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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, social media, law enforcement technical assistance, outreach teams, and case analysis. 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 and 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.

Report a Child Missing from Care

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Case Worker Quick Reference Guide to Reporting (PDF)
Overview How to Report Legislation NCMEC Resources More

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 name
  • The child's date of birth
  • A description of the child
  • Any endangerments the child may have
  • The circumstances surrounding the child going missing
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 name
  • The child's date of birth, gender, height, and weight
  • A high-quality photo of the child
  • Date the child went missing
  • City and state the child went missing from
  • Any endangerments the child may have
  • The circumstances surrounding the child going missing
  • Name and contact information for the child's guardian
  • Name and contact information for the law enforcement agency who took the missing person report. 

    If you encounter any issues while trying to report a missing child, please contact 1-800-THE-LOST. 


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 hoursinformation about each missing or abducted child both to law enforcement and to NCMEC. 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(35)(B)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.

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

Suzanne’s Law

A provision of the PROTECT Act of 2003 and codified at 34 U.S.C. § 41307(a), this law extended the same reporting and investigative procedures already provided for children younger than 18 to individuals under the age of 21.

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. 



NCMEC Resources

NCMEC provides an array of resources, including case management, poster distribution, social media, on-site law enforcement technical assistance, our long-term missing children initiative, and case analysis, among many others. View available case resources.

Critical & Runaway Unit

The Critical and Runaway Unit 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 teams 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.

Learn more about endangered runaways.

Child Sex Trafficking Team

Specially designated Child Sex Trafficking Team case management teams work closely with legal guardians and law enforcement agencies investigating these cases to provide technical assistance and NCMEC resource coordination. The Child Sex Trafficking Team provides comprehensive analytical services to law enforcement and helps link cases of possible child sex trafficking to missing child cases known to NCMEC. CSTT case management teams also help coordinate child sex trafficking related victim and family support services. 

Child Sex Trafficking Recovery Planning and Services

The Child Sex Trafficking Recovery Services Team (RST) provides specialized technical assistance and resources to child welfare workers, foster parents and law enforcement who are working with missing children who are also victims of child sex trafficking. RST Resource Specialists provide knowledge and guidance on promising practices in trauma-informed response by making connections to statewide and local specialized child sex trafficking resources. RST Resource Specialists are prepared to assist in the development of intentional, trauma-informed, and victim-centered plans which have been proven to build rapport, increase opportunities for youth engagement, and reduce trauma responses.

In areas where specialized child sex trafficking resources are limited, RST Resource Specialists can provide support by offering guidance to organizations that are willing to expand programming to include CST survivors.  In these situations, Resource specialists can offer staff training, case staffing and guidance, and offer to connect agencies with other resources to help meet the complex needs of survivors of CST.  Support will be available as requested, and developed based on the needs of each individual case and survivor. For more information, click here.

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.

Poster Distribution & Support

Once a case is report to NCMEC, whether it is a family abduction or runaway case, or any other missing child situation, a case management team will coordinate the creation and dissemination of posters to help generate leads. The case management team will request analytical support from NCMEC Case Analysis Division as well as assist in forwarding leads called into NCMEC to the investigating law enforcement agency. It will also make appropriate referrals to NCMEC’s Family Advocacy Division and/or Team HOPE for families in crisis and needing emotional support.

Autism & Wandering

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 so that appropriate support services can be provided.

Learn more about autism and wandering.

More Helpful Resources

Children Missing from Care: 2019 Update
Missing Children, State Care & Child Sex Trafficking
Child Sex Trafficking in America: A Guide for Child Welfare Professionals
Investigative Checklist for Law Enforcement When Helping Unsupervised and Runaway Children