What To Do If Your Teen is a Runaway or is Missing

Teen runaway

There is NO 24-hour waiting period for reporting runaways or missing children under 18. 

The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 (Public Law No: 101-647) was passed directing police to take reports immediately on any missing children under age 18, including runaways. Under the law, that information must be entered into the National Crime Information Center, a computerized database of victims and criminals maintained by the FBI.  However, that does not mean police start to search immediately.

While police officers are required to take a report and assess every missing child case, only the children who are believed to be in danger or are under age 13 or mentally or physically disabled are automatically classified as “critical missing persons.”

Also, the Amber Alert is not intended for runaways or parental abductions except in life-threatening situations and is intended only for the most serious, time-critical child abduction cases. What is considered ‘life-threatening’ and ‘serious’ is left to the opinion of law enforcement. 

It’s up to the family to make sure that the law is followed and efforts to find your child are being done. Parents of Runaways Fend for Themselves: Police put off searching in most cases, The Washington Post

What You Need To Do

Dial 911 as soon as you suspect your child has disappeared and demand that a police report be filed immediately.  When calling, be prepared to report your teen’s name, date of birth, height, weight, identifying features such as glasses, braces, piercings, etc., and the clothes you last saw him or her wearing. Detailed information about filing a missing persons report>>>

Record the officer’s name, badge number, phone, fax, and report numbers.  Ask who will follow up the initial investigation.

After you call the police, call the Sheriff’s Department, state police, and police from adjoining jurisdictions.  File reports, record the officers’ names, badge numbers, phone, fax, and report numbers.

Cooperate fully with the police.

Check with your child’s friends and their parents, work, neighbors, relatives, or anyone else who may know of your child’s whereabouts. Also call out-of-town friends and relatives. Ask them to notify you if they hear from your child. 

Go to your child’s school, speak with teachers and staff, and go through your child’s lockers and desks.

Find out if any of your child’s friends are missing. They may be together.

Notify the local FBI office and have your child’s description entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer if local law enforcement have not done so.  Obtain the nine-digit NCIC number for your child’s case.

Notify border patrols.  Ask your local law enforcement agency or missing child agency to provide these numbers.

Check home computers for leads such as online contacts and details of a planned meeting.

Call missing children helplines, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678)Polly Klaas Foundation at 800-587-4357, and Operation Lookout at 800-LOOKOUT (800-566-5688).

Call runaway hotlines if you suspect your teen is a runaway, such as the National Runaway Safeline at 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929).

Notify your state’s missing children clearinghouse and other organizations  listed on Runaways and Missing Children: Help and Support.

Share information through social networks ― Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and social media that your teen and his/her friends use. Post articles, photographs, blogs, videos. Interact with individuals and organizations that can spread the word and help find your child.

Document everything! Keep concise records of everything you do and everyone you contact, including date and time, name of person, organization, phone number, and information received.

Keep your home phone staffed and record conversations. This may be the only way your child knows how to reach you.

Close the door to your child’s room and don’t touch anything in there.

Find pictures of your child to use in the search. Choose photographs that are recent and realistic.

Check phone bills for the past few months for any unfamiliar numbers. Call any numbers you do not recognize to see if they have heard from your child.

Contact runaway shelters in your area and in nearby areas and states. Give them your child’s photograph. If your teen gives an incorrect name and age, it will help identify him/her.

Contact hospitals, abortion clinics, drug treatment centers, and counseling services in your area.

Create a missing person flyer/poster. The Polly Klaas Foundation, and other organizations, have online templates and provide assistance in flyer creation and distribution. DO NOT put your personal contact information (phone/home address) on the flyer. 

Leave flyers at high-traffic locations, such as bus stops, bus and train stations, convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores, youth hangouts, malls, recreation centers, tattoo parlors. E-mail the flyer to everyone in your address book. Ask friends and family to post and email the flyer also. 

Contact the media ― newspapers, TV and radio stations.  Cooperate fully with the media.

Offer a reward.  

Hire a private investigator.

Print out and read When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival GuideThis guide provides critical information, guidance, and tools to help find your missing child. Click here for the Spanish version.

Runaways and Missing Children: Help and Support >>>