Tracing Runaway Individuals

Many runaway cases involve minors that leave home without parental permission, often in violation of custody and visitation agreements. Other cases include individuals seeking to reconnect with long lost family members.


Document all known hang outs and associations. Some runaway youths will have friends that can help in the search. Immediately upon concluding any phone conversation with a missing runaway or person demanding ransom, dial *57.

Call the Police

If your loved one disappears without a word, you need to act quickly. Call the police. They are trained specifically to find missing persons and can start looking right away. You should also make color copies of a recent picture and circulate them in your neighborhood and local hangouts.

Teens are especially good at hiding their whereabouts, so don’t be afraid to ask school friends, roommates and acquaintances if they have seen your child. Many runaways leave valuable items behind, including cell phones which can be traced, and money, food or clothes. You can also check the long-distance telephone databank and your runaway’s “virtual” web footprint.

In addition to the police, contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and local community services that offer hotlines and counseling for runaway teenagers. You should also call a private investigator because they are specially trained to trace missing persons and can be far more objective than you can. They may have access to information that you don’t and can tap into a professional network of colleagues.

Check the Cellular Telephone

If the missing person is a runaway, there is an increased risk that they are being tracked by others. This is especially true for teenagers who have been reported missing to their school and parents. It is important to check the cellular telephone. Many phone carriers can track a cellular telephone using a method called pinging. This enables the carrier to pinpoint the location of the phone. However, the carrier will not release this information to anyone except a law enforcement agency that has an active case number and department PIN number.

If a call is received from a missing runaway or someone demanding ransom, immediately dial *57 and note the date and time that the trace was initiated. Then give this information to the law enforcement agency handling the missing persons case.

Make sure to write down all of the hang outs and activities that the runaway likes to do in their spare time. Also, search the Internet and social media sites for any mentions of running away. Finally, check the runaway’s work history for unexcused absences.

Check the Computer History

The JCSO has a trace system that can help parents of missing children and teenagers. Call *57 and tell the operator what is known about your runaway. Provide them with any information you have such as cellular telephone numbers (because running away is not a crime, court orders cannot be obtained for cellular records), date books, a list of things they took with them and any other relevant information. Also, ask if your child has friends who might know of them and/or have a clue about their disappearance. If so, have you contacted those people? Many people will hide a runaway or feign ignorance about their disappearance.

Check the School Attendance

Parents should call the runaway’s school each day to report their child absent. They can also contact their teen’s friends, who may know where the teen is staying. Some teens stay with friends, “couch surf” or even live on the street for a few days at a time. Others become chronic runaways.

Regular attendance is important to students because it increases their learning potential. This is why teachers should find ways to make the process of checking student attendance easier. Traditionally, class teachers are responsible for monitoring their students’ absences, which can be time consuming. Using an alternative method, such as using a software application that notes students’ attendance, can help them save more of their time for teaching.

Research suggests that irregular school attendance is a stronger predictor of dropout rates than test scores. Youth who do not graduate are at higher risk of living in poverty, suffering poor health and becoming involved with the criminal justice system. These problems can often be attributed to family and school factors such as low parental supervision, abuse or neglect, drug use and depressive symptoms.

Check the Home

When a runaway goes missing, many parents or guardians panic. The stress can lead to a variety of mental health issues which can worsen the situation.

Whether the runaway is at risk of harm or not, it is important for family members to remain calm and take all available action. It is recommended that a parent or guardian contact the police as soon as the runaway is reported missing. This allows law enforcement to begin searching immediately and prevents the runaway from being contacted by third parties that have been known to condition their provision of information to a child or adult in exchange for money, which is illegal.

After contacting the police, it is recommended that family members make a list of all friends and associates of the runaway and begin calling them. This lets the runaway know that you are hot on their trail and will not tolerate any lies. It is also a good idea to check the computer history for messages and e-mails regarding running away and any other personal issues. It is also important to contact the school for attendance information as well as any work associates.