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Family Abduction

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® intakes reports of missing children, including children who have been abducted, wrongfully retained or concealed by a parent or other family member.

If your child is abducted by a family member

  1. Immediately call your local law enforcement agency.
  2. After you have reported your child missing to law enforcement, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

NCMEC's Family Abduction Unit consists of case management teams which provide technical assistance and support for families, law enforcement agencies and attorneys. This support focuses on preventing family abductions and assisting in the location and recovery of missing children nationally and internationally.

FAU works each case on an individual basis, coordinating with government and nongovernmental agencies in the U.S. and other countries to provide technical assistance and information regarding both civil and criminal remedies.

Additionally FAU helps identify, develop and promote resources to resolve national and international family abductions through trainings and presentations for the legal and law enforcement communities.

What should I do if there is an abduction
in progress?

If a parent discovers plans by a potential abductor to leave the country and believes the child's wrongful removal is imminent, he or she should take immediate action. Indicators may include packed suitcases and luggage found at the residence, discovery of recently purchased international airline tickets or a recently issued passport for the child and abductor. If you believe removal is imminent contact:

  • Local law enforcement.
  • FBI Field Office.
  • Office of Children's Issues at 1-888-407-4747.
  • NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). You can reach case managers who specialize in family abductions 24/7.

Will law enforcement establish a waiting period
before accepting my child's case?

Federal law prohibits law enforcement agencies from establishing or maintaining a waiting period before accepting a missing child report (42 U.S.C. §5780). Federal law requires law enforcement agencies to respond in a specific way, regardless of the reason why a child is missing.

Parents or guardians should ask law enforcement to enter information about their child into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database. If you have any difficulties getting law enforcement to take a report or enter information about your missing child into this database, contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678) or your state Missing Child Clearinghouse.

California

California law authorizes prosecutors and investigators in the District Attorney's Office to take civil and criminal action to locate and recover domestic and internationally missing children. For more information contact your county's Child Abduction Unit.

International abductions

If your child has been abducted to or retained in a foreign country, in addition to contacting local law enforcement and NCMEC, you can also contact your local FBI Field Office and the U.S. Department of State Office of Children's Issues .

Do I need a custody order?

It is not necessary for parents and guardians to have a custody determination to report their child missing to law enforcement, but you may wish to obtain one, because a custody order can help clarify and define your rights and responsibilities to your child and obtain the assistance of law enforcement for the pickup and return of your child. For more information visit NCMEC's Legal Resources.

International abductions

It is not necessary for parents and guardians to have a custody determination before filing an  application under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, (the "Hague Convention"), an international treaty that establishes a civil mechanism to ensure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained outside their country of habitual residence.  To utilize the Hague Convention, a parent does, however, need to provide  evidence of their custodial rights to the child, whether those rights are sole or joint custody rights, and whether they arise by "operation of law," court order or legally binding agreement.

Not all states have well-articulated laws regarding custodial rights that arise by operation of law, in the absence of a court order or legal agreement. It is best to confer with an attorney. For more information contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

How do I prevent a family abduction?

Parents sometimes have concerns based on specific threats or suspicions of abduction, but are unaware of the steps they can take to actively safeguard their children. Knowing when to ask for preventative measures and which ones to request depends on the risk of abduction, obstacles to recovery and potential harm to the child if abducted. For more information about abduction prevention visit NCMEC's legal resources for Domestic Family Abductions. To learn more about the risks of family abduction and red flags to watch out for, download NCMEC's guide:

Family Abduction: Prevention and Response

Custody orders

A good first step to preventing an abduction is obtaining a custody order specifying the rights of both parents with respect to the child. The order should clearly state the basis for the court's jurisdiction and manner in which notice was given to the parties. If there are concerns of abduction the court may be able include preventative measures such as supervised visitations or child custody bonds.

If an order already exists but does not include abduction prevention provisions, a parent may want to go back to court and modify the order to include these measures. To learn more about abduction prevention and custody orders download NCMEC's guide:

Family Abduction: Prevention and Response

International abductions

The U.S. has limited exit controls (border security measures monitoring or regulating who departs the country) to prevent the wrongful removal of children from the country. Parents and guardians with concerns about an international abduction may want to consider including specific abduction prevention provisions in their custody order prohibiting the travel of children outside the U.S. without the prior approval or consent of the child's parents, guardians or the court.

Parents with concerns that their child may be removed to a Hague Convention treaty partner country  may wish to include provisions specific to the Hague Convention. For information about the Hague Convention and abduction prevention visit NCMEC's legal resources for International Family Abductions.

Parents concerned about international abduction should also contact the U.S. State Department Office of Children's Issues and inquire about their Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program. This program allows parents to confirm if a passport has already been issued for their child and receive a notification if a passport is requested in the future. A custody order is not required to enter the child's name into the system. For additional information contact the Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program or the Office of Children's Issues Abduction Prevention Unit.

Does NCMEC offer victim and family support?

Coping with the experience of a family abduction demands courage and determination on the part of the victim, parents and guardians and other family members. NCMEC offers Victim & Family Support through a team of dedicated professionals who work with law enforcement and families to provide reunification assistance and referrals. NCMEC can also locate short and long term support for families through local victim advocates and mental health agencies. For more information about these services contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Reunification

The goal of every missing child case is to safely locate and recover the child. But the case doesn't end when a child is found. Planning the child's recovery, return and subsequent reunification process can be just as important and extensive as the investigation to locate the child.

Law enforcement and parents need to be aware of and attentive to the child's emotional state as some children may have been abducted when they were very young or have been missing for an extended period of time. These children may not remember the other parent, they may have developed a close bond and relationship with the abductor, they may have assimilated to their new environment, they may have been told a different story about their circumstances and they may even speak a different language. All of these factors can greatly impact how the child reacts to being recovered.

Law enforcement and parents should work with a multidisciplinary team of professionals, including mental health and social service professionals, to help address any concerns or issues that may come up, and to ensure the reunification process is not an additionally traumatic experience for the child. For questions about reunification contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Team HOPE

Team HOPE is a program of NCMEC's Family Advocacy Division. This team of volunteers provides assistance to families of missing or sexually exploited children by offering peer support, resources and empowerment from trained volunteers. These volunteers are mothers, fathers, siblings and extended family members who have experience with a missing or exploited child case.

If you or someone you know could benefit from Team HOPE's assistance call 1-866-305-4673.

Travel assistance

NCMEC's Victim Reunification Travel Program funds international travel for a missing child's parent or guardian to attend a custody hearing or be reunited with a child located in another country when the family cannot pay to travel. To learn if you qualify for this program, please call 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678) and ask to speak with the Family Advocacy Division. Travel assistance also may be available for parents or guardians who need travel assistance within the United States to be reunited with a recovered child. For more information about domestic travel assistance, contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678).

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