Check. Think. Report.

Practical information and resources on what to do when your child goes missing

My child is missing, what can I do?

A step-by-step approach

When a child disappears, parents and caregivers face significant challenges. Check. Think. Report. is a simple step-by-step approach designed by law enforcement experts to help you navigate the situation.

Step one

1. Check

Begin by checking for any signs of where they might have gone.

Toddlers

Toddlers with limited mobility can still be in or around your residence. Start by searching in places that can be dangerous. In your house, this can be a freezer, refrigerator or laundry machine. Outside your house, this can be near water, such as ponds and swimming pools, or near a busy street. Then, consider looking at places where toddlers could be hidden from sight, such as the back of a closet, in a shed or even under their own bed. Keep in mind that toddlers sometimes hide somewhere and then fall asleep.

School-aged children

For school-aged children, allowed to go outside, the search area becomes larger. After making sure that the child is not inside your residence, continue by looking in the immediate area outside and places where the child could be in danger. This can be near water, inside the trunk of a car, at construction areas or other places where dangerous situations may exist. Then, check with the parents of your child’s friends living in the area if the child is with them.

Teenagers

Teenagers can go missing for multiple reasons. Though physically looking for a teenager is certainly an option, consider checking the child’s room, social media, or other forms of communication for possible clues. Then, reach out to your child’s friends for any information on its whereabouts.

Step two

2. Think

Think of any reasons why your child might have gone missing and where they could be.

Toddlers

If you can’t find your missing toddler inside or in the area directly around your house, call your local police and tell them that your child is missing. No more time should pass without police officers coming over to assist you in finding your child.

School-aged children

For school-aged children, think of any reasons why they might have gone missing and where they could be. Think about their routines and recent activities.  Do you recall any recent outings or activities your child may have engaged in? Did they mention any places they wanted to visit or people they wanted to see? Are there any favourite places they like to go to?

Teenagers

For teenagers, reflect on any recent changes in your child’s behaviour or circumstances. Have they exhibited any unusual behaviour, such as wearing different clothes, associating with new friends, or showing signs of substance use? These insights could provide valuable clues in locating them. Also, what do you know about the context in which they went missing? For example, was there an argument or incident prior to your child going missing? Is there anything that may be drawing your child away? Sometimes, teenagers might not come home simply because they need some space.

Step three

3. Report

Call your local police to report your child missing.

When to report your child missing

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to wait 24 hours to report a missing child. There will be no judgment – your child’s safety is the most important. The police will take necessary action and provide support throughout the process. They’ll also offer guidance on additional steps you can take.

What can I expect?

Contacting the police

Questions from the Police

When reaching out to the police for assistance, it’s important to be prepared for what to expect during the process. Be prepared to answer detailed questions about your missing child, including their physical description, last known whereabouts and any distinguishing features such as birthmarks or scars. The police may also inquire about your child’s recent activities, relationships, and any potential reasons why they may have gone missing. Are there any problems going on in your home/family?

What can I expect?

Contacting the police

Providing Information

It’s essential to provide as much accurate information as possible to help the police. This includes recent photographs of your child, details of their clothing or belongings at the time of disappearance, and any relevant medical or behavioral information that could assist in locating them. Does your child rely on medications that they don’t have with them, or may not have access to? When providing photographs of your child, have recent photographs available. Find photographs that show your child as they currently look on a normal day. For example, avoid school or portrait-type photos if they don’t reflect how your child typically looks.

What can I expect?

Contacting the police

Providing Information

• Your child’s name, date of birth, height, weight, and any medical condition
• A detailed description of the clothing worn by your child and the personal items he or she had at the time of the disappearance
• Personal identification marks, such as birthmarks, scars, and tattoos
• A recent picture and one that shows identification marks
• Facts and circumstances related to the disappearance of your child, including what efforts have already been made to search for your child
• Details of places that your child often visits
• Telephone numbers, social media accounts of your child, a list of friends

What can I expect?

Contacting the police

Cooperation and Communication

Maintain open communication with the police throughout the process. This means being readily available to answer any questions they may have, promptly returning their calls, and providing any requested information or assistance. Follow their guidance and instructions. Remember that the police are there to help and support you during this challenging time. It’s also beneficial to share any updates or new information you might receive about your missing child with the police immediately, as it could be crucial to the investigation.

father embracing child missing
How to act

When your child returns

Finding your missing child is an immense relief, but depending on the duration and circumstances it can also bring about a whirlwind of emotions and practical considerations. We’ll provide you with some advice on what to do when your child is located.

Update family, friends, and the police
If your child returns on its own, inform the police immediately. The police may need to speak or meet with your child to ensure they have returned safe and well. Let all your contacts know that your child has returned home.

Allow time to settle in
After your child’s return, it’s important to give your child the space and time they need to settle back into their routine and process their experiences. Your child may have endured a traumatic ordeal, and it’s essential to be sensitive to their physical and emotional needs. Offering them the opportunity to enjoy a comforting meal, change into clean clothes, or simply rest can help them feel safe and secure in their home environment once again. These simple acts of care and comfort can provide a sense of normalcy and stability after a period of uncertainty.

Be happy about your child’s return
Many children fear the initial meeting with their parents. Remain calm, express your joy and relief at your child’s return, reassuring him or her of your love and support. Let your child know that together, as a family, you will navigate any challenges that may arise.

Get assistance and support
A specialised organisation may follow up with your child to see if they need more support. It is important to reach out and take advantage of any support available to your child, you, and your family. Asking for help is a sign of strength and shows you are taking the issue seriously.

Check. Think. Report.

Available in 14 languages

Developed by

AMBER Alert
Europe

AMBER Alert Europe, the European Centre for Missing Children, is a foundation that strives to improve the protection of missing children and to prevent children from going missing by empowering them and raising awareness on the issue of missing children and its root causes. We connect experts from 44 governmental organisations, in particular ministries of the interior and police forces, and non-governmental organisations from 27 countries in our mission towards zero missing children in Europe.