FAQ: Missing Children

How many missing children are there?

The U.S. Department of Justice reports:

  • 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. (These crimes involve someone the child does not know or someone of slight acquaintance, who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.
  • 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.
  • 58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions.
  • 797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period of time studied resulting in an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day.

How many missing children are found deceased?

According to a study by the State of Washington’s Office of the Attorney General cases of abducted and missing children found murdered are still quite rare.

Research has shown that between 40 and 150 incidents of child abduction murder occur each year, which is less than one half of one percent of the murders committed nationally.

What hours are most critical when trying to locate a missing child?

Statistics show that the first three hours are the most crucial. 76.2 percent of abducted children who are murdered are dead within three hours of the abduction.

How can I prepare myself in case my child becomes missing?

  • Arrange with your local law-enforcement agency to have your child fingerprinted and keep the fingerprints in a safe and easily accessible place.
  • Have your dentist prepare and maintain dental charts for your child, and be sure they are updated each time an examination or dental work is performed.
  • Keep a complete description of your child on hand.
  • Keep a DNA sample from your child, like an old toothbrush in a brown envelope licked closed by your child, at room temperature in a dry, easily accessible place that is far away from heat.
  • Know where your child's medical records are located.
  • Take color photographs of your child every six months.

What should I do if my child is missing?

  • Act immediately.
  • Call us at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678) to find out what resources are available to you.
  • Give law-enforcement officers all the information they request about your child, and be sure to give them any information that could help in the search.
  • If you cannot find your child, immediately report your child missing to your local law-enforcement officers.
  • Limit access to your home until law-enforcement officers arrive and are able to collect evidence.
  • Request that your child's name and identifying information be immediately entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File.
  • Search your home and check with relatives, neighbors, and friends to try and locate your child.

Aren't most missing kids a result of custodial disagreements?

The largest number of missing children are, from most frequent to least frequent:

  1. Family abductions
  2. Lost, injured or otherwise missing children
  3. Non-family abductions (in these cases, the child is at greatest risk of injury or death).
  4. Runaways

How serious are family abductions?

All cases of child abduction must be taken very seriously. In most family-related cases, children are told that the left-behind parent doesn’t want or love them. These children may live the life of a fugitive, always on the run with the noncustodial parent, isolated from family, friends, home, and school.

What can I do to prevent family abduction?

The most important thing you can do is to maintain healthy communication with your children and spouse. In the event of a family abduction, however, having up-to-date photos of both your children and your spouse will be helpful. NCMEC also recommends that you teach your child important telephone numbers and where to go in case of an emergency.

What is NCMEC's position about domestic violence allegations in family abductions?

It has been NCMEC’s experience that in the vast majority of family abduction cases, battering of the spouse and/or children is not an issue or, as is true in many of our family abduction cases, it is the batterer who takes the child as another method of power and control over the spouse. Allegations of domestic violence in family abduction cases are valid but only in a small minority of cases. NCMEC supports legislation that allows battered mothers to flee with their children to avoid imminent harm but they must then interface with the family court system in order to resolve the issues (this can ensure that the mother and child receive protections that can be enforced by a court of law). Most state criminal statutes provide a defense of fleeing violence to a charge of criminal custodial interference. NCMEC encourages concerned parties to investigate whether their state has the violence defense to custodial interference.

How can I help find missing children?

There are many ways to get involved with or donate to NCMEC.

The best way to help is to look at photographs of missing children and report any information about those children to our toll-free Hotline: 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Do the posters I see and the cards I get in the mail really help recover missing children?

Absolutely. One in six missing kids featured on these cards and through the efforts of other NCMEC photo partners are recovered as a direct result of the photograph.

Do you put pictures of missing kids on milk cartons?

NCMEC itself does not post photographs of missing children on milk cartons, but NCMEC photo partners may do so. There are more than 350 active corporate photo partners nationwide.

What happens to a child's picture when he or she is recovered?

Once a child is recovered, NCMEC no longer has legal authority to grant use of the child's (and/or the abductor’s) image and information, even if the poster is still on our web site. In order to use a recovered child’s photo we must have a new media release form signed by the custodial parent or guardian.


Things To Do If Your Teen Runs Away

Dial 911 as soon as you suspect your child has disappeared and demand that a police report be filed immediately.

Record the officer’s name, badge number, telephone, fax and report numbers. Ask who will follow up the initial investigation.

After you call the police, call the Sheriff's Department, state police, and police from adjoining jurisdictions. File reports, record the officers' names, badge numbers, telephone, fax, and report numbers.

Check with your child's friends, work, neighbors, relatives, or anyone else who may know of your child's whereabouts. Ask them to notify you if they hear from your child.

Go to your child's school, speak with teachers and staff, and go through your child's lockers and desks.

Find out if any of your child's friends are missing. They may be together.

Notify the local FBI office and have your child's description entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer. Obtain the nine-digit NCIC number for your child's case.

Notify border patrols. Ask your local law enforcement agency or missing child agency agency to provide these numbers.

Check home computers for leads such as online contacts and details of a planned meeting.

Call missing children helplines, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST and Operation Lookout at 1-800-782-SEEK.

Call runaway hotlines if you suspect your teen is a runaway, such as the National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-621-4000.

Notify your state's missing children information clearinghouse and other helping organizations.

Keep a record of everyone you contact, including date and time, name of person, organization, phone number, and information received.

Keep your home phone staffed and record conversations. This may be the only way your child knows how to reach you.

Close the door to your child's room and don't touch anything in there.

Find pictures of your child to use in the search. Choose photographs that are recent and realistic.

Check telephone bills for the past few months for any unfamiliar long distance calls.

Cooperate fully with the police and the media.

Contact runaway shelters in your area and in nearby areas and states. Give them your child's photograph. If your teen gives an incorrect name and age, it will help identify him/her.

Contact hospitals, abortion clinics, drug treatment centers, and counseling services in your area.

Leave flyers at youth hangouts, malls, and recreation centers. You can create, display, and print a Missing Person Flyer from your computer.

Offer a reward. The Carol Sund / Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation provides Missing Person-Criminal Apprehension Rewards of up to $10,000.

Hire a private investigator.