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2nd October 2002 White House Conference on Missing, Exploited, and Runaway Children

Participation by Senior Bush Administration officials at the White House Conference on Missing, Exploited, and Runaway Children provided a visible demonstration of this Administration's commitment to creating a safer world for America's children. John Ashcroft, US Attorney General, opened the conference, and US Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered the closing remarks. In addition, the attendees heard from Secretary of HHS Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Education Roderick Paige, FBI Director Robert Mueller, OJJDP Administrator Bob Flores, and Margaret Spellings, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. After an emotional meeting with families of kidnapped children, both President and Mrs. Bush addressed the conference. President Bush said, "society had a duty, a solemn duty to shield children from exploitation and danger."

In addition to Bush Administration experts, the 600 attendees heard from experts in law enforcement, parent advocates, academics, researchers, and many American corporate leaders engaged in programs to protect America's children. The conference was co-sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The theme of the conference revolved around the belief that while children make up just 25 percent of our population, they make up 100 percent of our future. The recurring themes of the conference were: 1) education, 2) training, and 3) community partnerships. All agreed that we want our children to walk around smart, not scared. We must teach our children how to be safe, how to make good choices in life.

The President announced the establishment of an Amber Alert Coordinator at the Department of Justice to enhance coordination among state and local plans and to give away $10 million in federal support for training and equipment upgrades.

More than 30 children have been found as a result of an Amber Alert in which local law enforcement officials distribute photos and other information about missing children and their abductors to television and radio stations using the Emergency Alert System created during the Cold War. Some stations are also flashing alerts to drivers using electronic billboards along the highway. The Amber Alert system is for use in very specific situations and not in every missing child case.

America Online announced beginning in November it would transmit Amber Alerts via desktop computers, cell phone, and pager to its 26 million subscribers who sign up for the alerts. Over 50,000 AOL users signed up the first day.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimate that overall, about 800,000 children are reported missing nationwide each year.

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