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5th Adam Walsh Center Officially Opens : Orange Office Joins Effort to Find Missing Children

Times Staff Writer

The Adam Walsh Child Resource Center of Southern California, named for the 6-year-old Florida boy whose abduction and murder were dramatized on national television, was officially opened Wednesday in Orange by his father, John Walsh.

“This center is a testimony to the people of Orange County,” Walsh said, noting that it is the fifth such center in the United States. The Southern California center has been operating informally for several months.

Adam was taken from a Hollywood, Fla., shopping center on July 27, 1981. His remains were found two weeks later in a canal 150 miles from the Walsh home. The family’s subsequent crusade to reform laws and procedures pertaining to missing children was dramatized in the television movie “Adam.”

The purpose of the center, located at 721 S. Parker St., is to “reduce the problems of child abuse, neglect, exploitation and abduction,” according to Executive Director Susan Davidson.

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“A major concern,” Davidson said, is passage of a bill in the Legislature that would establish a statewide clearinghouse for information on missing children. Twenty-two states already have such clearinghouses. The measure, AB 2916, is sponsored by Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-La Mesa) and is based on recommendations issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a federally funded organization.

“I think it’s sad that in 1986 California doesn’t have a record of how many missing kids there are,” Walsh said.

Referrals Provided

Walsh, who said he met Monday with state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp to discuss the bill, said that he found the staff of the Orange center “very legislatively astute.”

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In addition to lobbying for legislation, Davidson said, the center will provide referrals to psychologists and doctors, monitor court cases and help other groups working on related problems. Since most such organizations have “very few resources, very few volunteers and no money,” Davidson said, “any group can use our facilities . . . there’s never a charge.”

The center operates a 24-hour hot line. It also has set up a room with a one-way mirror and hidden microphone where children who may have been abused can be interviewed by professionals. There are two part-time staff members and a pool of volunteers. Its projected budget for this year, Davidson said, is $125,000, all from private donations. After July of 1987, Davidson said, the center will have to leave the office complex where it occupies 2,000 square feet rent-free to look for other quarters.

Walsh, who volunteered that “the American public is probably sick of hearing me,” defended the increasingly common practice of fingerprinting children and reproducing photos of missing children on milk cartons and shopping bags. In recent weeks, Walsh’s organization has responded to charges made by Drs. Jonas Salk and Benjamin Spock that such practices may have a detrimental effect on children, creating an atmosphere of fear.

Microchip Programs

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Picturing missing children on bags and cartons is “very effective,” said Denny Abbott, national director of the Adam Walsh Foundation, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which oversees the centers. “It works. You get kids back.”

Since fingerprints may be of little value if a body has decomposed, Walsh said, he also supports the practice of implanting microchips in tooth fillings, and for adults as much as for children.

Numerous fly-by-night operators in Florida have tried to capitalize on parents’ worries, however, Walsh said. For example, at least one of the microchip programs there seemed more interested in making money than in ensuring positive identification, he said.

“There’s been a whole industry created for child protection,” Walsh said. “A lot of this was good, and some of it was exploitative.”

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