Hardly a week passes without hearing something about missing children in this country. Some are believed stolen for sexual purposes, some are found murdered, and thousands of other children are kidnapped by one of their own parents.
Today, let’s focus on parental abductors.
For the parent left behind after a former spouse has kidnapped their child, there is the agony of not knowing when — or if — they will ever see their baby again. Even the tiniest clue as to their son’s or daughter’s whereabouts is vitally important if there is ever to be a reunion.
To those heartsick parents, I say: The Internal Revenue Service may very well know where your missing child is, but the agency won’t tell you.
Believe it or not, there are some parental abductors who file tax returns and blatantly claim their kidnapped child as a dependent! Some of them apparently need the refund money, while others don’t want to attract attention for failure to pay. When they file their return, they list their employer and their home address, along with the child’s name and Social Security number.
All are major pieces of information the abandoned parent would love to know. But the IRS cloaks itself in Watergate-era privacy laws, shrugs its bureaucratic shoulders and says it just can’t help the grieving parent locate the missing child.
I might be risking a tax audit here, but can’t the IRS do better than that?
Apparently not. As it stands now, privacy laws prohibit the IRS from revealing any tax return information unless the parental abduction case is being investigated by federal agents. The reality is that these cases are most often investigated by local or state law enforcement. And on the rare occasion the FBI does get involved in a parental kidnapping case, federal judges almost never grant requests for IRS information. Child advocacy groups say it’s because judges most often believe this type of case more properly belongs in a state’s family court, not a federal one.
What a bunch of Catch-22 type logic! It seems the bureaucrats are more worried about the privacy of a kidnapper avoiding a fugitive warrant than the well-being of a child torn away from everything that is familiar and who is being forced to live life on the run.
How many of these children are out there? Well, precise numbers are hard to come by. The Justice Department’s latest figures show there are about 200,000 parental abductions reported every year. However, a vast majority of them are cleared quickly, as they often stem from a noncustodial parent failing to return with the child in a timely fashion. The DOJ reports that every year there are some 12,000 cases that last longer than six months. These are considered actual parental kidnappings.
This problem has been going on for years. Yet no one can say for sure how many of those 12,000 children might be located by tracking their Social Security number or the tax return of their kidnapping parent. We get a hint, though, from an experiment conducted by the Treasury Department in 2007. Researchers gathered up the Social Security numbers of 1,700 missing kids and the suspect parents. It was discovered that more than a third of those numbers had been used in tax returns filed after the kidnapping took place.
One woman I read about recently learned her son was alive only after she listed him on her tax return and the IRS reported back that she couldn’t claim him because someone else already had. Mother and son were finally brought back together (no thanks to the IRS) when he was 15 years old. They had been separated five long years.
When you do the math and realize how many children could be reunited with their court-ordered primary caregiver, it’s plain to see the IRS guidelines must be reviewed. I would think the agency would want to be out front in calling for changes in the laws that force it to keep this vital information covered up.
Some courageous lawmaker in Washington needs to grab hold of this issue and craft legislation that allows the IRS to lift its ironclad curtain of secrecy when court orders are being ignored and the safety of a child is at stake. I’m certain custodial parents would be fine with the IRS handing over confidential information about their child’s whereabouts — not to them, but to a family court judge. That judge could then be directed to issue an instruction to law enforcement to work with counterparts in other jurisdictions to retrieve the child and take the kidnapper into custody. While we’re at it, specific new penalties should be adopted for those parents who abduct their children.
Cindy Rudometkin of the Polly Klaas Foundation was recently quoted saying she believes there are hundreds of cases that could be resolved if only the IRS would give up what it knows.
“And even if it helped solve (just) one case,” she said, “imagine if that child returned home was yours.”