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How to Help a Child Who is Lost

When a child gets separated from their parents and lost, a quick response from concerned citizens is critical to their safe return to family. If you are at a public event or out in a public place, and you realize that there is a search for a child who has gone missing occurring at that moment, try to become involved and help in the search in any way that you can. It is very common for a child to get lost in a public place, so it is important that responsible community members are proactive in identifying a child who is without an accompanying adult.

  • If you see a child who seems to be alone and without adult supervision, please do not ignore them. Your quick action can make a difference.
  • Be careful not to alarm the child. Approaching the child too quickly may frighten them and cause them to run. Remember the child might not be aware that people are looking for them. On the other hand, the child might already be scared, in which case you can reassure them that help is on the way.
  • Note: If the child is non-responsive or refuses to communicate with you, do not assume they are okay. The child may be scared, or may be suffering from a physical and/or intellectual disability and be unable to effectively respond. Remain near the child and alert appropriate authorities (e.g. security guards, event organizers, police, etc.). Share your observations with the authorities when they arrive.
  • If the child is alone in a public place like a mall or sporting event, ask the child if they have a meeting spot they decided upon with their caretaker.

  • Contact police if you cannot locate the caregiver or if the child appears to be hurt.

  • Do not take a child into your care or take them away from the spot where you found them. Instead, alert the proper authorities. This will protect both you and the child from any possible misunderstandings. This means not inviting the child into your home or car, but staying with them or near them, to make sure they are safe until authorities can take over.

  • If the child knows their parent’s cell phone number, try to call the number, or check to see if the child has a sticker or label somewhere with a cell phone number on it (at public events, children will sometimes be wearing stickers that either have the parent’s cell phone number or the seat number where the child was sitting).

  • If you have found the child in a community setting, such as a park or on the street, where it appears the child lives close by, encourage the child to return to their home or caregiver if it is possible, and either accompany them or watch them to make sure they arrive safely.

  • You may contact your local police, call 1-866-KID-TIPS, or click here to report a sighting or tip. If a child has been reported missing, any and all information is very important – no matter how small it may seem.

Sometimes identifying the “proper authority” can be difficult. Police are an obvious choice but sometimes at a public event or public place there will be other people such as security guards or staff who can be alerted. There may also be a program to help keep children from getting lost at the event that can be alerted. However, be careful not to assume that just because an individual is wearing a uniform of some sort that they are the right person to handle the situation or that it is safe to leave the child alone with this person.

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