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Law enforcement recognizes many different types of missing children. Although the specifications may seem like unimportant details to the layman, it is actually very important for each family to understand how law enforcement goes about its missing persons cases.

A huge part of that is how the cases are identified. Here we will go over the different types.


If a child is classified as a runaway missing person, law enforcement does not hold any family member directly accountable for the disappearance of the child. This does not mean that all family members will not be held indirectly accountable.

Runaway children constitute the highest number of missing children overall. In most cases, it is essential to note that the child is not running towards anything in particular. The child is most likely running away from a situation that has become intolerable.

Family Abductions

The largest number of family abductions occurred during or after a divorce. In most cases, the lines of communication between the parents have shut down. One parent becomes dissatisfied with the situation, and the abduction occurs. Kidnapping occurs if either parent violates a visitation agreement or custody agreement.

Under no condition should you consider a child safe simply because an abduction occurred because of a legal definition. Sexual abuse and physical abuse cases are lower in these kinds of abductions, but cases of future emotional trauma in children are actually higher.

Lost or Thrown Away Children

Law enforcement considers around half of the children marked as runaways to truly be “throwaways.” These children are the most likely to be running from domestic violence situations. Very often, they are told to leave their domicile by a parent or caregiver.

Non Family Abductions

In most abductions, the perpetrator is known to the child in some fashion. Very few missing persons cases (less than 1%) happen because a stranger has abducted a child. Nonfamily abductions are considered by many people to be the most common type of kidnapping; however, this is actually not the case.

These cases are given a higher profile in the media, which may account for the perception that they happen more often than they do.

However, if a nonfamily abduction does occur, the risk of other crimes against the child goes up. These crimes may include sexual assault, homicide, prostitution, pornography and sexual exploitation.

If your family is currently suffering a missing child or children, make sure that you understand how law enforcement has identified the case. This will help you be of service to law enforcement as you try to bring home your child.