MISSING CHILD – WHAT TO DO NEXT?
WHAT TO DO IMMEDIATELY
A missing child is one of the most terrifying things a parent can ever experience. Even so, it is vitally important that you do your best to REMAIN CALM.
- SEARCH THE IMMEDIATE AREA
If your child has disappeared from home, make sure s/he is not asleep or hiding in or around the house. Check places the child may have gotten into and then not been able to get out of, i.e. cupboards, closets, crawl spaces, vehicles, etc. Check outdoors and with neighbors, as well as with your child’s neighborhood friends. If your child has disappeared in a public place like a store or a mall, contact security and the store manager. Give them a physical description of your child including what s/he is wearing – ask them to begin a search. Also, ask them to post an employee at every exit to make sure that your child does not wander out of the area.
- CALL THE POLICE
When you are satisfied that your child is not in the immediate area, call the police and tell the dispatcher “My child is missing, I need to make a report.” If they dispatch an officer to you, stay exactly where you told the dispatcher you’d be, so the officer will be able to find you when s/he arrives. Make sure that someone is available to answer the phone.
- FIND THE BEST, MOST RECENT PHOTO OF YOUR CHILD AND MAKE COPIES
You will need to give copies of the photo to police, searchers and missing child agencies. Plan to make 10-20 copies. Stores like Office Depot, OfficeMax and Kinko’s have color copiers that are available to the public for a small fee. If you have a digital camera, you can print photos yourself at home, or at a local store that has a photo processing machine. Many stores like Target, WalMart, Kmart and Walgreens have a photo processor that can make prints from a memory card or CD-Rom. If possible, have a copy of the photo scanned and saved as a graphic file on a CD-Rom, like a GIF or a JPEG file. Kinkos and most other stores with full service business centers can help you to do this. Target has photo kiosks that allow you to print photos from Facebook.
- INVOLVE FAMILY AND FRIENDS IN THE SEARCH
During the next few hours stay where you are. Your first urge will be to go out and search for your child, but you need to stay in one place so that police, searchers, your child or anyone else with information can easily contact you. If you haven’t already done so, contact family members, friends and neighbors to help with the search. If you are away from home when your child disappears, ask someone to bring photos of your child to where you are. If at all possible, make sure someone is at your home to receive phone calls.
- CONTACT A MISSING CHILDREN’S ORGANIZATION
Call Missing Children Minnesota or the missing children’s organization nearest to you to register your missing child. Most missing children’s organizations can help with poster preparation, contacting the media, logistics, emotional support, etc. A list of all the nationally recognized missing children’s organizations can be obtained from the Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations (AMECO) at www.amecoinc.org or by calling 1-877-AMECO-20. You should also register your child with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.
- KEEP EVERYONE UP TO DATE
Over the next few days, stay in touch with police and Missing Children Minnesota to keep everyone updated on the situation. Make sure you take notes about what is happening and what the police tell you. Don’t try to rely on your memory when you are in a crisis. Also make sure that someone is home to answer the phone when you’re not there or use call forwarding to transfer calls to another number (a cell phone, relative’s home, etc.
- MAKE GOOD USE OF HELPING HANDS
Ask someone to help you contact family members, friends, church and community groups for help and support. Many people will offer to help and will want to be involved. They can assist with distributing posters, running errands, preparing meals, etc. Make sure the volunteers who will be in your home are people you feel comfortable with. It’s also important for you to get as much rest as possible volunteers can take over for you from time to time so that you can take care of yourself. Remember, your child will need you to be physically and emotionally strong when they return home. When you sleep, eat, or delegate tasks to others, you are doing it to stay strong for your child.
- UNTIL YOUR CHILD IS FOUND…
Distribute posters and keep in touch with police and Missing Children Minnesota (and any other agencies that you have contacted) on a regular basis. Over the long term when you need to be away from the house, make sure that you have voicemail or an answering machine. At the beginning of the message state that “This residence will accept collect calls.” This way, if your child (or someone who knows about your child) is at a distance and tries to call collect, the operator will leave the circuit open so that he or she can leave a message. You may need to get counseling to help you and your family through the difficult times. Make plans for when your child is found.
- WHEN YOUR CHILD IS FOUND…
Call police and missing children’s agencies to close your child’s case. Take the posters down. Follow through with the plans you made for what to do when your child comes home. Be prepared for a missing child emergency! Put together an ID folder for your child. Establish a plan for your family in case you become separated at a store or an event away from home. Teach your children (and periodically review with them) how to respond to threatening situations. For more information about keeping kids safe, contact Missing Children Minnesota.
A NOTE ABOUT PARENTAL ABDUCTION…
If an estranged/former spouse or a domestic partner abducts your children, CALL THE POLICE! Tell them that you believe s/he is in violation of Minnesota state statute 609.26 (most states have a similar statute parental kidnapping is a felony in all 50 states!) Many law enforcement officers are unfamiliar with this law so don’t be reluctant to mention it to them. Under Minnesota law, it is a crime for a parent to take a child, even if s/he has joint custody, or if custody has not yet been determined.