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FAQs: Missing Children

How many missing children are there?

The missing children issue is complex and multifaceted. Children may become missing due to abduction by nonfamily members or abduction by family members. Children may become missing as a result of running away from home. Children may also become missing involuntarily for reasons other than abduction such as becoming lost, injured or under other circumstances.

The most recent, comprehensive national estimates for the number of missing children are available in the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children. This study examined data from 1999 and when released in October 2002 estimated that:

  • Approximately 800,000 children younger than 18 were reported missing.
  • More than 200,000 children were abducted by family members.
  • More than 58,000 children were abducted by nonfamily members.
  • An estimated 115 children were the victims of "stereotypical" kidnapping.

These "stereotypical" kidnappings involved someone the child did not know or was an acquaintance. The child was held overnight, transported 50 miles or more, killed, ransomed or held with the intent to keep the child permanently.

The FBI also maintains comprehensive statistics regarding the number of children and adults entered by law enforcement agencies into the National Crime Information Center’s Missing Person File each year. In 2011 more than 550,000 entries were made by law enforcement for those younger than 21.

What type of missing child case is most common?

The most frequent types of cases reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® are:

  • Runaways.
  • Family abductions.
  • Lost, injured or otherwise missing children.

The least frequent cases reported to NCMEC are nonfamily abductions.

It is important to assess the risk to each child on an individual case-by-case basis. A child missing under any circumstances may be at risk of harm or exploitation.

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

  • Keep a complete and current written description of your child.
  • Take color photos, digital if possible, of your child every six months or more often if your child’s appearance changes.
  • Know here your child’s medical and dental records are located and how they may be obtained.
  • Contact your local law enforcement agency to see if they offer fingerprinting for children. If so arrange with the agency to have your child fingerprinted.
  • Collect a DNA sample from your child.

Learn more about important actions if your child is missing:


What can I do to prevent a family abduction?

To learn more about family abductions and how to prevent them:


What should I do if my child is missing?

Immediately call your local law enforcement agency.

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).

If your child is missing from home, search through:

  • Closets.
  • Piles of Laundry.
  • In and under beds.
  • Inside large appliances.
  • Vehicles – including trunks.
  • Anywhere else that a child may crawl or hide.

Visit If Your Child Is Missing for important steps to take.

For more information download:

Missing-Child, Emergency-Response, Quick-Reference Guide (English) Missing-Child, Emergency-Response, Quick-Reference Guide (Spanish) When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide (English) When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide (Spanish)

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

According to a 2006 study, Case Management for Missing Children Homicide: Report II, the murder of an abducted child is rare. An estimated 100 such incidents occur in the U.S. each year. The study indicated that 76.2 percent of abducted children who are killed are dead within the first three hours.

Special considerations for a missing child with special needs

Finding and safely recovering a missing child with special needs can also present a unique and difficult challenge for families, law enforcement, first responders and search teams. The behaviors and actions of a missing child with special needs are often much different than those of a missing non-affected child. A special needs condition may be characterized by debilitating physical impairments, social impairments, cognitive impairments or communication challenges. While the behaviors will differ from child-to-child, missing children with special needs may:

  • Wander away, run away or bolt from a safe environment.
  • Exhibit a diminished sense of fear causing them to engage in high-risk behavior such as seeking water or active roadways.
  • Elude or hide from search teams.
  • Seek small or tightly enclosed spaces concealing themselves from search teams.
  • Be unable to respond to rescuers.

For more information download:

Missing Children With Special Needs Missing and Abduction Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management (English) Missing and Abduction Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management (Spanish)

How can I help find missing children?

There are many ways you can get involved with or donate to NCMEC. The best way to help is to look at photos of missing children and report any information you may have regarding the whereabouts of those children to 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678).

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

Absolutely. These posters reach millions of people and prompt individuals across the country to call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) to provide vital leads and information, many of which lead to the recovery of missing children.

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

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