Tracking Down Runaway Individuals

When a child runs away they are documented as a missing person and their information is entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). This allows any officer in the country to run a check on them.


A private investigator is trained specifically in finding missing persons. They can use skip tracing, local hang outs, social media, friends houses, national data bases and more to locate a missing child.

1. Tracking

One of the most important steps in tracking down a runaway is to notify law enforcement. NCMEC suggests contacting your local police department and asking them to create a missing person report on your child. Be sure to provide your child’s name, birth date, address and phone number. It’s also a good idea to ask friends and neighbors to keep an eye out for your missing child and contact you if they see anything suspicious.

If your child has a cell phone, consider activating it’s tracking device. This can help with locating your child quickly. It’s also a good idea for parents to contact their children’s friends, classmates and teachers to see if they have seen your child. It is not uncommon for teenagers to “let slip” valuable information about their whereabouts or plans to leave home.

Many studies have examined a variety of predictors of running away. These include demographic characteristics, school functioning and problem behaviors. Despite these findings, prospective research is necessary to determine whether these factors directly contribute to running away or simply co-occur with other true causes of this behaviour. Moreover, some of these factors may be more strongly related to risk for running away than others. For example, a previous history of running away is associated with more frequent future episodes. However, parent- and youth-rated family functioning was not a significant predictor of running away when problem behaviors were accounted for.

2. Social Media

Social media can provide valuable information for investigations involving missing persons and runaways. It allows law enforcement to disseminate information quickly and increase the visibility of wanted notices and alerts. It is also useful for providing geolocation and photos of a suspect or location. However, it is important to remember that not all information on social media is accurate or reliable. Participants reported that they often use social media to find out what a suspect is up to, rather than in connection with an ongoing investigation (#136, investigator, question 4).

Participants also mentioned that social media can be useful for crime prevention. However, they may not always have the time to scour social media for new information, especially in the case of urgent events. Additionally, a lack of specialized resources and effective training may hamper the effectiveness of this approach.

For example, the case of a 9-year-old boy who disappeared from a Minneapolis neighborhood was picked up on Twitter and Facebook, which spread the word about his disappearance. This helped police track down the boy and bring him home. But, it is important to note that social media can also trigger runaways by giving them a platform to broadcast their plight. As such, it is important to educate youth about the dangers of using social media.

4. Using a Private Investigator

The best way to track down a runaway teen is by hiring the services of a professional private investigator. They are expertly trained at tracking down individuals who drop off the grid and are highly efficient, despite their ingenuity when it comes to avoiding detection.

Whether your child ran away from an abusive situation at home or just wanted to escape from life for awhile, they will most likely have friends and associates that can provide clues to their whereabouts. However, many of those friends are opportunistic and will lie for your child or hide their whereabouts from you. In addition, running away can cause them to clear all of their cellular telephone numbers, erase all long distance call logs and hide all photos from their social media accounts.

If you have a strong suspicion about your runaway’s whereabouts, contact your local law enforcement department right away to report them missing. Be sure to give them a full description of the person including height, weight, hair and eye color, and any distinguishing marks. You may want to enlist the help of family members as well. Be sure to document all of the information that you have received from your investigation. If you wish to trace your runaway’s cellular phone, dial *57 and record the location ping data. Be aware that this is only available to law enforcement agencies with a valid police report number and department PIN.