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How Private Investigators Find Missing Children In Australia

There’s a drop in your stomach when you realise your child is missing. You start retracing your steps to where you last saw your child, calling their name. For older missing children, you’re ringing their friends and trying to piece together their recent movements.
In most cases, missing children in Australia are found quickly; safe and well. The separation may have been a few minutes or a few hours, but it’s the most scared you’ve ever felt.
The Police give cases of missing children their full resources and gather evidence as quickly as possible. Specifically, the first few hours and days are critical in their search for missing children. Discover the process of reporting a missing child to Police, and when a Private Investigator can help you.

What to do if your child is missing

A top tip for parents of toddlers and young kids when going out to busy places is: take a photo of your child as you arrive at your destination. If your toddler wanders off (or thinks it’s funny to disappear and hide), you have a current photo including today’s outfit to show shopping centre security or Police if necessary. This 5-second photo can help you find your lost child quickly.
If your child is lost or not where they are supposed to be, like if they’re not home from school on time, you should start searching immediately; don’t wait.
Start with a ring-around and a physical search, which should take no more than 30 minutes.

  1. Phone your child’s friends, their school, and places your child usually spends time like sporting clubs.
  2. Search the area where your child was last seen and their route home from school.
  3. If your child has not turned up during that search, report your child missing to the Police immediately. Missing person reports must be made in person at a Police station closest to your home or close to your child’s last known location.

It’s important to give Police as much information as you can about the missing child. Include in your report:

  • A physical description of your missing child with a recent colour photograph
  • A description of the clothes they were wearing
  • Names and contact details of friends and frequent places
  • Where your child was last seen
  • What their usual routine is, if school-aged

Police might also ask for other information about your child’s identity, such as:

  • Birth certificate
  • Medical conditions, allergies, immunisation records and blood type
  • A lock of hair
  • A video or recording of your child’s voice

In many cases, the missing child will turn up, completely unaware that they were considered missing, with an excuse such as “I just went to a friend’s house after school and forgot to tell you.” But don’t let that stop you from contacting Police if you feel that something is wrong and your child is missing. In cases of missing children, every minute is important.
Some of the advice above is from an extremely helpful and detailed article from the Australian Institute of Criminology. Missing children: advice, information and preventative action for parents, teachers and counsellors by Paul Wyles. The article includes tips such as teaching young children their name and parents’ names, how to use a phone and dial 000, plus tips on keeping an identity kit in case your child goes missing.


How many children go missing in Australia each year?

About 38,000 Australians are reported missing each year, including around 3,000 children aged 0 to 12 and around 19,000 young people aged 13 to 17. The good news is that most missing persons are found alive within a few days.
Here are some statistics on missing children in Australia from a report by Missing Persons Australia, www.missingpersons.gov.au:

  • 3,000, or 7.7% of missing persons, are children age 0-12
  • 19,000, or a staggering 49%, are young people aged 13-17
  • 98% of missing children and young people are found alive
  • 72% of missing children (0-12) and 67% of missing young people (13-17) are found within 48 hours
  • 22% of all missing persons (adults, teens and children) are found in 2-7 days

A very small percentage of missing children in Australia are due to abduction by a stranger. By comparison, many cases of missing children are when a child accidentally wanders off and gets lost, or when a family member takes a child during a custody dispute.
Nearly half of all missing persons cases are teenagers (age 13-17) who are running away from home. Reasons for runaway teens include:

  • Family disputes and parental conflict
  • Escaping domestic violence, sexual abuse or neglect
  • Fear of coming out as LGBT+
  • Mental illness
  • Poor performance or suspension at school
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Moving in with a partner the family doesn’t approve of, or in rare cases, having a relationship with a person they met online

An article from the Australian Institute of Criminology includes valuable tips on predicting and when teens might be planning to run away, including advice on communicating with your teenager to maintain or restore a good relationship. Read the article at Missing children: advice, information and preventative action for parents, teachers and counsellors by Paul Wyles.

How does a Private Investigator trace a missing child?

Private Investigators are highly skilled at tracing missing persons using their identity information and digital footprint. However, unlike adults, missing children generally don’t leave behind an identity trail. Children don’t have traceable documents in their names like bills, leases, licences or employment activity. Most children don’t have digital profiles like Facebook, or mobile phones with traceable Google location data.
In fact, when a Private Investigator is tracing a missing child, the PI would often try to trace the adult who is suspected of taking the child. In the case of a family dispute, it’s usually a parent who has disappeared with their own child. Because when you find the parent, you usually find the missing child.

Do Private Investigators trace abducted children in Australia?

In the case of a suspected abduction, the missing child is classed as a vulnerable person, who will be the highest priority for Police.
It is unlikely that a Private Investigator would get involved in current missing children cases where Police suspect abduction or other crime. The Police are very good at finding missing children, and PIs shouldn’t interfere with Police investigations.
If a missing child case is no longer part of an active Police investigation, such as in a cold case, then the family can choose to engage a Private Investigator to resume the search at a later date.

What if a missing child doesn’t want to be found?

There are cases where people go missing on purpose.
In fact, it’s quite common for a parent and child to disappear to escape domestic violence. If the abusive parent engages a Private Investigator to find their missing child, the PI is responsible for protecting the subjects. PIs ask a lot of questions to understand the motivations for the search. Most importantly, the PI would refuse to find the missing parent and child if there is any risk of harm. Protection of at-risk people is the PI’s primary concern. They will not take on a case where the information will be used to commit a crime or hurt someone.
Teenagers run away from home to escape abuse or neglect, or because of family disputes. Depending on the child’s situation, it might not be in the child’s best interest to be returned to their family. Instead, the PI would seek help from Police and Family Services to keep the child safe and place them in suitable care.

Seeking missing children during a family dispute

Private Investigators are called on to find missing children after family disputes. Grandparents may have had a disagreement with their grandchild’s parents and have lost all contact. The grandparents may want to resume a relationship with the child. Again, the PI will assess any risk to the family and try to understand why the family separation has happened; sometimes there are good reasons for grandparents being shut out of a family.
If the PI finds the estranged family members, they can offer some communication, like passing on a letter from the grandparents to the family, asking them to get in touch. However, the child’s parents may not want their child to have a relationship with their grandparents. It is up to the parents to decide what information will be shared with the grandparents. A PI will never disclose a subject’s location, so it is up to the family to make their own connection.

Want to know more about hiring a Private Investigator?

Contact an Australian Private Investigator today. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about how a PI can help you or refer the best available Investigator. Feel free to get in touch.

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