When your child goes missing, you can feel overwhelmed. The Polly Klaas® Foundation has developed practical steps to help parents play an active and constructive role in the effort their children. The following are guidelines only; they are not intended to be followed step-by-step.

If Your Child Runs Away or Goes Missing

  • Immediately contact your local police agency. They will decide whether to issue an Amber Alert.
  • File a missing persons report--as soon as you discover your child is missing.
  • There is no mandatory waiting period.
  • Then contact the Polly Klaas® Foundation.

24/7 Help-Line

Phone: 800-587-4357

Email, click here.

1. Report your child's disappearance to law enforcement officials

NOTE: There is no mandatory waiting period to report your child as missing. This is mandated by the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990. This includes runaways.

When you report your child missing to the police, make sure to:

  • Obtain a case number.
  • Ask who will be handling the investigations.
  • Ask that your child be immediately entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and obtain the nine-digit NCIC number. It should be preceded by the letter "M."
  • Provide the police with a current photograph of your child, and fingerprints, if available. Never give away your last photograph.
  • Provide a thorough description of the clothing your child wore when last seen. Write it all down and give to the law enforcement and child-find agency.
  • Notify law enforcement of any special circumstances that indicate clear risk to your child. This could assist law enforcement to do the job faster and raise the priority of the case. These conditions could include:
    • Special medical or mental conditions
    • Drug abuse or mental problems of an abusing parent
    • Previous documented child abuse or violence by any person
    • Child is in the company of adults who could endanger his or her welfare
    • Threats of violence against the child by any person
    • Abnormal behavior

Other special circumstances include:

  • If your child is missing under suspicious circumstances, request assistance from the FBI, either directly or through your reporting law enforcement. Please note that, if a victim is held more than 24 hours, the law creates a refutable presumption that he or she has been taken across state lines. This clause allows the FBI and other federal authorities to investigate, but if the facts later show that state lines were not crossed, the FBI will not be able to support federal charges.
  • If your child has taken an automobile, request that the police list that information with state police and highway patrol. If the automobile belongs to someone other than the child, discuss with law enforcement agency about making a stolen auto report.

2. Keep the lines of communications open

You will want to make yourself available at all times in case a lead comes through on your child's case and to keep accurate records.

  • Keep a notebook by the phone to record calls you make and information you get from agencies, friends, relatives, police, etc. Keep another notebook to record information you receive while out of the house. Make sure to note the caller's full name and phone number in case you have to call them back. This information could possibly help law enforcement agencies with their investigation.
  • Obtain call waiting on your phone. Attempt to have someone by the phone at all times.
  • Purchase or borrow an answering machine or sign up for an answering service such as voice mail. Leave a message for your missing child. You might also leave a message on your answering machine saying that you will accept collect calls from your child or leads on the whereabouts of your child.
  • Obtain call forwarding if you have a cellular phone and forward calls to your cellular phone when you have to leave the house.
  • Consider purchasing or renting a pager so you can be reached immediately by law enforcement or others participating in the search.

3. Who else to contact besides the police

In addition to reporting your missing child to the police, we recommend contacting the following resources to cover your bases and get as much public exposure as possible for your child's case:

Report your child's disappearance to:

  • The Polly Klaas® Foundation (800-587-4357)
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (800-843-5678)
  • and your State Clearinghouse (California Clearinghouse 800-222-3463)

If your child is a runaway:

  • Call the National Runaway Hotline (800-621-4000)
  • California Runaway Hotline (800-843-5200)
  • California Youth Crisis Line (800-488-4663)
  • and Covenant House Nine Line (800-999-9999)

Leave a message for your child at the runaway hotlines. Ask for advice and assistance from all.

4. Be strategic in your search

You can help law enforcement officials with the search for your child by doing some detective work and outreach of your own:

  • Search your child's room, pockets of clothing and school locker (including gym locker) for telephone numbers, addresses, and any other information that may be useful in determining whom they might have called or where they might have gone.
  • Check you child's attendance at school and attendance of close friends.
  • Check the activity on your child's bank account if he or she has one.
  • Call the phone company to request a copy of any calls made from your home since your last bill. Call any numbers you do not recognize to see if that party has heard from your child.
  • Call hospitals and clinics to see if your child has been treated recently. If your child could be sexually active, check with Planned Parenthood or similar clinics.
  • Call all your child's friends and any phone numbers you find during search of room and locker. Speak to both friends and their parents, if possible. The following is a list of possible questions to ask them:
    • Have they seen your child?
    • Do they know where he or she might have gone?
    • Had he or she talked about running away?
    • Who do they think would help conceal your child?
    • Have you ever seen anyone suspicious in the neighborhood?
    • Do they have knowledge of any problems he or she might have been experiencing? Express your concern for your child's safety.
    • Ask them to please call you immediately if they hear from your child.
    • Ask them to please have your child call you if they hear from him or her.
    • Give them the number of the runaway hotlines to give to your child if for any reason he/she is fearful of calling home. Express that you want to know if he or she is safe.
  • Re-contact friends on a regular basis.
  • Call out-of-town friends, relatives, absent parents, etc., to determine if they have heard from your child.
  • Talk to teachers, counselors and administrators at your child's school. Find out if your child is having any problems of which you are not aware. Ask them to identify your child's friends whom you may not be aware of, and ask to interview these students.
  • The Polly Klaas® Foundation can make missing child flyers with your child's photo and special personal information. The Foundation can place your child's information on it's website, and distribute flyers by fax, if that is appropriate. You should distribute your child's flyers to local law enforcement, the areas you believe your child may be headed, and locally in appropriate locations (e.g., fast food places, truck stops, convenience stores). If you would prefer to make your own flyers, click here.  Make sure law enforcement has enough flyers for their briefing rooms and dispatch in sufficient quantities for multiple shifts.
  • Go to places where your child "hangs out", show flyers and talk to people to determine whether he or she has been seen since the disappearance. Show the kids on the street a current photograph of your child, or your missing child flyer.
  • Check runaway shelters, soup kitchens, coffee houses, movie theaters, malls and teen hangouts in areas where you believe your child might be. Ask to post flyers. Show photograph or flyers and ask people if they have seen your child.
  • Ask family, friends, groups to which you belong, friends of your child, or anyone else you can find to help you post flyers. If money is a problem, ask your bank, employer, church or friends to make copies at their places of business. Also, civic groups such as Rotary, Kiwanis, etc., may help with funding and distribution of flyers. Some print shops will make a limited number of copies of your flyer without charge. Ask if they can assist you.
  • Ask local media to become involved by broadcasting child's picture and information on his/her disappearance. Identify the radio stations your child listens to and request the station run a personal message. Most radio stations have request lines and you can compose a personal message requesting that your child call home. It can't hurt to ask!
  • Keep concise records of everything you do, including all expenses and receipts.

5. What to do if your child remains missing over a long period of time

If your child has been missing over a period of months and even years, we recommend taking the following steps:

  • Review all information obtained from the initial investigation.
  • Re-interview family, friends and classmates.
  • Arrange for periodic media coverage, taking advantage of key dates such your child's birthday or date of disappearance.
  • Compare and critique information you have received with the appropriate law enforcement agency.
  • Consider offering a reward for information leading to the safe return of your child. Contact the Polly Klaas® Foundation for guidelines and assistance.


Abducted & Missing Children Recovery Project

24/7 Hot-Line:

  • Talk to a live person: 800-587-4357
  • Help by Email, click here.

Additional child search information:

Make Your Own Flyer

Our caseworkers often make and distribute professional flyers for families. However, some families pefer to make their own.