U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, Fifth Edition

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2023
96 pages

This guide was designed to help parents of missing children through the process of working with law enforcement, the media, search and rescue professionals, and other volunteers and individuals whose role it is to help with aspects of the missing persons search.


This document is divided into sections that provide parents of missing children with the following: steps to take when their child is missing; help with understanding the work of law enforcement and volunteers; how to deal with the media and public engagement; financial considerations; personal and family well-being; a framework for understanding missing children; and additional resources and readings. The first section, on steps to take when a child goes missing, provides a checklist for the first 48 hours of the child’s disappearance, with emphasis that there is no waiting period for parents to report children missing or for police to act on a missing child report. The document also provides information on what to do if parents suspect that their child may have been taken out of the United States, including International Parent Child Abduction (IPCA) resources, and lists the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. State Department, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as agencies to contact. It also emphasizes the need for National Crime Information Center (NCIC) data entry by local law enforcement, to record information from each missing child case into that national database for broader search scope and interagency coordination. The document goes into detail about each of the topics, providing checklists and other information on the various scenarios of a missing child search process.

Date Published: May 1, 2023