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What To Do: If a Child in Care Goes Missing

Enacted in September 2014, The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, P.L. 113-183 (H.R. 4980) mandates state agencies to report a missing or abducted child to law enforcement and to NCMEC.  Specifically, Section 104 requires state agencies to "report immediately, and in no case later than 24 hours after receiving, information on missing or abducted children or youth to the law enforcement authorities for entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, established pursuant to section 534 or title 28, United States Code, and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children."

If a child in your legal guardianship goes missing from foster care, for any reason:

Immediately contact your local law enforcement agency

Ask law enforcement to enter information about your child into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, known as NCIC.

Federal law requires law enforcement agencies to respond in a specific way, regardless of the reason why a child is missing. Law enforcement agencies are prohibited from establishing or maintaining a waiting period before accepting a missing child report, and must promptly enter information regarding a missing child into the NCIC system within two hours of receiving a report (42 U.S.C. §5780). For further related information, refer to the information listed in the Legal Resources for Runaway Children section.

If you encounter any difficulties making a report to law enforcement or having information entered about a child missing from care into NCIC, contact NCMEC at or 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678), or your state missing child clearinghouse.

Please be aware that a report to law enforcement and entry of the child into the NCIC system does not automatically generate a report to NCMEC. A separate report must also be made to NCMEC after contacting law enforcement.

Make a report to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

After you have reported the child missing to law enforcement, make a report to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children by one of three methods:

    1. Call 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678): This service is available 24/7;

    2. Web-based Reporting: This application was developed to support social service agencies in reporting children missing from their care. This secure method allows the most convenient, rapid, web-based access to enter a missing child report, 24/7. To access this method of reporting, click on Report a Missing Child Here;

    3. Direct System-to-System Communication: Currently there are state agencies that automatically report to NCMEC in this manner. This service may be available if your agency has made technical modifications and a direct link has been established with NCMEC, allowing for reports to be sent directly to NCMEC's Call Center. If you are unsure whether this capability exists for your agency or you are interested in pursuing this method of reporting, please email

When contacting Law Enforcement and NCMEC, please be prepared to provide all available identifying information about the child as well as information about the circumstances surrounding the missing event.

See Helpful Information: Making a NCMEC Report

Also, be sure to include any information regarding a child's special needs or unique circumstances that may put them at risk of increased danger. 

See See

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