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Runaway Children

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® intakes reports and provides technical assistance regarding missing children, including children who have run away from the home of their parent or guardian or a state care facility.

For more information about the services NCMEC can provide to law enforcement, child protective services, other state agencies, searching families and the attorneys who serve them in runaway cases visit the Missing Children section.

Federal laws

  • Federal law (42 U.S.C. § 5772) defines a "missing child" as "any individual less than 18 years of age whose whereabouts are unknown to such individual's legal custodian."
  • Regardless of the reason why a child goes missing, federal law requires law enforcement agencies to respond in a specific way. 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 also requires law enforcement agencies to enter the missing child's information into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database and state law enforcement system database within two hours of receiving a missing child report (42 U.S.C. § 5780).

State laws

For information about state laws regarding runaway children refer to The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Network for Youth's publication titled Alone Without a Home: A State-by-State Review of Laws Affecting Unaccompanied Youth.

Other resources

For additional information about issues relating to runaway children, you may want to review the following resource:
 National Runaway Safeline

Legal technical assistance

NCMEC provides legal technical assistance concerning runaway children to law enforcement, child protective services, other state agencies, searching families and the attorneys who serve them including:

  • Information about civil, criminal and international laws applicable to runaway children.
  • Resources and assistance for attorneys representing children and families.
  • Amicus briefs about particular issues that NCMEC is specially situated to address given its Congressional authorization and mission.

For additional information about NCMEC's legal resources concerning runaway children contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678).

Copyright © 2014 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. All rights reserved.

This Web site is funded, in part, through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this Web site (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).