Tracing Runaway Individuals

When a juvenile runs away, they are automatically entered into a national database. This means that any officer in the country can run a check and find information about them.


Activate tracking devices on their cellular telephone. Ask your child’s friends and associates to do the same. Search computer history for e-mail to friends and messages about running away.


When a teenager or young adult takes off without saying goodbye, it is likely they are fleeing from something. They could be running away from a domestic situation, a drug problem or even their school or jobs.

It is critical for parents to contact the police immediately when a child goes missing. The police are specifically trained to locate runaway children and can start searching for your family member as soon as possible.

Putting out a general description of the missing person is also helpful. The details you give, such as identifying marks and the last clothes they were wearing can help authorities narrow down the search area. Also consider circulating a picture of the runaway on Facebook, and make sure to ask friends to spread it around as well.


Many parents and caregivers seek tracking devices for children or adults who are prone to wandering or running away. These unobtrusive transmitter bracelets (often referred to as Project Lifesaver) send out a signal that can be detected by law enforcement and emergency responders.

Smartphones are also equipped with tracking features. Cell phone towers can pinpoint the location of a mobile device by connecting to them and analyzing the data transmitted. This information is actively shared with authorities when a person becomes missing.

This is different from a PI’s approach to tracking because PIs study the ecology of an area to determine the best way to locate someone. Tracking is about interpreting tracks and signs and following them. It’s very similar to what naturalists do in the field.

Phone Calls

Runaway teens often use their cell phones to contact friends, relatives and other family members. This can provide information about where the individual is staying and what their activities are like.

Parents should watch out for any change in the teen’s behaviour. A sudden loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed or a tendency towards social withdrawal can indicate that the youth is uncomfortable and may be thinking about running away.

Similarly, a reluctance to speak with their parents can be an indication that the teen is looking for someone else to confide in. This could mean calling a safeline or using a text service such as Crisis Text Line or Coram Voice to get confidential advice and support. They can also talk to a counsellor at Childline.

Text Messages

Often runaways leave behind valuable information in text messages to friends and others, such as their location or plans. They may also write a journal to document their feelings and experiences while running away.

The journals can reveal a lot about a runaway’s mental state, especially during a crisis. They may include details about family conflicts, abuse (verbal or physical), and feelings of depression or loneliness.

Ask your child’s friends, associates and teachers for names and contact numbers. Find out if they have family members who live in the area and check their long-distance phone records. Ask law enforcement to file a missing person’s report, and request an Amber Alert if possible.

Computer History

The first computers were unwieldy, mechanical machines, built by inventors like Charles Babbage. They used gears, levers and shafts to represent numbers and carry out calculations in a physical way–like a giant mechanical slide rule.

During World War II, a team of engineers in England (including Alan Turing) constructed the first programmable computer to help decipher secret German messages. It was called Colossus, and it used a form of switch known as a vacuum tube, each one about the size of your thumb and glowing red hot.

In the 1950’s two devices were invented that would improve the computer field. The transistor ushered out the days of vacuum tubes, and integrated circuits allowed many components to be crammed onto a single chip. This made computers smaller and faster.

School Attendance

School attendance is a strong predictor of whether students pass their course work and graduate on time. Chronic absenteeism is linked to dropout rates and to low academic achievement.

Study authors used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to identify predictors of running away. They found that youth who were female, older, from a disrupted family, or from a single-parent household were more likely to run away. They also found that high frequency runaways had higher alcohol dependence risk scores and depressive symptoms than non-runaway youth.

To help find a runaway, a parent should ask for the child’s school attendance record. This should contain all known friends and associates, and can be a good starting point. The investigator can also check for a long distance phone log, as well as with the employer.

Personal History

Personal histories are often used as a tool to help individuals understand and shape their own lives. They involve reminiscence and life review – important life processes that are recognized for their positive impact on individuals.

These stories are gathered through various means including interviews with friends, family members and teachers. The investigator should also check child protective services records.

For example, a runaway may have been in foster care before running away. An interview with this individual could reveal important information about the runaway, such as their social and family support networks and their willingness to work hard in school. This information is also useful for creating a case plan and identifying any special needs the runaway might have.