The New York State Missing Persons Clearinghouse
When a Loved One is Missing
Minutes matter when a child or family member is missing –especially if the individual has a cognitive impairment or disability putting them at greater risk of harm.
What a Family Member Can Do:
- Call the police immediately and provide the person’s full name, date of birth, height, weight and any unique identiﬁers. There is no waiting period to make a missing person report.
- Provide a current photo and describe what the person was wearing when last seen.
- Request that the missing person information be entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center Missing Person File.
- If the missing person drives, be sure to tell authorities about the make, model and license plate number of their vehicle.
- Tell police about special interests or places the individual may be headed, such as a former residence or place of employment.
- Contact the Missing Persons Clearinghouse Missing Person Data at (800) 346-3543 for support and additional assistance.
- Regularly contact investigators to discuss actions being taken and any findings.
- Keep a detailed list of people and agencies contacted during the search for the person to avoid a duplication of efforts and know who to contact when the person is located.
Parents and guardians do not need to have a custody determination to report their child missing to law enforcement. You may, however, wish to obtain one because a custody order can help clarify and define your rights and responsibilities to your child. This can also help to obtain the assistance of law enforcement for the pickup and return of your child. For more information visit NCMEC's Legal Resources.
You may also consult the Family Abduction Prevention and Response Guide. This guide covers civil and criminal remedies in parental kidnapping cases, including the response of the criminal- and civil justice system to familial abductions. The guide also describes actions parents can take and helpful laws when a familial abduction occurs. In addition, the guide provides tips for how to prevent abductions.
International Familial Abduction
If a parent discovers plans by a potential abductor to leave the country and believes the child's wrongful removal is imminent, he or she should take immediate action. Indicators may include packed suitcases and luggage found at the residence, discovery of recently purchased international airline tickets or a recently issued passport for the child and abductor. If you believe removal is imminent contact:
- Local law enforcement
- FBI Field Office
- Office of Children's Issues at (888)407-4747
- NCMEC at (800) THE-LOST
The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an international treaty that establishes a civil mechanism to ensure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained outside their country of habitual residence. Parents or guardians are not required to have a custody determination before filing an application under this agreement. They do, however, need to provide evidence of their custodial rights to the child –whether those rights are sole or joint custody rights –and if they arise by operation of law, court order or legally binding agreement.
Not all states have well-articulated laws regarding custodial rights that arise by operation of law, in the absence of a court order or legal agreement, so you may need to contact an attorney. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs also hosts a webpage dedicated to international parental child abduction.
The Office of Children’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State serves as the central authority in Hague Convention cases. In that capacity, the office leads U.S. government efforts with other agencies to prevent international parental child abduction, assist children and families involved in these abduction cases, and promote Hague Convention principles.
KNOW THE SIGNS: Children may attempt to hide their intention to run away, but there also may be subtle hints parents may notice. Eating or sleeping patterns may change. They may isolate themselves from family or change friends. Grades may drop and school absences may mount. They may become unusually argumentative or start breaking rules at home. Some teens will drop hints to friends –maybe even to an adult they know –while others will outright threaten to leave home. They may also gather resources to survive on their own, such as money gradually taken from a bank account or by keeping a packed bag stowed somewhere out of sight. If a parent suspects a child may be preparing to runway, they should immediately address their concerns with the child. Though studies have shown about three-quarters of runaways eventually return home in short order, the time they spend away can put them in danger.
FINDING A RUNAWAY:
- Contact police first.
- Complete the steps listed in What a Family Member Can Do
- Check the homes of friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers or employers, school staff or any location frequented by the child.
- Check area hospitals and transportation hubs for a runaway child.
- Check for clues in the child’s room, school locker and desk. Look for notes, letters, and maps –anything that may tip off where they went.
- Review bank withdrawals and past telephone bills which can help narrow down where a child went.
- Review computers or tablets for emails, online chat conversations and posts on social media. They can provide a trove of information about a runaway’s whereabouts.
- Call the National Runaway Safeline at (800) 786-2929 and ask if the runaway child has left any messages.
- Contact runaway shelters in any areas where the child might have fled.
- Remain in contact with police investigators handling the child’s case and report any new information.
- Continue to connect with neighbors and the child’s friends to see if they’ve heard anything further.
- Be on the lookout for telephone calls from unusual numbers. If a runaway child does call, strive to keep them talking and avoid being judgmental. Provide the child with Safeline’s number if he or she is not ready to return home. The organization can arrange for safe shelter and eventually a ride home.
AFTER A HOMECOMING:
- Promptly notify all involved in the search that the child has returned home.
- Express genuine concern to the child’s safety, not anger or fear.
- Take time to discuss the child’s view points and determine what precipitated the episode.
- Make every effort to resolve the problems and if they persist, seek advice or assistance from a family counselor.
Project Lifesaver International is a non-profit organization that provides law enforcement and caregivers with technology designed to protect, and when necessary, quickly locate individuals with cognitive disorders who are prone to the life-threatening behavior of wandering.
Worn on the wrist or ankle, a Project Lifesaver transmitter emits an individualized frequency signal that allows first responders to locate the position of an individual if they go missing. Most individuals who wander are found within a few miles from home and Project Lifesaver technology can reduce search time from hours or days to minutes.
The New York State Missing Persons Clearinghouse has partnered with Project Lifesaver to provide this tracking technology to law enforcement agencies throughout the state. The state provided nearly 600 Project Lifesaver transmitters and accompanying technology at no cost to agencies for use on children under 18 who may have autism, Down syndrome or another type of cognitive impairment.
Click here for a list of 48 participating agencies. Parents may contact the law enforcement agency in their county to see if their children are eligible for a free transmitter. Visit https://projectlifesaver.org/ for more information about the program.
Signs of Wandering Behavior of People with Alzheimer’s Disease (Dementia)
A person may be at risk for wandering if he or she:
- Comes back from a regular walk or drive later than usual.
- Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work.
- Tries or wants to "go home" even when at home.
- Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements.
- Has a hard time locating familiar places such as the bathroom, bedroom or dining room.
- Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done (moves around pots and dirt without planting anything).
- Acts nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls or restaurants.
- Have a routine: Create a daily plan that will provide structure. Plan meaningful activities or exercise for any time of the day when the person is restless and tends to wander.
- Environmental control: Provide supervision, especially if the person is in an unfamiliar environment. Never lock the person in the home or leave them unsupervised in a vehicle. Keep locks and car keys out of eyesight. Install house alarms or use a bell or chimes that indicate when a door has been opened.
- Redirection: If the person is confused or disoriented, refrain from correcting them. Instead, explore different ways to redirect their attention. For example, if the person wants to leave to “go home” or “go to work,” reassure them by saying they will go there tomorrow, but that they will stay here today.
- Ensure basic needs, such as hunger, thirst and bodily functions are met: Is the person hungry, thirsty or in need of using the restroom?
- Identification: Use wearable identification, marked clothing and check your county sheriff’s office or police department to see if they offer a tracking program. In New York State, many sheriff departments offer Project Lifesaver. Check here to see if there is a program in your area.
- Community awareness: Inform trusted neighbors about your loved one’s tendency to wander and provide your contact information for them to alert you if they see him or her out alone.
- If the person is missing: First search the immediate area, but for no longer than 15 minutes and then call 911. Explain to the police that the person has Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia and is a vulnerable adult. Be prepared to provide biographical information, clothing description, photo, medical conditions and other information such as interests, history of wandering and locations where he or she was found.
Other helpful sources:
A common axiom in the autism community is that if you’ve met one child with autism, you met one child with autism. But there are some common characteristics children with the disorder sometimes share.
A child with autism spectrum disorer:
- May have verbal and auditory limitations; may not make eye contact or respond when verbally engaged.
- May have social challenges or an inability to understand social cues.
- May react negatively to questions or sudden movements.
- May have interests or likes that are calming or helpful with redirection.
- May run or bolt from stressful situations.
- May be impulsive or become aggressive when scared or unable to express needs or wants.
- May seem like a typical person because of normal physical attributes, but act intoxicated, high, unstable, or suspicious.
- May be attracted to water, traffic, or have extreme obsessions with certain ideas, objects, places, or people.
- Parents should teach their child about wandering dangers such as traffic, water, and encounters with strangers; how to respond if they find themselves alone or lost in an area outside of home, such as at school or a hotel.
- Safeguard your home. Install secure locks for exterior doors, windows, and garages. Have a fenced yard with secure gates. Install a house alarm or hang chimes in front of doors. Use baby monitors and visual cues, like stop signs to prevent wandering and elopement.
- Use wearable identification, marked clothing and check your county sheriff’s office or police department to see if they offer a tracking program. In New York State, many sheriff departments offer Project Lifesaver. Check here to see if there is a program in your area.
- Inform trusted neighbors about your child’s tendency to wander and provide your contact information for them in case they find your child.
- Swimming lessons are crucial. Check local resources to find swimming lessons. The final lesson should be with clothes and shoes on. Remember: teaching your child how to swim does not mean your child is safe around water. If you own a pool, install a secure fence. Remove all toys or items of interest from the pool when not in use.
- Be prepared. Download and fill out a Family Wandering Emergency Plan available at AWAARE.org.
- Call 911 immediately if your child is missing. Be sure to inform the emergency dispatcher or police that your child is on the autism spectrum. Be prepared to provide biographical information, a clothing description, a photo and other information such as your child’s interests, history of wandering or locations where he or she was previously found.
Other helpful sources:
12 Campus Safety Tips
- Know your surroundings. Take time to get familiar with the campus and nearby areas and learn your way around. Make a mental note of where the blue light security phones are.
- Have quick access to campus security (University Police/Campus Safety Dept.). Add the campus police and security department phone numbers to your speed dial.
- Do not walk alone. Find out if your school has an escort program.
- Share your schedule. Let friends and family know your schedule and if your plans change, let someone know.
- Be aware. Know your surroundings and don’t be distracted by your phone. Park in well-lit areas.
- Keep dorm or apartment doors locked at all times. Follow rules for dorm access doors. Don’t prop open doors or let others in who do not belong there.
- Follow privacy guidelines for social media. Publicizing too much personal information about you and your location can be risky.
- Stick with your friends. Safety is in numbers, so travel with a group. Take advantage of student escort services.
- Be careful about alcohol consumption. Alcohol and drugs can lower inhabitations and put you in a dangerous situation.
- Know how to protect yourself. Check with your campus safety department to see if they offer a free self-defense class.
- Register with your school to receive emergency notifications. Many systems allow e-mail, phone and text messages to be sent automatically to all members of the campus community who have provided their contact information.
- If you see something, say something. Don’t assume that someone else will make a report to the campus police or security department.
Campus Safety Requirements:
NYS Campus Safety Act
Enacted in 1999, the law was prompted by the unexplained disappearance of Suzanne Lyall from the State University of New York at Albany campus in 1998. The reforms made by this law acknowledge that improving campus safety must begin with swift and efficient investigative action and optimum access to missing person information by student's families and the public.
The Act requires all public, private, community colleges and universities in New York State to have formal plans that provide for the investigation of missing students and violent felony offenses committed on campus. It also expands the responsibilities of the NYS DCJS Missing Person Clearinghouse to provide assistance with the dissemination of information about missing college students.
The Federal "Jeanne Clery" Act
The "Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Statistics Act" was enacted in 1990. It is named in memory of 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman Jeanne Ann Clery, who was assaulted and murdered while asleep in her residence hall room in 1986. This law requires institutions which participate in any federal student aid programs to address the following: crime statistics, timely warnings, policy disclosures and campus sexual assault victims bill of rights.
How Does My Campus Safety Measure Up?
Schools with aggressive crime reporting and low tolerance for criminal behavior tend to provide safer places of learning where students can focus on their educational goals.
View campus crime reporting data at the US Department of Education, Campus Safety and Security
Internet Safety Presentation for Schools
The internet has opened many doors and provided countless educational opportunities for children but going online without knowing some basic safety rules also can be dangerous. Inadvertent exposure to inappropriate material, cyberbullying or enticement can happen to any child at any time and could have devastating effects.
The New York State Missing Persons Clearinghouse at the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) now offers – at no cost – two, 40-minute presentations designed to teach children and young teens the fundamentals of online safety.
The assembly-style presentations teach safe and responsible practices, how to use those skills and encourage students to keep their parents and teachers informed about what they are doing online.
- Grades 5 – 6: This presentation focuses on how to be internet safety smart, avoid risky behaviors online and protect their privacy and personal information. Cyberbullying also is discussed.
- Grades 7 – 9: This focuses on online risky behaviors and inappropriate content, online privacy and protection of personal information, and sexting and sexual enticement. Cyberbullying also is discussed.
To schedule a presentation, complete this Internet Safety Presentation Request Form. For more information about the presentations, please contact the Missing Persons Clearinghouse: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-346-3543 (Option 1).
Forms and Publications for Law Enforcement
Note: Intake forms can be filled out electronically, saved and submitted via email or printed and filled in by hand. Adobe Acrobat is required to use the electronic versions and can be downloaded at http://get.adobe.com/reader/
- Missing Child Intake
- Missing Vulnerable Adult Intake
- Autism Spectrum Addendum
- Family Abduction Addendum
- DCJS NCIC Missing Person Data Guide
- DCJS NCIC Unidentified Person Data Guide
- Family Abduction Prevention and Response
- Missing Persons Clearinghouse Brochure
- International Parental Child Abduction
- Passport Issuance Alert Program
- Service Provider Info Sheet
- Identification of Unidentified Patients Model Policy
- Adam Walsh Act of 2006
- Family Court Act - Relating to Runaways
- New York State College Campus Safety Act
- New York State Official Compilation of Codes Rules and Regulations
- New York State Executive Law
- New York State Penal Law - Custodial Interference
- PROTECT Act of 2003
- School Notification of Child Absence
- Summary of Federal Legislation