What to do when your child goes missing

SafeWise experts have years of firsthand experience testing the products we recommend. Learn how we test and review

Nothing is more nerve-wracking to a parent than when a child goes missing. According to the Australian Federal Police, of the 38,000 people reported missing each year (on average), approximately 25,000 of those are under the age of 18.

Take comfort that, of the tens of thousands of missing children and adults reported annually, a very low percentage are true child abduction cases. In fact, 99.5% of missing persons are located, with 85% found within a week of being reported missing.

If you ever find yourself in this alarming situation, we’ve prepared a resource guide on what you should do when you’ve lost a child.

1. Assess the situation

If you suspect your child is missing, the first steps depend on the situation.

If your child became separated from you in a crowded place (for example, a busy shopping centre or large ticketed event), your first port of call should be onsite security or event organisers.

If they haven't returned home from school or a friend or family member's house when they should have, you should first contact the school or the homeowner to see if your child is still there, or if they know where else they could be.

For all other scenarios, if you've exhausted all potential family and friend contacts, skip to the next step.

2. Call the police

If calling around to friends and family yields no results, your first point of contact should be your local police. You do not need to wait until 24 hours have passed to do so. Do not spend time looking for the child until you have alerted the authorities.

The police will require you, as the child's parent or caregiver, to complete a missing person report in person at your local police station.

3. Get ready to share your child’s information

In those panicked moments when you can’t find your child, it’s common to forget the basic information authorities are going to request. However, if you can present facts and clues in an organised manner, police will be able to move quickly on any leads. Be prepared to provide as much key information as you can, including the following:

  • Child’s full name
  • Child’s weight
  • Child’s height
  • Child’s age and date of birth
  • Clothes the child was last seen wearing
  • Identifying features, like glasses or a birthmark
  • Names and contact information of the child’s friends or close acquaintances
  • Frequently visited hangout spots
  • Health issues the child has
  • Any other possibly relevant details about the time or place the child went missing

Police may request a picture, too, so try to find several recent photographs that clearly display distinguishing characteristics.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the disappearance—if officers suspect abduction or feel the child could be in imminent danger—authorities may issue an AMBER Alert to spread the word throughout the community.

Keep in mind that police will only put out an alert if they have enough descriptive information about the missing child, so you’ll need to be as thorough as possible when you speak with investigators.

4. Look in your immediate area

Once law enforcement has been notified, begin searching where you last saw your child. Young children are prone to hide somewhere and fall asleep, so look on all beds, under furniture, in piles of laundry, around vehicles, in the garage, and even inside your washer and dryer. It's also worth rounding up a few neighbours, asking if they've seen your child, and getting assistance looking around the surrounding streets.

In instances where the child is old enough to have a phone or social media account, they may have left some digital clues. Rather than digging through electronic records yourself, ask the police to explore messaging histories and social sites.

Older children also have a tendency to run to friends’ houses, so call around to any friends, family, or neighbours who are close to your child.

5. Make yourself available

The first 48 hours after a child goes missing are critical. As a parent, you are going to want to help with the physical search, but many experts advise guardians to instead focus energy on gathering and providing information to investigators.

Especially as law enforcement may want to check your home and your child’s room for evidence, you’ll want to make sure you’re available to give investigators access to anything they need.

Keep your phone line open, and put the name and number of the officer assigned to your case in an easily accessible location. It’s also a good idea to write down names, numbers, and other information relating to the case in a designated notebook.

Final word

Having a child go missing is one of the most upsetting and stressful situations a parent could ever experience. Following these steps, staying in constant communication with authorities and ensuring you have a strong support network around you at all times will help give you the best chance of resolution.

SafeWise Team
Written by
SafeWise Team

Recent Articles