Engaging the Public in the Search for Missing Children

Every person and every organization can help in the recovery of a missing or abducted child.

When a child is reported missing, the first few hours are critical. However, despite all efforts, not all children are found during this crucial period. In these cases, it is vital for law enforcement agencies to have procedures in place allowing for the local, regional, and national dissemination of information about and photographs of a missing child.

With advancements in technology, the distribution of missing child photos and information has moved beyond the printed flyer and can now be share online – expanding the community of people able to help.

Law enforcement and NGOs are typically the agencies responsible for deciding if and when to engage the public in the search for a missing child. Because disseminating information may pose a risk to the child and/or the investigation, there are several critical elements that must be  considered before this decision is made.


Critical elements to be considered:

Consent Receive the consent to distribute information from the appropriate authority
Risk Assessment  

  1. Determine the level of risk the missing child is in
  2. Determine if the distribution of information will increase the risk to the missing child.

Child’s Safety and Privacy Concerns

Preserve the child’s safety and best interests as a primary concern

Information Provided

Provide information to the public that can help in the recovery

Geographical Dissemination

Determine the geographic boundary of disseminating the information

Distribution Mechanisms

Establish various distribution channels – online and offline – to reach the public

Closure and Removal of Information

Control the dissemination of information and remove all information once the child has been found


Countries have set up different mechanisms for when and how to distribute information. In order for a photo distribution strategy to be effective, it should be coordinated with various stakeholders including:  law enforcement, government agencies, social services, NGOs, industry partners (e.g., technology and transportation), and, in some instances, media and the public.

Additionally, authorities must also consider with whom information is shared and when. In some instances, it is best for information to only be shared among investigative agencies, while in other cases it is beneficial to engage the public through an urgent bulletin.

To learn more about engaging the public in the search for a missing child, read our Photo Distribution Framework and Rapid Emergency Child Alert Framework.