NISMART Bulletin: Runaway/Thrownaway Children: National Estimates and Characteristics

Heather Hammer, David Finkelhor, and Andrea J. Sedlak

August 2000

The words “missing child” call to mind tragic and frightening kidnappings reported in the national news. But a child can be missing for many reasons, and the problem of missing children is far more complex than the headlines suggest. Getting a clear picture of how many children become missing—and why—is an important step in addressing the problem. This series of Bulletins provides that clear picture by summarizing findings from the Second National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART–2).  In 1999, an estimated 1,682,900 youth had a runaway/ thrownaway episode. Of these youth, 37 percent were missing from their caretakers and 21 percent were reported to authorities for purposes of locating them. Of the total runaway/thrownaway youth, an estimated 1,190,900 (71 percent) could have been endangered during their runaway/thrownaway episode by virtue of factors such as substance dependency, use of hard drugs, sexual or physical abuse, presence in a place where criminal activity was occurring, or extremely young age (13 years old or younger). Youth ages 15–17 made up two-thirds of the youth with runaway/thrownaway episodes during the study year. There is suggestive evidence that the runaway problem may have been smaller in 1999 than it was in 1988.

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