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Missing Children

Foley Alabama Missing Children

A volunteer explains the process of age progression to a group of children at a safety event.

When a child goes missing the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® is ready to assist families and law enforcement agencies 24 hours a day. Each case brings its own set of unique challenges, and NCMEC is prepared to help meet those challenges.

NCMEC's case management teams work each case on an individual basis by providing coordinated support and access to analytical and technological resources. NCMEC is prepared to assist in all missing child cases, even when a child has been missing for a long period of time, was abducted internationally by a parent or has special needs.

NCMEC works closely with more than 270 corporate photo partners who disseminate photos of missing children to millions of homes across the U.S. every day. NCMEC is able to assist in the most serious child abduction cases by sending specially trained, retired law enforcement professionals to provide support and technical assistance to local law enforcement agencies.

No missing child is ever forgotten, no matter how long they have been missing. Through the Biometrics Team NCMEC coordinates the collection of DNA, dental records and other unique identifiers from family members to search for potential matches, even for long-term cases. The Case Analysis Unit provides direct analytical support to law enforcement for missing and unidentified deceased child cases.

Every day NCMEC works to find missing children and reunite them with their families.

FAQs: Missing Children

How many missing children are there?

The missing children issue is complex and multifaceted. Children may become missing due to abduction by nonfamily members or abduction by family members. Children may become missing as a result of running away from home. Children may also become missing involuntarily for reasons other than abduction such as becoming lost, injured or under other circumstances.

The FBI maintains comprehensive statistics regarding the number of children and adults entered by law enforcement agencies into the National Crime Information Center’s Missing Person File each year. In 2014 there were 466,949 entries made by law enforcement for those younger than 18.

What type of missing child case is most common?

The most frequent types of cases reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® are:

  • Runaways.
  • Family abductions.
  • Lost, injured or otherwise missing children.

The least frequent cases reported to NCMEC are nonfamily abductions.

It is important to assess the risk to each child on an individual case-by-case basis. A child missing under any circumstances may be at risk of harm or exploitation.

How can I prepare myself in case my child
becomes missing?

  • Keep a complete and current written description of your child.
  • Take color photos, digital if possible, of your child every six months or more often if your child’s appearance changes.
  • Know here your child’s medical and dental records are located and how they may be obtained.
  • Contact your local law enforcement agency to see if they offer fingerprinting for children. If so arrange with the agency to have your child fingerprinted.
  • Collect a DNA sample from your child.

Learn more about important actions if your child is missing:


What can I do to prevent a family abduction?

To learn more about family abductions and how to prevent them:


What should I do if my child is missing?

Immediately call your local law enforcement agency.

After you have reported your child missing to law enforcement, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® at 1-800-THE-LOST(1-800-843-5678).

If your child is missing from home, search through:

  • Closets.
  • Piles of Laundry.
  • In and under beds.
  • Inside large appliances.
  • Vehicles – including trunks.
  • Anywhere else that a child may crawl or hide.

Visit If Your Child Is Missing for important steps to take.

For more information download:

Missing-Child, Emergency-Response, Quick-Reference Guide (English) Missing-Child, Emergency-Response, Quick-Reference Guide (Spanish) When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide (English) When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide (Spanish)

Are there any additional considerations for children missing with special needs?

Finding and safely recovering a missing child with special needs can also present a unique and difficult challenge for families, law enforcement, first responders and search teams. The behaviors and actions of a missing child with special needs are often much different than those of a missing non-affected child. A special needs condition may be characterized by debilitating physical impairments, social impairments, cognitive impairments or communication challenges. While the behaviors will differ from child-to-child, missing children with special needs may:

  • Wander away, run away or bolt from a safe environment.
  • Exhibit a diminished sense of fear causing them to engage in high-risk behavior such as seeking water or active roadways.
  • Elude or hide from search teams.
  • Seek small or tightly enclosed spaces concealing themselves from search teams.
  • Be unable to respond to rescuers.

For more information download:

Missing Children With Special Needs Missing and Abduction Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management (English) Missing and Abduction Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management (Spanish)

How can I help find missing children?

There are many ways you can get involved with or donate to NCMEC. The best way to help is to look at photos of missing children and report any information you may have regarding the whereabouts of those children to 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678).

Do the posters I see and cards I get in the mail
really help recover missing children?

Absolutely. These posters reach millions of people and prompt individuals across the country to call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) to provide vital leads and information, many of which lead to the recovery of missing children.

Copyright © 2017 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. All rights reserved.

This Web site is funded, in part, through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this Web site (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).

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