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Child Find Told To Change Ads, Offer Refunds

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Child Find, the national volunteer organization that helps locate missing children, has been ordered to make "substantial changes" in its promotional materials and to offer refunds to parents who did not receive promised services.

The changes were required by a settlement filed last week in State Supreme Court in Manhattan by State Attorney General Robert Abrams, whose office conducted a six-month investigation of charges that the private nonprofit group that seeks to find missing children has made "false and misleading statements."

The investigation of the New Paltz, N.Y., group was based on complaints by parents and rival child-locating organizations, according to Timothy Gilles, press secretary to Mr. Abrams.

"This agreement involved some rather significant changes and we felt it should be a court action," said Mr. Gilles, who explained that such settlements are usually made out of court. A judge is expected to sign the order this month.

Accurate Descriptions

Under the court order, Child Find must revise its promotional materials to "clearly and accurately de-scribe their services," according to Mr. Gilles. "A number of people had been misled into thinking that Child Find would search for kids or lead them to investigators that would search free of charge," he said.

The organization's promotional material also claimed, according to Mr. Gilles, that its directory of missing children would be updated regularly and widely distributed. The investigation found that the directory had not been updated for over a year and was being sold to some school districts. "They're not going to misrepresent that any longer," Mr. Gilles said.

Under the settlement, Child Find must contact every parent who has registered with the organization in the last two years and offer a refund of the $60 registration fee to those who have not received the services promised them at the time of registration.

Revision of promotional materials, refund offers, and the settlement of disputes will be monitored by the attorney general's office, Mr. Gilles said.

Defended Practices

Officials from Child Find, who the attorney general's spokesman said cooperated in the investigation, said they were not surprised by the set-tlement, but defended their prior practices.

"[Under the settlement], we have to define the words 'location' and 'recovery,' stating that Child Find helps to locate children, and except in rare cases, does not help in the recovery," said David Schoch, acting director of Child Find. "Child Find has never said that they recover missing children. That is not one of the things we do and has never been a claim of ours.

"If people have been misled to think that we do recover, we apologize and we will be very clear in the future [on this]," he said.

"We have to be more specific about our directory, which, by the way, is not a very large part of our program," Mr. Schoch continued. "It's been blown up to be the major thing Child Find does."

Regarding the offering of refunds, Mr. Schoch said, "We have always refunded money to any parents who felt they did not get our services.'' He said Child Find does not expect many parents to seek the refunds.

Child Find was founded in 1980 by Gloria Yerkovich, a parent whose divorced husband had kidnapped her daughter. Since its establishment, it has been successful in locating more than 600 children, according to organization officials. (See Education Week, Oct. 18, 1983.)

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