BSU's PEARL contracted to produce first and only estimate of missing children globally

Posted at 6:04 PM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 20:11:22-05

IDAHO — An estimated eight million children are reported missing globally each year, according to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) a number they said isn't reliable.

“In order to have people understand the scope of the problem we need to have a number that is reliable, and there has never been a number of missing children globally that is reliable," Felicity Northcott, Ph.D., ICMEC Director said.

Boise State's Program Evaluation and Research Lab (PEARL), has been contracted by ICMEC to create the first and only model to do just that.

"When it comes to missingness, how many are missing? Over a million kids are reported missing every year, globally, but that is reports," Dr. Carl Siebert, associate professor BSU College of Education, and Director of PEARL said. "As we start looking at the data, the countries don’t always report missingness nor do they have the same definition of missingness."

"Internationally most countries don’t even report missing kids, and they don’t have appropriate responses for missing kids," Northcott added. "They don’t have the resources or the legislative protocols to respond to missing kids, and you also have underreporting."

A huge challenge Siebert said that he and his team are up against. But, one that they are ready for.

"The definition of missingness is a huge challenge, and then the country's willingness to share those numbers accurately is another challenge we have faced, " he said. "What we are doing is building our model to fill in the places that we don’t know, so if a country doesn’t report how many kids are missing but they report other things our model is going to compare countries that have similar characteristics to plug in those numbers."

PEARL is following a five-step process that includes research, collecting date, validating that data, building the model and then testing it.

"Part of the Boise project, the brilliance of it, is they are figuring out what the real indicators of real missingness are," Northcott said. "What are those things that help us understand that based on a certain geographic, demographic, cultural, political context we can estimate how many kids are missing in that country."

“That also allows us to go to that country and offer help to develop the necessary legislative mandates to respond to missing kids," she added. "But also this project will allow us to support other countries to get the resources in place to look for and recover missing kids safely, and also help with prevention."

With an immediate goal of starting a conversation about missing and exploited children to help create change around the world.

“Not only do we want to get a more accurate number so people can understand that there are millions of missing kids around the world, but we also want people to understand that there needs to be a universal definition of what it means for a child to be missing," Northcott said. "This model will help us get there."

PEARL is hoping to have a prototype of their model by the end of spring and start testing it at the beginning of summer.