HR 3965 and S 2199)
Our first bill, the (Family Abduction Prevention Act of 2004), co-authored in partnership with Representative Lynn Woolsey and Senator Dianne Feinstein, garnered co-sponsorship from 72 members of the House and 7 members of the Senate. The purpose was to provide grants to States for projects involving the extradition of family abductors back to the State where the child was taken, provide training and investigation resources on this specific issue, and to develop outreach and media campaigns to educate parents on the dangers of family abductions. This Act did not pass the initial Congressional Session, but it was reintroduced again in 2006, 2007, and 2009 bringing to light many of the issues facing children who were at risk of family abduction.
When introducing this legislation, PKF held a press conference, along with Congressional Members, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Take Root, announcing a new national poll about public perception of this issue, included in a new report just released that day, entitled “America’s Hidden Crime: When the Kidnapper is Kin”. That morning, a member of the PKF was on The Today Show discussing the issue of family abductions and why this new report and legislation were so important.
Rights for Abducted Children Act of 2005 (HR 1672)
While we were lobbying for the Family Abduction Prevention Act, we discovered that part of the problem with addressing family abductions was that the only person who was considered a victim of this crime was the left-behind parent. We needed to do something to ensure that the children that were also victimized by family abductions were also considered victims so they would be eligible for victim assistance. Thus, the Rights for Abducted Children Act was born and again co-authored in partnership with Representative Lynn Woolsey.
This bill addressed this issue by attempting to amend the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 to define “victim” to include a child victim of family abduction and the federal criminal code to modify the definition of child abuse to include family abductions. This bill did not pass in this session and was unfortunately, not reintroduced, but we also felt that the amount of publicity that the conversations about family abductions was having was worth all of the effort put in.
While we were working on National legislation to bring attention and remedies to family abduction issues, we were invited to participate in the drafting of legislation with the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, also known as the Uniform Law Commission (UCL). The UCL studies and reviews the law of the States to determine which areas of law should be uniform across the country. In this case, they asked PKF staff to consult with them to develop what is now known as the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA).
Over a series of meetings and at-home work in 2014, the UCAPA was developed to provide courts with guidelines to follow during custody disputes and divorce proceedings in order to help them identify families at risk for abduction and prevent the abduction of children. PKF’s report, “America’s Hidden Crime: When the Kidnapper is Kin“, was used to demonstrate who the highest risk group for potential abductions are in the Prefatory Note for the Drafting Committee. To date, this legislation has been enacted by 15 States across the nation.
The UCL was also working at that time to increase the number of States to enact the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which limits the State with jurisdiction over child custody to one, avoiding competing orders and providing enforcement provisions for child custody orders, so the UCCJEA Endorsement PKF partnered with UCL to do just that. Our Stop Family Abductions Now campaign began to highlight the UCCJEA and provided a means for people across the country to contact their State legislators and ask them to pass the UCCJEA. Since that time, 16 more States have enacted the UCCJEA with Massachusetts still being the only State who has not adopted this legislation.
Bills HD 497 and SD 1117 are going through the legislative process again, during the 192nd Session (2021-2022), which demonstrates how long it can take to move legislation from bills into laws. PKF has been committed to these Bills since 2005, when a member of PKF traveled to Massachusetts to testify before a committee at the State Legislature about why the UCCJEA was so important to pass. We were hopeful then, and remain committed now, that they will finally vote to enact this legislation.
The PKF continues to work on both State and National Legislation by providing ideas, reviewing and commenting on current bills, testifying before committees, and providing support or opposition letters as needed. Please contact us if you are developing legislation that will help find missing children and keep children safe from abduction.