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 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).
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.
For additional information about issues relating to runaway children, you may want to review the following resource:
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).