The First 48 Hours After a Child Goes Missing

The First 48 Hours After a Child Goes Missing


The first 48 hours after a child goes missing are the most vital–and the best window for bringing them home safely. If your child is missing, don’t wait. Take action immediately. These are the steps you should follow as soon as you realize something is wrong.

Contact Law Enforcement

Do not hesitate to contact law enforcement right away. Some people believe that you have to wait a certain period of time to declare someone missing, but that is not the case the for children.

When you talk to your local police department, ask them to enter the child’s information into the National Crime Information Center, which can help speed up the search. You should also ask for a “Be On the Look Out” (or BOLO) bulletin to be put into effect.

Preserve the Scene

You might not want to think of your home as a crime scene, but unfortunately law enforcement will need to examine the area. It’s important to leave everything as it was when your child went missing. Don’t let well-meaning friends and family come over to help. They could make it more difficult for investigators to find important clues.

Prepare to Answer a Lot of Questions

Law enforcement classifies missing child cases into five basic types:

  • Family abduction
  • Non-family abduction
  • Runaway
  • Abandonment
  • Unknown

In order to figure out what they’re dealing with, the officers responding to your call will need to ask you and everyone else in your household questions. You have to be completely honest, even if the answers make you look bad.

If you can, write down everything you remember about what your child was wearing, where they were and who they were with, and other details that seem even remotely relevant. Gather recent photographs of the missing child. It can also be helpful to put together a list of friends, family, neighbors, and other people who might have any information.

Take Care of Yourself

Although your primary focus will be on finding your child as quickly as possible, you also need to care for yourself. Stay hydrated, eat something, and if possible, get some rest while someone else mans the phone. It’s not a bad idea to talk to a counselor, either. If you don’t have a therapist or faith leader, you can ask the police to recommend someone.

You might feel very alone during the search, but there is a whole team of people helping bring your child home.