Back to home page

Unknown Cases and Young Adult Cases

Every year there are significant numbers of missing person reports made to police involving young adults (from early teens up to the age of 25) and often there is no explanation for their disappearance. If a child or young adult goes missing for no explainable reason, they are considered an ‘unknown case.’ According to the 2009 Missing Children Reference Report, the majority (23%) of missing child reports made to police in 2009 fell into the ‘unknown’ category.1 While most children and young adults who go missing are only gone for a short period of time, there are circumstances that require swift action from concerned parents. If you are the parent of a child, youth or young adult who has gone missing for unknown reasons, this section includes information about what important steps you need to take to help locate your child. Also included in this section is information about risks facing young adults, and suggestions on ways to help reduce these risks.

What Does an “Unknown Case” Mean?

While oftentimes parents or guardians know why their child has gone missing, there are cases where no one is certain as to why the child has disappeared. Such cases can be very difficult and often raise unanswered questions for everyone involved. Over the past ten years in Canada, there have been numerous cases where searching families have been unable to determine why their child has disappeared. While speculation is common, in many situations, the facts surrounding the disappearance combined with the known personality of the child do not point to any one reason for the child to have gone missing. It is important that if you are the parent of a missing child and you have no reasonable explanation or concrete opinion as to why your child is missing, that you make that very clear to the police. This information will be very relevant in the search for your child and will also prevent assumptions from being made that might limit the degree and type of police action and involvement.

What Might be the Reason for a Child, Youth or Young Adult to Go Missing?

There are many reasons why children, youth or young adults go missing. Sometimes when a child, youth or young adult goes missing, there are simple explanations, such as they forgot to call home, they lost track of time or they became temporarily lost. In these circumstances, children, youth or young adults are usually located quite quickly. In other, more concerning situations, the child, youth or young adult may have had an accident, run away, or someone has harmed or taken them.

In these types of cases, there are some common characteristics of children, youth and young adults, and as a searching parent, you may also benefit from reading the Runaway information sections of if your child is missing for unknown reasons.

If Your Child is Missing, You Must Act Quickly

If your child is missing, you have reason to believe that their disappearance seems out of character for them, and you nor anyone else has had contact with them, you need to immediately report your child missing to the police. You are in the best position to say if your child’s disappearance is out of character for them, and you may need to be persistent with law enforcement in order to make them understand the seriousness of your concerns. For example, if it is unusual for your child to stay out all night or not show up at work, this is something you need to emphasize when speaking with the police. Being able to assure the police that your son or daughter ALWAYS calls when they are going to be late or that your child NEVER misses work without calling, can go a long way in creating a more immediate response from law enforcement. Remember, the police receive thousands of missing children and missing person’s reports — they need to know what makes your case urgent. In the absence of any other information on where your child was going, and who your child was with, police will be relying on your knowledge of your child.

Dalley, Ph.D., Marlene, Canadian Police Center for Missing and Exploited Children, National Missing Children Services, National Police Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police,, 2009.

Are you sure you want to cancel your intake? Information you have entered up to this point will not be saved.