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Playing tag is child's play, but placing tags on children's clothing could be a very grown-up thing to do.

Like adults who carry driver's licenses or credit cards and pets whose collar licenses see them safely home, Child Safe tags can help identify a lost or injured child.David R. Mickel, a business consultant who recently introduced Child Safe in Utah, was sold on the program as an extra protection for his six children.

"Even though kids are fingerprinted, it doesn't do any good unless they die," he said.

Photo kits, while also a good idea, are not immediately helpful in an emergency situation, he said. ID cards and bracelets are easily lost or forgotten and could give strangers a child's name and address.

But Mickel said Child Safe iron-on patches are at work when your child gets dressed each morning.

Here's how they work.

To begin, a parent completes an emergency information record for each child. It lists the name, address and phone number of the child's immediate family, plus three alternate emergency contacts. A complete physical description and special medical information may also be provided at the discretion of the parent.

When this form is submitted to Child Safe, the child is assigned a unique ID number, which is imprinted on 50 iron-on clothing labels. Also on the label is Child Safe's toll-free hotline. In case of an emergency, police, hospitals and other people can call the Child Safe number for information about the child and for telephone numbers to reach the parent.

Mickel emphasized that Child Safe, located in Minneapolis, doesn't give the information out to just anyone. Child Safe personnel, available 24 hours a day, verify the caller's identity through a reverse phone call before releasing any data.

Parents are verified through a preassigned password.

Child Safe was started in 1983 in response to such highly-publicized stories as these:

In Minnesota a father and his small daughter were on their way to the grocery store when they were involved in an automobile accident. The father was killed on impact. The child was taken to the hospital, where she was treated and could have been released.

But because she had no identification, the traumatized child waited six hours in the hospital before authorities located her mother at an office party.

A 6-year-old boy was hit by a car while riding his bike and knocked unconscious. Hospital personnel frantically tried to locate his parents, but to no avail. Two hours after the accident the boy died. Three hours later, police found his parents.

Had the children been listed with Child Safe, Mickel said their families could have been notified immediately about the emergency situation.

"Our biggest concern is to try and register as many children as possible before school lets out; summer is always a traditionally dangerous time for accidents and lost children," he said.

The service, now available in 32 states, is being offered to schools, day care centers, police departments, PTAs, and large companies. Boy Scouts and Little League groups have been able to take advantage of its fund-raising option while performing a vital service to the community at the same time, Mickel said.

For an annual fee of $5, parents receive 50 patches. Civic groups who make the tags available can keep $1 of the $5.

For information about Child Safe, call Mickel at 295-9200, or write to P.O. Box 2468, Salt Lake City, UT 84110-2468.