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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tis the Season… to Shop With A Cop!

Shop With A Cop Foundation of Silicon Valley Take Kids on Joyride Through Target

With the holidays upon us and in full swing, there are many great charity events in motion, all doing their part to make a difference.  This year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to our local Shop With A Cop (SWAC) event. And oh what a difference they made to some special holiday shoppers.

On December 12th, eighty officers from twelve different agencies converged to participate in the 6th annual event held at Target off of Coleman in San Jose, CA. Both officers and SWAC volunteers were on hand for the same purpose, to bring a lot of holiday joy to some very deserving children. And from the looks of the smiles and shopping baskets, I saw a job well done.

This SWAC program is really two-pronged according to the foundation’s mission and Executive Director, Darrell Cortez. At the core, SWAC’s goal is to foster good relationships between kids in low income communities and the police officers who work in their neighborhoods by sharing positive experiences together. The foundation also recognizes the reality of tough economic times and the importance of children having a little something to celebrate.  "At this time of year, it's very important because poverty never ends, and the ones who suffer the most are the children," Cortez said.

Super Bowl champs making the kids feel like champs!
Local athletes from the San Jose Earthquakes and Saber Cats in addition to Super Bowl Champion 49ers, Dennis Brown and Guy McIntyre (right), joined the celebration for photo ops of a lifetime.

And celebrate they did! 50 smart, thoughtful and deserving (they had to achieve academic success in order to be eligible for their shopping spree) were all smiles as they set out with gift cards and law enforcement buddies to do some holiday shopping. And when I say thoughtful, I mean T-H-O-U-G-H-T-F-U-L, Thoughtful! Many of the kids selected gifts for siblings, parents and other family members before they even looked at anything for themselves! No Grinches here, just a bunch of happy little Santa’s Helpers

Adding icing to the proverbial gingerbread house, the event wasn’t just “cop” exclusive. Many law enforcement officers from SJPD and surrounding Santa Clara County cities participated as well as the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol. Hats off to SWACSV, and all the honorable officers who protect, serve… and make time to provide a few miracles. Happy Holidays!

Written by Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reuniting Loved Ones for the Holidays

If you have seen the recent headlines, you are well aware that missing children have been very much in the news.  Everything from a California AMBER Alert leading to a nationwide manhunt, to babies that just disappear out of thin air, only to have the families prosecuted by Nancy Grace. But a lot of time, the reality is that many cases do not receive that level of media attention, nor coverage.

At Child Quest International (CQI) we work with the even lesser know everyday victims of child abduction and exploitation.  We’re here for the children who don’t flash on your TV and often fall between the cracks in “the system.”

Family abduction happens when a family member, usually a parent, kidnaps and conceals a child for any length of time. Many parents do not know what to do or who to turn to when their child goes missing, especially when the child is being concealed by a spiteful ex-spouse. While some may see parental abduction as a harmless custody issue, the reality is a much darker offense for both children and parents.

In the case of Mrs. Hernandez, one of the many victims CQI assist in their time of need, the issues and legalities pertaining to her children’s case seemed insurmountable. Not only were her children missing, she was lost, herself, in the search for them in a foreign land.

When Mrs. Hernandez came to our office at the referral of the local YWCA in February of 2012, we immediately identified with her lose and sympathized with her fears, and then we got to work. After all, she had not seen or talked to her three missing children since July 2007. And to further complicate the case, the entire family’s US immigration status was in question, to say the least.

Regardless of the circumstances, the children’s physical and emotional well being is always our focus. When a child is abducted by a parent or family member, the trauma can leave scars that never heal, leaving the child to suffer from lifelong psychological damage.  And believe it or not: 78 percent of all child abductions occur when a parent or family member kidnaps their own children, a far more common and serious crime than our society recognizes.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Missing Pleasanton Girl: Ana Elizarraras, 13 y/o

UPDATE 12/4/2013 @ 3:02PM: Ana Elizarraras was located by a family member in San Jose, CA on Wednesday, three days after her initial disappearance (Verified by Pleasanton Police Department).

Pleasanton, CA:  Police are asking for the public's help in finding missing 13 year-old Ana Elizarraras.

Friends and family haven't heard from her since Dec. 1, 2013, when she was last seen riding in a car with three unknown men.

Investigators say, while she left home willingly, Ana is considered AT-RISK due to her age (13 years-old) and reported circumstances.

Ana may possibly be in the San Jose, CA (South Bay) area, and is described as Hispanic, about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing about 130 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing black yoga pants or leggings and a blue/green sweatshirt with the word “Diamond” written across the front. She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail.

Editor Note: It's a thin gray line between runaways and human trafficking. Predators exploit these situations, trapping young girls and forcing them into sex slavery.

Anyone with information on Ana's whereabouts is asked to call Pleasanton (CA) Police Department at (925) 931-5100.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pulling the Trigger: The Mailbox Monster and Martial Law

In ten year’s time, or thereabouts, it will be taken as fact that the UK family justice system today was responsible, in significant ways, for contributing to soaring levels of mental health disorders faced not just by parents going through the courts, but later on, by their children. I modestly suggest this will also be established in other jurisdictions in the western world, too. 

Whilst it would be terribly unfair to suggest that people inside the system have colluded together with the sole purpose of trying to deteriorate the mental health of families that come before them, the heady combination of several high impact stress triggers within the system and the government’s fear of addressing the  problems without finding themselves caught in ever increasing political and financial conflicts of interest means that much like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, it is likely that intervention and reformation will not take place before we’ve paid too high a price. And it would be very easy to make the case that with one small life lost, the price is already too high.

Yet there are very real issues that need to be addressed when considering how the process affects mental health.

The UK family justice system is not sophisticated. Practitioners themselves, in private, often speak of it as a blunt instrument, often unable to provide the kind of detail that is required in family matters. When that metaphorical gavel comes crashing down, there’s no telling sometimes, where and on what, it will land. And the mess it makes, both physically and mentally, can be devastating.

Stress is often the catalyst for mental health deterioration and to that end we can perhaps group together a few major stimuli that cause stress levels within families to soar when they go through the family courts: these are what could be described as stress triggers. It’s important, I believe, to mention that before families come to the courts, there is an emotional background that is not taken into consideration, which adds to families’ stress levels especially when professionals inside the system don’t understand that they are not working with people at their best – they are working with people often at their worst and are therefore vulnerable and need support. 

Arguably the greatest stress trigger is one related to the science in the system. Many professionals don’t seem to be aware of the high levels of stress families are already under by the time they come to it and focusing as they do on inter departmental issues like goal incentives and inter-group politics, the real focus which should be, to my mind, on trying to stabilise families first before supporting with advice, is being ignored. Mediation for divorcing couples is the latest offering in this department but it will not provide government with the solution they crave – supporting families so that they are confident and calm enough to make their own choices or feel comfortable being aided to do so, will bring about the kind of solutions good for families and good for government.

The lack of understanding about the range of emotions that families go through when they come to the courts is also confounding. Social workers often retaliate with anger when a family member shouts at them upon advising, as they sometimes have to in public family law cases that a report into the care of their child may lead to the child being removed. This is a perfectly normal reaction and yet, it remains largely misunderstood. The social worker takes it personally and before you know it, they allow their own upset to muddy the waters and retaliate by taking their hurt out on the family, sometimes through mild forms of bullying right through to court of protection orders, effectively removing decision making from the person in question and doing so without just cause in these instances. 

California: AMBER Alerts Expanded After Disturbing Deaths

California Bill amends AMBER Alert criteria to make clear that the taking of an endangered child - regardless of the child's custodial status - could qualify for an AMBER Alert.

Cristina Harbison woke up on June 9, 2005, stunned to find blank freeway signs -- and no statewide Amber Alert for a troubled mother from unincorporated Walnut Creek, CA and her 5-year-old daughter.

Harbison, a Walnut Creek patrol officer at the time, had received a disturbing call the night before about a missing 39-year-old mother, Mary Alicia Driscoll, who had told family members she planned to harm herself and her daughter, Jineva.

But the next morning, colleagues informed Harbison that the California Highway Patrol had denied the request for an Amber Alert. Because Driscoll had sole custody of Jineva, they said, this did not qualify as an "abduction" under CHP guidelines. Read more »

AMBER Alert: Since 2002, California law enforcement has had the ability to issue Amber Alerts for missing and endangered children. Here are Amber Alert statistics in its decade-plus existence:

  • Amber Alert activations: 216
  • Amber Alerts denied: 365*
  • Number of victims abducted: 264
  • Victims recovered or deemed safe: 254
  • Suspects apprehended: 124
  • Stranger abductions: 41
  • Parental abductions: 92
  • Acquaintance abductions: 58
  • Hoax: 15
  • Unfounded: 10

*Reasons for denial are not tracked
Source: California Highway Patrol 
Written by Matthias Gafni