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My Child is Missing...What Now?


It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, one minute your child is there, and the next minute they’re gone, seemingly vanished. You search around, you call their name, but nothing.

You’re unable to find them, and a scary reality begins to sink in...

Your child might be missing.

In 2021 alone, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) assisted law enforcement, families and child welfare with 27,733 cases of missing children. Here at NCMEC, we know the importance of educating families on what to do in the unlikely event that their child does go missing one day. 

So, if this happens to your family, what should you do if your child is missing?

Immediately after you’re unable to locate your child and determine that they are missing or have been abducted, it’s critical to call your local law enforcement agency. When you do, be sure to have the following things on hand:

  • Your child’s full name
  • Date of Birth
  • Height and weight
  • And unique identifiers such as eyeglasses or contact lenses, braces, body piercings, tattoos and other key physical attributes

During the call, be prepared for the police to ask background questions about when you noticed your child was missing, where you last saw them, what they were wearing and the surrounding circumstances that occurred. 

It's also important to request that law enforcement immediately enter your child’s name and information into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center Missing Person File. Then, after you have reported your child missing to law enforcement, call NCMEC’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).  

Once NCMEC has opened a case, we can work directly with your family and the investigating law enforcement agency to ensure all available search and recovery methods and resources are used. NCMEC can also help create and disseminate posters, review and analyze leads and provide peer and family support. 

After you’ve reported your child missing to law enforcement and NCMEC, consider doing the following:

  • If your child is missing from home, search through anywhere a child could crawl into or hide and possibly be asleep or unable to get out.
  • Call your neighbors, relatives and friends and see if they have any information on your child’s location.
  • If your child is missing from a store, notify the store manager or a security officer. Many stores have a Code Adam plan of action in place preparing them for that very situation. 

Most importantly, it’s critical to act fast and immediately in these situations. The actions of parents and law enforcement in the first 48 hours are crucial to the safe recovery of a missing child. For a more detailed checklist of what to do when you believe your child is missing, download this list of actions to be taken by families in the initial stages of a missing child case. 

Now that you know what to do if your child is missing, it’s also important to know the steps you can take to be prepared even if your child, or a child you know, never goes missing.  

For example, consider making an identification box for each child in your family. Within that box, include the following important information on your child:

  • A complete and current written description of your child: Include things like their hair color, eye color, height, weight, and date of birth. 
  • A color photograph of your child within the last six months: Consider keeping a more up-to-date photo of your child digitally, on your phone or computer. 
  • Copies of their medical and dental records: Record things like broken bones, identifying marks, or tattoos. 
  • A fingerprint card: Contact your local law enforcement agency to see if they offer fingerprinting for children.
  • Collect a DNA sample: While there are many DNA collection kits available, a simple way to collect DNA on your own is to find DNA rich items in your home. These include things like an old toothbrush, a hairbrush, or even baby teeth. Properly store these items in a closed envelope labeled with your child’s name.

Although the potential of having a missing child is scary to think about, it’s important to be prepared for any situation to occur. For more information on what to do if your child goes missing and planning tips on how to prepare yourself and your family, visit our website here: