U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Missing Children

Special Feature
© Lightspring/Shutterstock.com (see reuse policy).


​Reports of missing and endangered children can be difficult and emotionally charged cases to investigate. When a child is reported missing, law enforcement officers work under extreme pressure and with the utmost urgency to locate the missing child.

Statistics show that the first 3 hours following a child’s disappearance are the most crucial for an initial response and gathering all available resources to make sure the child is returned home safely.

How OJP Helps Law Enforcement Find Missing Children

Through innovative programs, training, and technical assistance, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) helps federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement protect young people and respond effectively when a child is mistreated, abducted, or exploited.

Between fiscal years (FYs) 2019 and 2021, OJJDP awarded more than $220 million to help law enforcement agencies protect children and youth from harm.

The Benefits of AMBER Alerts

Law enforcement activates AMBER Alerts in the most serious child abduction cases.

For more than 25 years, the AMBER Alert program has been helping families find their missing children with alerts broadcast to the community through radio, television, text messages, and other platforms. OJJDP funds the use of AMBER Alerts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Indian country, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 30 other countries.

As of January 2, 2023, the AMBER Alert system had successfully recovered 1,127 children, and wireless emergency alerts have contributed to the recovery of 131 children.

Number of Activations and Children AMBER Alerts from 2017 to 2021 chart. Gradual V shape from 2017 to 2021
Number of Activations and Children AMBER Alerts 2017-2021

An analysis of AMBER Alert activations in 2021 showed that 254 AMBER Alerts involving 320 children were issued in the United States that year, the highest number reported between 2017 and 2021. 

Of the 254 AMBER Alerts issued in 2021, most reported abductions were by a family member (139 cases). Children younger than age 5 were most often reported missing (55 percent of cases).

Age of Children When Missing AMBER Alerts in 2021
Age of Children When Missing - AMBER Alerts in 2021

In 2021, AMBER Alerts issued by law enforcement helped recover 58 children who were involved in 51 abduction cases.

There were 209 cases with information on where the child was recovered. Most often (72 cases or 32 percent), the child was recovered at home.

AMBER Alert Resources

In FY 2022, OJJDP awarded $4.4 million under the National AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program to train first responders and law enforcement to improve their response to AMBER Alert activations.

OJJDP has published the AMBER Alert Field Guide for Law Enforcement Officers, which provides a framework to support law enforcement in responding swiftly and decisively when confronted with a report of a missing child. Further, the AMBER Alert Best Practices guide describes the lifecycle of an AMBER Alert and provides guidance on the critical aspects of a response.

In 2022, the OJJDP-supported AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiative began supplying Tribal law enforcement agencies with computers and other technology to strengthen their ability to respond to and investigate reports of endangered, missing, or abducted children.

OJP Support for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children


The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is an information clearinghouse and resource on missing and exploited children. It operates a 24-hour missing children’s hotline, a CyberTipline that processes reports of online child sexual exploitation, and a Child Victim Identification Program to help authorities determine the identities of victims of child sexual abuse material.

In 2021, NCMEC assisted law enforcement, families, and child welfare with 27,733 cases of missing children.

OJJDP has partnered with NCMEC for over 30 years, supporting the center's mission to find missing children, reduce sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimization.

In FY 2022, OJJDP awarded over $38.7 million to NCMEC for training and technical assistance to enhance law enforcement’s efforts to locate missing and exploited children.

The OJP's Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) supports the work to return children from overseas who are victims of international parental kidnapping by funding the NCMEC's Victim Reunification Travel Program (VRT). The VRT Program assists in recovering these children from abroad by providing financial assistance to eligible parents. This assistance may support the international travel of eligible "left-behind parent(s)" or "applicant parent(s)" to participate in the foreign country's court proceedings and the consultation and travel expenses of appropriate mental health professionals who are engaged to facilitate the reunification process and reduce the abducted child's trauma.

National Missing Children’s Day

President Ronald Reagan first proclaimed May 25 National Missing Children's Day in 1983 to honor 6-year-old Etan Patz, who vanished from a New York street in 1979.

National Missing Children's Day is a day to remind parents, guardians, and other trusted caregivers to make child safety and well-being a priority. It is a time to show appreciation for those who work to find and safely bring home children who are missing. It also serves as an annual reminder to the nation to continue efforts to reunite missing children with their families.

Visit the following pages for additional information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal agencies:

Missing Children: AMBER Alert Information Missing Children: Information for Families
Missing Children: Information for Justice System Personnel Missing Children: Statistics
Date Modified: May 3, 2023
Date Created: August 18, 2020