What Do You Do: When a child goes missing?

Posted at 6:41 AM, Dec 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-22 12:36:52-05

It’s every parent's worst nightmare: you turn around in a busy area and you can’t find your child.

Police stress that you need to stay calm — kids wander off regularly, which is why most major retailers have procedures in place for store employees to follow in the event a child goes missing.

Lt. Jones with the Troy Police Department said that the moment you realize your child has went missing you should stop and access the area: What might have distracted, or attracted your child in the immediate area that you’re standing? Was there a new toy display inside the section of the mall you were walking, or if you’re outside was there a playground nearby or games being played?

In the midst of the Holiday shopping season, Jones said there’s a good chance this will be a reoccurring issue in shopping malls and retail stores. He said the key is to not panic, and fall back to plans you have in place.

“Maybe they haven’t gotten that far at that point,” said Jones. “If you can’t find them quickly seek out a store employee.”

Things move quickly, but Jones said you shouldn’t hesitate to call police.

“Five to ten minutes… if you’re not finding your child it’s time to start thinking about calling the police. We’ll come and offer additional resources in finding them.”

Police will have a number of questions to help them locate a child: your child’s name, height, weight, and any physical features that stand out — braces, glasses, etc. They’ll also ask what they were wearing when you last saw them, that’s why Jones said it’s a good idea to get in the habit of carrying an up to date picture of your younger children in a cell phone that’s readily available. If you take a picture before you head to a mall, amusement park, or any other crowded area you’ll also have a record of the exact outfit they were wearing.

“Keep in mind they may not know your full name when they’re very, very young,” said Jones.

If your son or daughter can’t memorize your name, or your phone numbers, Jones suggested writing it on the child’s arm if you’re concerned about big crowds — or slipping a piece of paper with the information into a pocket for them to hold onto.

Meanwhile, the tech industry is creating more modern forms of child tracking. A number of companies now offer child-tracking GPS systems.

You can read more about some of the top items on the market currently for tracking a child using GPS, here.

Of course, in some cases a child goes missing because they were taken -- if that's the case police will need as much information as possible. Some of the information that helps for a child that wanders off helps in these situations -- but the situation escalates quickly.

After you've reported your child missing to local police you should also call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST(1-800-843-5678).

NCMEC helps guide tips to federal agencies that are called in when children go missing -- you can read more about this on the NCMEC website.