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Children Missing From Care



As the national clearinghouse on missing and exploited children issues, NCMEC is uniquely positioned to provide significant and continuous support to state agencies that are searching for children missing from their care. NCMEC provides an array of resources, including case management, poster distribution, law enforcement technical assistance, and analytical support. Every report of a missing child receives a prompt response from NCMEC’s case management staff who coordinate directly with all case workers, social workers and/or law enforcement agencies involved to provide resources to help safely locate the missing child.

Reporting all children missing from care to NCMEC is not just a best practice, but also a legal requirement. NCMEC can provide missing child case support, to assist state agencies fulfilling these requirements and ultimately help provide a better response to children in need.

How to Report a Child Missing From Care


NCMEC takes care to protect and maintain the privacy of information regarding missing children, and consults with the parent/guardian and investigating law enforcement agency before disseminating identifying information publicly. Additionally, NCMEC does not generally make any public reference to the fact that a child is missing from foster care,  was in state custody at the time they went missing, or that they are likely the victim of child sex trafficking.  Additionally, NCMEC does not generally share any medical or other sensitive information about the child. Finally, any analytical support that NCMEC generates will only be shared with law enforcement for the purpose of locating the missing child.

1. Immediately contact the local law enforcement agency

File a missing child report and ask that the child's information be entered into the FBI's National Crime and Information Center database (NCIC).

*There is no waiting period for law enforcement to take a report and enter the child into the NCIC system.

Be prepared to provide all identifying information on the missing child

  • The child's first and last name
  • Child’s date of birth, gender, height, and weight
  • Any endangerments pertaining to the child
  • The circumstances surrounding the child’s disappearance
A report to law enforcement and entry into NCIC does not automatically generate a report to NCMEC.

2. Make a report to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)

Be prepared to provide all identifying information on the missing child:

  • The child's first and last name
  • The child's date of birth, gender, height, and weight
  • A high-quality photo of the child (if available)
  • Date, city, and state where the child went missing
  • Any endangerments pertaining to the child
  • The circumstances surrounding the child's disappearance
  • Name and contact information for the child's guardian
  • Law enforcement agency name, contact number, and report number in the location where the child went missing

Missing Young Adults (MYA) - Although no longer considered a child under U.S. federal law, NCMEC can assist with cases of young adults between the ages 18 - 20 years old who are missing and the young adult remains under the ongoing guardianship of a state or county welfare agency.  Each state has its own policies and laws related to foster care extending to young adults.  If the young adult is consenting to be in extended foster care or any other voluntary service the department is able to offer or the young adult has come back to foster care after turning 18 and requested services voluntarily, the young adult would not qualify for NCMEC resources.  If there is a court order in place specifying legal guardianship of the state to make legal decisions on behalf of the young adult (i.e. due to mental health needs, differing abilities, etc.), the young adult would qualify for NCMEC resources and should be reported. NCMEC will also assist with missing young adult cases reported by law enforcement.


The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014
Enacted in September 2014, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act mandates that State agencies “report immediately, and in no case later than 24 hours” information about each missing or abducted child both to law enforcement and to NCMEC. 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(35)(B).
The Bringing Missing Children Home Act
This is a portion of the larger Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015,  that was enacted in May 2015. Among other improvements related to record-keeping, this legislation amended federal law to ensure that law enforcement agencies respond appropriately and coordinate with NCMEC and social service agencies when a child goes missing from foster care. 34 U.S.C. § 41308.
Savanna’s Act
Savanna’s Act (25 U.S.C. § 5701 et seq.) improves the response to missing or murdered Native Americans by increasing coordination among Federal, State, and Tribal agencies, expanding data collection, as well as providing additional grants and resources dedicated to reducing further tragedies.
Other Relevant Federal Laws
Federal law defines a “missing child’ as any individual less than 18 years of age whose whereabouts are unknown to the child’s parent or legal guardian. 34 U.S.C. § 11292. It is important to note this includes children who have gone missing for any reason at all. In some jurisdictions, state law expands on the broad federal definition and provides further statutory guidance on how agencies should treat missing child cases in their state.
Existing federal law requires law enforcement agencies to respond in a specific way, regardless of the reason why a child is missing. Law enforcement agencies are prohibited from establishing or maintaining a waiting period before accepting a missing child report, and must promptly enter information regarding a missing child into the NCIC system within two hours of receiving a report. 34 U.S.C. § 41308.

NCMEC Support

NCMEC provides an array of resources, including case management, poster distribution, our long-term missing children initiative, and analytical support, among many others.

Critical & Endangered Runaway Cases

NCMEC provides technical assistance to law enforcement and support to parents or guardians of children who are missing under critical circumstances or who have run away from their home or placement.

Our case management staff have specialized skills in locating and recovering these missing children and build strong working relationships with the particular law enforcement officers and social service agencies that interact with the child.

Child Sex Trafficking

Case Management staff work closely with legal guardians and law enforcement agencies to provide technical assistance and coordinate NCMEC resources, including family support services. They are paired with the Child Sex Trafficking Team who provide comprehensive analytical services to law enforcement.

Child Sex Trafficking Recovery Planning and Services

The Child Sex Trafficking Recovery Services Team (RST) provides specialized resources to child welfare professionals who have reported a youth missing from care to NCMEC when a concern for child sex trafficking has been identified. Resource Specialists on this team are available to assist child welfare professionals in the development of intentional, trauma-informed, and victim-centered plans for when the youth returns to placement or is recovered by law enforcement. Case consultation and expert guidance is provided around effective strategies for youth engagement and safety planning, promising practices to address running behavior, and understanding the experiences and needs of youth who have experienced child sex trafficking. Resource Specialists are regionally assigned to provide state-specific guidance and connection to statewide and local specialized child sex trafficking resources.

Child Welfare professionals play an important role in the response to child sex trafficking and NCMEC is here to help! Register for NCMEC CONNECT to sign up for our three child welfare specific trainings!


  1. Child Sex Trafficking Legislation: What it Means for You
  2. Reporting Children Missing from Care: How NCMEC Can Support You
  3. NCMEC Resources for Child Welfare Professionals

If you are interested in resources or assistance please email

Children on the Autism Spectrum

Children on the autism spectrum go missing under a variety of circumstances. They may seek out small or enclosed spaces, wander toward places of special interest to them, or try to escape overwhelming stimuli. Children missing from care who fall on the autism spectrum should be identified upon reporting to NCMEC so that appropriate support services and guidance can be provided.

Long-Term Case Support

In the event a child missing from care is not recovered soon after they go missing, it is important to have taken steps to prepare for a long-term missing case. In such cases NCMEC can assist through the Forensic Services Unit, Team Adam, Biometrics Team and Forensic Imaging Team. The Forensic Imaging Team can create age-progressed images of what the child may look like today, which can be helpful in locating the child in a long-term case.

Additional Resources & Support

Once a case is reported to NCMEC, and the child has been entered in NCIC, Case Management staff will coordinate the creation and dissemination of a poster, to include on social media platforms, to help generate leads. Analytical support, via NCMEC’s Analytical Services Division, will forward leads received by NCMEC to the investigating law enforcement agency. When appropriate, referrals are made to NCMEC’s Family Advocacy Division and/or Team HOPE for families in crisis and needing emotional support. 


Case Worker Guide to Reporting Missing Children

Published on May, 2024

CMFC: Frequently Asked Questions of Social Service Agencies

Published on May, 2024

Sound Policy and Practice Recommendations

Published on May, 2024

Analysis of Children Missing From Care Reported to NCMEC 2013-2022
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Investigative Checklist for Law Enforcement When Helping Unsupervised and Runaway Children
thumbnail, Child Sex Trafficking, ES
Child Sex Trafficking in America: A Guide for Child Welfare Professionals