|In 1998, 932,190
missing persons (adults and juveniles) were reported to the police
and entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center. The
FBI estimates that 85% - 90% of missing persons are juveniles;
therefore, approximately 800,000 cases of missing children (or
2,200 children per day) were reported in 1998 (National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children, 1999).|
|There are 1.3
million runaway and homeless youth in the United States (National
Runaway Switchboard, 1999).
The term missing
children is defined as "children whose whereabouts are
unknown to their parent, guardian, or legal custodian."(1)
includes two categories: children who have been taken, and
those who have left. These two categories can be broken down
into five different sub-categories: non-family abductions; family
abductions; runaways; throwaways; and lost, injured, or otherwise
legislative efforts, specialized training for criminal justice
professionals, along with the establishment of non-profit
organizations, reflects the country's profound concern about the issue
of missing children. However, despite the many legal and programmatic
changes that have and continue to be effected, the issue of missing
children is still one that rides heavily upon the minds of parents and
concerned citizens throughout the nation.
This category of
abduction is referred to as "non-family" rather than
"stranger" because like many crimes committed against
individuals, the offender is usually someone known to the victim.
Kidnapping of a
child by a non-family member is often perceived as the most common
type of child abduction, however this is a misconception. While these
types of abductions receive the most media attention and often become
higher-profile cases, abductions by a non-family member actually
account for the smallest percentage of missing children.
Teenagers and girls
tend to be the most common victims of non-family abductions, but
infants also can be at risk. Although few infants are abducted, they
are most often taken from their homes or hospital nurseries by someone
who is childless or has recently lost a child.
The risk of other
crimes being committed against the missing child increases with
non-family abductions. Homicide, sexual assault, sexual exploitation,
pornography, and prostitution are among the most common crimes
perpetrated against missing children.
Although the least
prevalent category of missing children, non-family abductions have an
overwhelming impact on the parents of abducted children. Often, these
scenarios are accompanied by feelings of extreme fear, isolation,
desperation, confusion and guilt. Under these circumstances, it is
essential that parents notify the police immediately after realizing a
child has been missing in order to activate resources available to
them through the criminal justice system and the community.
children by a family member occur almost exclusively in instances of
divorce, and when all lines of communication between two parents fail.
This type of kidnapping is usually a reaction to dissatisfaction with
a custody or visitation agreement. It is considered kidnapping once
the abductor violates the custody or visitation agreement, regardless
of the specific circumstances. For instance, family abductions range
from the non-custodial parent keeping children overnight, to
transporting the children out-of-state.
Belief that a child
is safe when abducted by a parent or family member is the greatest
misconception surrounding family abductions. Although reported
instances of physical and sexual abuse are low in family abduction
scenarios, studies show emotional trauma in children can be
significant. In the past few years, all 50 states have enacted
criminal statutes pertaining to parental kidnapping.
Most abductions of
children by a family member occur during visitation exchanges or at
the end of school vacations. Often, the issue is not the children's
whereabouts, but how to return them to the primary custodial parent.
caregivers looking for children should contact local and federal law
enforcement immediately. Hiring a private detective, searching through
school records, and alerting the media can be helpful in searching for
a child abducted by a family member.
the majority of missing children. Often they are considered
delinquents, rebels, and troublemakers. However, these children are
usually not running to something, but rather away
from a situation which they feel is intolerable. What is important to
remember is that runaways do not represent short-term crises.
Long-term physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse are common in
runaway cases, and simply returning a runaway to his or her home may
not be an appropriate resolution. Both the child and family may need
to receive professional support and counseling before a possible
caregivers searching for children who have run away should contact the
police immediately. Friends of the runaway child should also be
contacted, as they may be able to offer parents and authorities
information on the whereabouts of the child. If a runaway child seeks
shelter, many shelters mandate that a child contact their parents upon
More than half of
the children who are classified as runaways could be described more
accurately as throwaways. Children who are considered
"throwaways" are abandoned, told to leave by a caregiver, or
are not allowed to return home once they have left. Many throwaways
come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. In comparison to children
who have run away, throwaway children are twice as likely to have
experienced domestic violence in the home.(2)
The total number of
throwaway children is impossible to estimate. They surface frequently
in juvenile detention centers or among the homeless. Often, the only
way these children can be accounted for is through shelters where they
seek help, as they are rarely reported as missing by parents or
or Otherwise Missing
sub-category of missing children that do not fit into any of the other
four categories are the lost, injured, or otherwise missing children.
Generally, children are included in this category if there is
insufficient evidence to classify them in one of the previous
groupings. Children who are hurt, lost, or confused and did not return
home when they were expected are not necessarily considered runaway,
throwaway, or abduction cases if the circumstances surrounding the
disappearance are unclear.
Nearly half of the
children in this category are below age five. It is important to note
that this group of children suffer the most physical harm compared to
every other category, except those children abducted by strangers.(3)
Much like children in other categories, the police and FBI should be
contacted immediately, as these children run the risk of serious harm
the longer they are away from their homes.
caregivers should develop specific strategies with their children that
foster home safety. The Vanished Children's Alliance recommends that
parents and children learn and practice life-saving measures together.
Some of the Alliance's recommendations include:
|Never leave your
caregivers should agree upon and use a "family code
word". Caregivers should teach children not to leave with
anybody who doesn't know the code, even if the child knows the
should not be put on their personal belongings. By
de-personalizing articles, parents and caregivers make it much
more difficult for an abductor to befriend a child by calling him
or her by name;|
never open doors, or answer the telephone when they are home by
understand they can say "no" to adults if they feel
For more information
on child safety, please refer to the FYI
bulletins entitled, Safety Tips for Parents and Safety
Tips for Children.
In addition to its
safety strategies, The Vanished Children's Alliance also specifies
these techniques that parents and caregivers can use to become more
aware of their children's safety.
|Be concerned if
any other adult showers a child with presents or money.|
|Be aware of a
child's whereabouts, friends, and where those friends live.|
|In the case of
separation or divorce, maintain parental communication and be
aware of any changes in the ex-partners' attitude that could
indicate the potential for family abduction.|
caregivers can also take measures to ensure that if a child is ever
abducted, specific identifying information about the child is on hand
for the authorities. For example, keeping recent photos (photographs
should be taken of children every six months and more often for very
young children); recording birthmarks, scars and other identifying
marks; and noting what a child wears daily will aid investigators in
the search for missing children.
For children who
have runaway, are considered throwaway, or are otherwise missing,
better communication and family counseling can help prevent future
instances of children leaving home. Most cases involving missing
children need specific and long-term professional intervention and
What to do
if a Child is Missing
The Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) outlines several
necessary considerations in "When Your Child is Missing: A Family
Survival Guide," including:
caregivers should report a child's disappearance immediately. The
less time lapsed between when the child is missing and when a
search begins, the better the chance for recovery.|
|Access to the
home, abduction site or crime scene should be limited until all
evidence has been collected by law enforcement officials.|
caregivers should give as much information as possible to law
enforcement investigators. A list of family friends, the child's
friends, favorite playground, etc. are all important details, no
matter how insignificant they may seem.|
|A recent photo of
a missing child can be an important aid in the search and
recovery. Photographs are reported to be of more service than
fingerprints or dental records.|
caregivers should try to maintain personal health and energy by:
eating and sleeping; finding time for physical exercise; resisting
self-blame or shouldering the blame of others; and seeking
professional counseling for themselves and the siblings of a
In addition to these
suggestions, parents should obtain: Caller ID or ask law enforcement
to place a "tap" on phones in order to trace possible
extortion attempts; call waiting, a cellular phone and a pager so
parents may be reached at all times; and assistance from a victim
service professional who has expertise in missing children advocacy
for suggestions on how to engage and maintain media interest and
and Government Resources
Taking action the
first 48 hours after a child is missing is crucial. In addition to
calling the police, there are other resources available to parents and
caregivers faced with a child's disappearance. Government agencies,
non-profit organizations, parent survivor groups, and local businesses
are some of the many resources that can provide assistance and support
to parents and caregivers.
such as the FBI, can aid in the search and recovery of missing
children by providing support and services to local law enforcement.
For instance, the Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit of the FBI is
categorized as a rapid response team that can provide technical
assistance to local law enforcement to assist in investigating missing
children cases. Parents and caregivers should ask local law
enforcement to engage the resources of the FBI as soon as possible
after learning of the abduction or disappearance of their child.
clearinghouses are run by state governments and are connected with law
enforcement agencies. These clearinghouses will often aid in the
search for a missing child and can provide assistance in photo
dissemination. Clearinghouse services vary state by state and should
be contacted directly to find out exactly what type of assistance they
offer in a particular jurisdiction.
organizations, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children, offer a variety of support and information to families of
missing children free of charge. Photo dissemination, legal advocacy,
broadcast faxes to criminal justice agencies, and other technical
assistance to local law enforcement, are some of the many services
that these agencies provide. Child Quest International provides free
support, 24 hours a day, to families coping with children who have run
away or have been abducted. Several organizations, like Child Find of
America, focus on attracting media attention and public awareness.
groups offer a means of support that can be helpful to many people
when confronted with the loss of a child. Usually, these groups
include those who have been through similar situations involving
missing children. Often, they can provide counseling, support and
Local businesses can
help in missing children cases as well. Many community-based merchants
and businesses will allow parents to display photos of missing
children in store-front windows, in restrooms, on doors, etc. The more
places a child's picture can be seen, the greater the chance that
child may be found.
There are a variety
of ways that children become "missing." For families
confronted with the disappearance of a child, the process of finding
that child is overwhelming; however immediate action should be taken.
Parents and caregivers should reach out as soon as possible to the
available resources which may assist in the search for their child. If
a child is recovered, counseling for the entire family can be helpful.
surrounding missing children continue to challenge law enforcement,
private and non-profit agencies as they educate and inform parents,
children, and the public. In order to reduce the threat of child
abduction, neglect and abuse, crimes against children must be stopped
before they start.
Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (1985, March). Parental
Kidnapping- How to Prevent an Abduction and What to Do If Your Child
Is Abducted. Arlington, VA.
Robert W., Jr. (1990, November/December). "'Missing
Children': Found Faces." Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, D.C.:
U.S. Department of Justice.
David, Gerald Hotaling and Andrea Sedlak. (1990). Missing,
Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children in America, First Report:
Numbers and Characteristics-National Incidence Studies, Executive
Summary. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children. (1999). 1998 Missing Children
Statistics Fact Sheet. Arlington, VA: National Center for Missing and
Switchboard. (1999). Frontline: The Newsletter for the National
Runaway Switchboard. Chicago, IL: National Runaway Switchboard.
Forst, Martin L.,
and Martha-Elin Blomquist. (1991). Missing Children; Rhetoric and
Reality. New York, NY: Lexington Books.
Greif, Geoffrey L.,
and Rebecca L. Hegar. (1993). When Parents Kidnap; The Families
Behind the Headlines. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Arlene McCormack, Ann Wolbert Burgess, and Carol Hartman. (1987). Adolescent
Runaways; Causes and Consequences. Lexington, MA: Lexington
Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (1998). When your Child is
Missing: A Family Survival Guide. Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Department of Justice.
General's Advisory Board on Missing Children. (1986). America's
Missing and Exploited Children: Their Safety and Their Future. Washington,
D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
additional information, please contact:
Center for Missing and Exploited Children
(800) THE-LOST ((800) 843-5678)
(800) 826-7653 (TTY) or (703) 235-3900
Cyber tipline: www.missingkids.com/cybertip
(800) I-AM-LOST ((800) 426-5678)
Exploited Children's Program
U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
(408) 296-1117 (fax)
Special thanks to
the following for their editorial input:
Director, Health & Life Skills, Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Executive Director, Vanished Children's Alliance
Victim-Witness Coordinator, U.S. Attorney's Office
A Program of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
1999 by the National Center for Victims of Crime. This
information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed
free of charge, in its entirety and includes this copyright notice