Tracing Runaway Individuals

Parents must be able to recognize and respond quickly to the signals that their children are considering running away. These signals may include a sudden change in attitude, social withdrawal, school problems or family conflicts.


Make a list of all friends, associates and classmates and start calling. If your child’s cellular telephone is in your name, you can get call and text records without a court order.

Know Their History

Runaway children often have friends who are willing to lie for them or hide their whereabouts. This makes the task of tracing them extremely difficult. Attempting to do it on your own will likely result in many dead ends. It is best to enlist the help of an experienced professional investigator. Skip tracing involves accessing a wide range of public records and databases to assemble a comprehensive profile of the subject. It is an essential step in locating runaway individuals.

A good place to start is the teen’s long distance call log. Keep in mind that cellular telephones do not display the name of the user, so you may need to use *57 to get the name. Also, check with the school and their work history to find out if they have any associates that you do not know about. Search their computers for e-mail to friends and messages about running away. You can also contact the police and ask them to check with their contacts in the area. This information is critical to finding your runaway teen quickly and effectively.

Know Their Friends

Many runaway youths use friends to help hide their location, and they will often clear the call and text records from a cellular telephone before it is traced. It is important to know who your runaway’s friends are and to document them.

It is common for runaway teenagers to steal cars, take checks and credit cards from people they meet and to hide out in all-night coffee shops, bus stations and other public places. They may also panhandle, deal or abuse drugs and pose for pornographic pictures. Many never get off the streets and end up living on the fringes of society, becoming adults without a home or any connections with their family.

It is important to know that most runaway youths are not running away to find adventure, but rather to escape from intolerable family situations such as financial difficulties, physical and sexual abuse, fighting between siblings, or overbearing and authoritarian parenting. This is an area where a private investigator can be very helpful in locating the person and assisting with their return home, preferably to a safe place where they will be given the opportunity to receive intervention or rehabilitation.

Know Their Cell Phone

When a child, teenager or young adult goes missing, the parents will likely panic. They might even consider hiring a private investigator to find the missing person.

However, it is possible for a runaway to avoid being found. Oftentimes, the runaway will contact the family by phone and request that they do not involve law enforcement or search for them. Sometimes a third party will call and claim to have information on a runaway but condition the release of that information on a ransom payment.

If the runaway has a cell phone and the number is in your name, you can look up the owner of that phone using a service like USPhoneBook or InfoTracer. Those services query over half a billion numbers and link names to them.

You should also ask your child’s friends, classmates and teachers if they have seen the runaway or know their whereabouts. Also, make sure you circulate a color photograph of the individual in local hangouts and shops. This will help authorities locate the individual much faster. Those posters may even catch the attention of someone who has information that can lead to finding the runaway.

Know Their Hang Outs

It is important for loved ones of runaway individuals to find out where their children hang out. This information can be gathered by asking friends, checking on social media and looking at their computer history. It may also be helpful to place photographs of the missing person in local areas where they tend to frequent, such as coffee shops and churches.

Four distinct types of runaway behaviors have been identified: running to, running from, thrown out and forsaken (Zide and Cherry 1992). Running to youths leave home in search of life beyond the confines of their parental restrictions. They believe that their lives will be more exciting and fulfilling in a new environment.

Running from youths leave home to escape a negative situation or dynamic within their families. They typically experience abuse or neglect at home and feel they have no alternative. These youths often have a hard time accepting that their parents do not want them back. They are more likely to be exploited upon their runs and have poor self-concepts. They are also more assertive and engage in criminal activity than their running to counterparts.