Family abduction of children has become a serious concern in the United States. Coincident with the rapid rise in divorce and the increase in children born to unmarried parents, approximately 60 percent of all children spend time in a single-parent home (Glick, 1988; Hernandez, 1988). A national incidence study (Finkelhor, Hotaling, and Sedlak, 1991) revealed that in an unprecedented number of these single-parent families (354,000 in 1988), one parent took unilateral action to deprive the other parent of contact with their child. In almost half of these cases (163,200), the abducting parent intended to permanently alter custodial access by concealing the child or taking the child out of his or her home State or country.

Previous research has documented the obstacles to recovering these abducted children (Girdner and Hoff, 1993), the psychological harm inflicted on them, and the inordinate emotional and financial distress placed on left-behind parents (Hatcher, Barton, and Brooks, 1992; Greif and Hegar, 1993; Forehand et al., 1989). Social policy, consequently, is focusing on finding ways to identify potential custody violators early on and methods to prevent these painful and costly traumas (Hegar, 1990; Hoff, 1994, 1997).

Parental abduction, child stealing, and serious custodial interference—terms used synonymously in this Bulletin—are defined as the broad range of situations that involve one parentís taking, detaining, concealing, or enticing away his or her child from the parent who has custody or visitation rights. This Bulletin describes preventive interventions—counseling, conflict resolution, and legal strategies—that seek to settle custody and access disputes for families identified as at risk for parental abduction.

Previous Contents Next

Family Abductors: Descriptive Profiles and Preventive Interventions Juvenile Justice Bulletin January 2001