It is one of every parent’s worse nightmares. You take your eye off your child for a minute only to find her gone when you turn around. Or one day he does not get home from school at the normal time. Or she goes outside to play and does not come back in. Scenarios like these are fortunately uncommon, and when they do happen there is usually a good explanation, and it is usually pretty easy to find the temporarily missing child. But what about those very rare cases where the child is not easily found?
If this should happen to you, your first instinct may be to panic. Any parent would. But it is important to keep a level head, think rationally, and do what needs to be done. Should the unthinkable happen and you cannot find your child, here is what you need to do.
Step 1: Someone who knows the child should be out actively looking while you are going through the first few steps of the process. If you wish to be the one out looking, have someone else go through these steps on your behalf. Ideally, multiple people should be out looking-at least one person on foot around where the child went missing, and at least one other person searching the surrounding area via car. But make sure someone is always at home.
Step 2: If there was ever an emergency, this is it. Pick up the phone and dial 911. Do not worry-they will not dismiss you or tell you your case is not an emergency. Calmly inform them of how long your child has been missing, and give them all the relevant information they need. They will likely ask take you through a process that involves a series of questions about your child’s age, appearance, clothing, and last known whereabouts. If you do not feel your call is being treated seriously enough, ask to speak to someone in charge.
Step 3: Notify other authorities of the missing child. Your 911 call will get the ball rolling on some crucial aspects of the investigation, and they may tell you that you do not need to call anyone else. But just to cover all bases, call the local police as well as any other police departments whose jurisdiction covers the area where your child went missing. You might also get in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Each of these resources should have a process for dealing with missing children.
Step 4: Notify local media. Many local news sources are always willing to help out in cases like this by sending out alerts and notifying their viewers and readers to be on the lookout.
Step 5: Contact organizations devoted to finding missing children. A great place to start is the National Center for Missing and Exploiting Children, and you may be able to locate nonprofits in your area with expertise in helping out in this kind of situation.
Step 6: Ask for help from those around you. This is going to be a difficult time for you. And even if your child comes home safely very soon you are likely to suffer frayed nerves for a while. Get in touch with anyone who you think would be able and willing to drop everything and help you. And if you do not have any close friends or family nearby, ask neighbors. In situations like these, most people are willing to lend a hand, even if they do not know you.
Step 7: Follow up on everything. If you feel the law enforcement agencies are taking too long to investigate your case or get back to you, do not be afraid to call and visit them multiple times. Meanwhile, keep taking matters into your own hands. Keep searching actively and calling around to anyone who might know something. Do not give up hope. Despite all frightening stories we hear on the news, keep in mind that the vast majority of missing-child cases have happy endings.
By Marc Courtiol