Having no idea where a teenager has gone can be a parent's worst nightmare. Most of the time, the teen is late getting home for any number of reasons. On the rare occasions that the teen did truly run away, parents must stay calm and follow a search plan of action. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 2.4 million children run away from home each year. Many return with help of authorities and persistent parents. There are some important steps to follow in order to help yourself and the authorities find your child as quickly as possible.
Report your child missing immediately by calling the police and filing a report. Even if you find him immediately, a police report is always helpful in documenting the situation, especially if the teen runs away again. This report will help police with the next search. An early call also gives police a better chance of finding the child as well.
Contact the teen’s friends. Teens tell their friends a lot, so someone should know something about the teen’s runaway plans. Contact the teen’s friends, asking pointed questions about where your teen ran away, their intended destination and a reason for running away. Get the parents to help with teens who are hesitant to cooperate. Leave your contact information so that the friends or their parents can call you if your teen attempts contact.
Check the teen’s email, diaries, social networking pages and other personal items. Look for clues on where the teen talked about going and also for any plan for a “fresh start” somewhere. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also urges parents to report the child’s vehicle stolen and to track usage of credit cards and banking accounts (ATM cards especially) with financial institutions.
Call your teen’s family. Divorced or estranged parents should check with the non-custodial parent or alert that parent of the runaway, as the teen may be headed there. Contact adult siblings and all other relatives as well.
Go to the teen’s favorite hangouts and even the school. Go to your teen’s favorite places, using your search through the teen’s personal items as a guide. Check places that your teen referred to often and locations that brought them comfort in the past. This may include the gravesite of a beloved friend or family member.
Coordinate your search with the local police and other agencies. After exhausting your search and turning all of your findings over to the local police, contact both the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the national Runaway Switchboard for more help. These agencies will be able to tell you what to do next.
You do not have to wait 24 hours to report a child missing or a runaway. The police must allow you to report it immediately. Check your child’s online search histories for any groups, organizations or other affiliations that the teen may run to. Also, look for friends and acquaintances that you are unfamiliar with. These could be people that helped the teen get away or they could have pertinent information on the child’s whereabouts. The child’s financial statements may hold clues as well. Look for travel tickets, reservations, odd purchases, large cash transfers or withdrawals. Turn these documents over to the police to help further the investigation.