The Missing Children's Assistance Act (Title IV of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, as amended) requires the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to periodically conduct studies of the scope of the problem of missing children in the United States. The purpose of the studies is to determine, for a given year, the actual number of children reported missing, including the number of children who are victims of abduction by strangers, the number of children who are the victims of parental kidnapings, and the number of children who are recovered (Sec. 404(b)(3)).

The current National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART 2) is the second national study to measure the incidence of each category of missing children. The first study, originally known by the acronym NISMART (hereafter NISMART 1), was conducted in 1988 with results published in 1990. Thus, what were the best and most comprehensive data available on the incidence of missing children are now 10 years old.

In NISMART 2, currently underway, researchers are:

  • Surveying approximately 16,000 households by telephone to determine how many children are missing on an annual basis.

  • Surveying approximately 8,000 youth in a related telephone survey to determine what happens during missing child episodes from the perspective of the children involved.

  • Interviewing law enforcement officers about child abductions that took place in their jurisdictions in the past year and about cases that are still open.

  • Interviewing directors of residential facilities and institutions for youth to determine how many residents run away from such settings.

  • Analyzing data on thrownaway children (youth who have been abandoned or forced from their homes) from a related survey of community professionals.

Data collection was completed in late 1999, and analyses will take place in 2000. The findings from these surveys and analyses will be used to:

  • Update estimates of the number of children who are missing or abducted or who have run away or been thrown away during the 12-month period prior to the date of the interview.

  • Update information on the characteristics of the children involved in missing child episodes and the nature of these episodes.

  • Update estimates of the number of these episodes reported to police, the number of children known to be missing, and the number of missing children who are recovered.

  • Develop an aggregate estimate of missing children from all categories that is methodologically sound and meaningful for interpretation and policymaking.

  • Estimate the incidence of sexual assault and exploitation of children by both family and nonfamily perpetrators.

  • Analyze any significant changes in the numbers of missing, abducted, runaway, or thrownaway children since 1988, the focal year for NISMART 1 data collection.

  • Improve criteria for the identification and classification of missing child episodes.

  • Permit the identification and counting of children involved in certain categories of episodes (e.g., lost children) whose importance was first recognized during the data analysis for NISMART 1.

The information provided by NISMART 2 will enable parents and the public to better understand the dimensions of the problem and identify those factors that place children at the greatest risk of becoming missing. Practitioners and policymakers can use this new information to design programs and policies that will ensure the safety of the Nation's youth.

NISMART 2 is being conducted for OJJDP by the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA; the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, Durham; and Westat, Inc., of Rockville, MD.


Second Comprehensive Study of Missing Children
Juvenile Justice Bulletin    ·    April 2000