Last month nearly 40 missing or endangered children were rescued by federal and state agents in Georgia, according to authorities.
The two-week mission was dubbed “Operation Not Forgotten.”
Jennifer Swain heads Georgia’s YouthSpark, a Georgia nonprofit that works to transform the lives of vulnerable youth. She says the number of rescues is relative because the pandemic is compounding the problem.
“More kids are at home. They have increased screen time. They are chatting more with people. They’re Zooming more with people. More people are on what we call that virtual street,” she said. “But we’ve also seen some kids who are in homes and their homes are not happy homes. And what does that look like. It’s times like these when our youth services center are closed to the public, and they don’t have the ability to come into a safe place, it raises a lot of concern and red flags. I applaud authorities for looking for these kids. Some of those kids have been missing a short period of time. And some have been missing before the pandemic.”
Swain advises parents to make sure they are connected and communicating with their child.
“It is so important right now. We are all forced on screen times. More than we want to be,” she said. She added parents should talk to their children, notice behavior changes. And Swain advises parents check to see what are the children seeing online as well.
“More children are reporting their abuse to teachers,” and that is alarming, Swain said.
She added there are some children who are stuck in not-happy homes. It is important, she said, to look at what’s happening the home right now.
“Families are in crisis now more than ever before,” she said. “Having to switch to virtual learning, and the isolation is affecting all of us at different levels.”
Swain spoke about her agency’s greatest concern, “we need to pay close attention to vulnerable families who have abuse and drug abuse in their homes. ”
Thirteen missing children were found and an additional 26 endangered children were rescued during Operation Not Forgotten, an operation in Atlanta and Macon, the U.S. Marshals Service had announced.
The missing children were considered to be “some of the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases” and some were likely victims of child sex trafficking, child exploitation, abuse and had medical or mental health conditions, officials said.
Nine people were arrested on charges including sex trafficking, parental kidnapping and custodial interference, as well as registered sex offender and weapons violations. Authorities did not identify the suspects.