Children are some of the most precious beings in our communities. Their innocence and naivety about what bad things happen in the world leaves them vulnerable and sometimes too trusting of the wrong people.
Whether a child goes missing because they’ve wandered off or because they are taken, the pain is no different. A missing child can feel like a piece of you is also gone. That is why it’s important to understand how a child can go missing and how to act effectively if they do.
How can a child go missing?
In 2020, 365,348 children were reported missing to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
The best way to protect a child from disappearing is to understand the ways it could potentially happen. Here are the most common ways that a child might go missing:
An abduction is when “a child is taken, wrongfully retained, or concealed by [an individual, thus] depriving another individual of their custody or visitation rights.”
This is when a child chooses to leave and physically run away from home.
Similar to running away, this is when a child physically leaves their parent, guardian, or caretaker. The difference with wandering is that it is accidental. Often when a child wanders it’s because they are distracted or enticed by a sound, smell, sight, or activity nearby.
Our society is in the midst of a digital age, meaning children have access to technology at an even younger age than in the past. Online enticement is when someone engages with another individual online, believing them to be a child, with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction. Often the online predator seems friendly, trustworthy, or even familiar.
Special needs or mental health issues
Children with special needs or mental health issues are more susceptible to being taken or wandering. They often do not understand certain social cues or perceive dangerous characters or situations easily. For instance, children with Autism are more vulnerable to drowning and elopement.
Elopement: referring to an individual with cognitive challenges or special needs who leaves a safe caregiving environment or caretaker.
How to prepare yourself and your child for if they go missing:
Having your child go missing is an unimaginable situation. Here is a guide on how to prepare yourself and your child for if they do go missing.
What to do if your child goes missing
Try to stay calm.
If your child is missing from home, make sure you have checked any areas where a child might be able to climb into and hide. If your child is missing in a community area, notify a store manager or security officer.
If you still cannot find your child, call your local law enforcement agency right away. Be prepared to provide them with pertinent information about your child and describe what they were wearing.
Next, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-843-5678. They will work directly with law enforcement to help recover your child.
Prepare your child in case they go missing
Run through “what if” scenarios at home so they know what to do if they are taken or separated from you.
Go on walks around your home neighborhood together and point out key landmarks that are close to home. This way they might be able to find their way back home if they are lost.
When in a public space, always set a meeting point in case you get separated.
If your child is of the appropriate age, equip them with a cellphone that has basic call capabilities. Make sure to save pertinent phone numbers and 9-1-1 into their contacts. If your child is too young for a phone, create a laminated sheet of important numbers and information for them to carry with them.
If your child is old enough, teach them basic self-defense techniques to help protect themselves.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)
Call the 24-hour CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678, to report any information regarding the abuse or exploitation of a child. This is also where you can make a report for your own missing child.
Team HOPE is NCMEC’s peer support group. This is a safe place meant to support family members of missing or sexually exploited children or survivors. Reach Team HOPE at (866) 305-HOPE (4673).
National Crime Information Center (NCIC)
In the United States, all missing persons reports are filed with the NCIC. This is a great place to view missing persons data by year.
The Q5id Guardian App
To ease the worry of what to do if your child goes missing, join Q5id Guardian! The Q5id Guardian app is a real-time, immediate alert system for if a child goes missing. Learn more about this amazing tool here!