When a missing child is reported to the police, law enforcement agencies should make a timely assessment to qualify or disqualify risk for the life or well-being of the missing child. This risk assessment is crucial in order to determine which steps need to be taken to successfully recover the child. For instance, police can decide to issue a national AMBER Alert to involve citizens in the search. Based on several international treaties, this risk assessment is not only a vital part of the investigation, but a missing child’s right.

“An early assessment of a missing child can be compared to the triage used in assessing casualties and the speed of response needed to save lives”, says Charlie Hedges, Coordinator of AMBER Alert Europe’s Police Expert Network on Missing Children and UK’s foremost Missing Children Expert.

Hedges: “Core to this process is assessing the level of risk to the missing person and how immediate that risk is. This assessment and the particular circumstances of the case should shape the response. Under-reaction can result in serious harm or death to the child. Over-reaction and doing too much is wasteful of resources and potentially an unwarranted intrusion on a child’s privacy.”

“Questions such as ‘Does their age make them particularly vulnerable?’, ‘Is their behaviour out of character?’, ‘Do they suffer from a life-threatening illness or require medication?’ or ‘Are there adverse weather conditions likely to put them at risk?’, among others, all determine the level of risk a missing child is in”, according to Hedges.

A missing child’s right

European countries have an extensive legal obligation to protect the lives of all children within its borders. This obligation is based on different international treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Treaty on Human Rights. Seeing how proper risk assessment is potentially live saving, it must be considered a missing child’s right.

Want to know more about risk assessment? See our guide ‘Understanding and Managing Risk in the Context of Missing Persons’.