Child Abduction Facts Every Parent Should Know

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It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: your child being kidnapped. While child abduction might seem more like the storyline of a dramatic movie than real life, it is, sadly, something that occurs throughout the United States. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that in recent times, over 400,000 children have been reported missing each year in the United States. While not all of these children were abducted, some were. Understanding types of child abduction and being cognizant of child abduction statistics helps you be informed and, in turn, better protect your children from abduction. 

Types of Child Abduction

Child abduction comes in many forms. While you might envision it as a child being lured to someone’s car by the promise of getting some candy or seeing a puppy, it doesn’t always occur that way. In fact, some children know their abductors, which makes it even more important that you’re careful about who is around your children. Develop your understanding of child abduction by knowing the different types of risks that your child might face.

Non-Family Abductions

When you hear the term child abduction or kidnapping, your mind probably races to a non-family abduction. After all, this is the type of abduction often seen in movies and television shows. However, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, these non-family abductions make up just 1% of all child abductions.

A non-family abduction occurs when someone unknown to the child or someone known who is not a family member, such as an acquaintance or neighbor, abducts the child. These abductions are typically attempted outdoors, with an individual trying to lure children toward them in a number of ways. The abductor might offer the child a ride, try to entice them with candy or a pet, ask the child questions, or even use money to attract the child. School-age children are often the targets before or after school hours, when they’re outdoors without parental supervision. In some cases, abductors will even target young children by trying to lure them away from their parents in outdoor situations.

Family Abduction

Another type of child abduction is family abduction, which occurs when a family member abducts the child or tries to conceal the child from other family members. Approximately, 5% of the reported abductions in the United States each year are family abductions. This type of abduction most often occurs as a result of a custody battle over the child. When one parent is displeased about the outcome of a child custody case, for example, they may respond by kidnapping the child and taking them to another city or state to shield them from the other parent.

Even though the child is being abducted by a parent or grandparent in these situations, this type of abduction is often considered a crime under federal or state law, depending on where it occurs. In some cases, parents can identify an individual who may be at risk for abducting their child. Individuals who have threatened to abduct previously, those with marital instability, or those with a criminal record may be more likely to attempt an abduction. Other signs may include individuals who have recently quit their job, planned to move, or requested a child’s medical or school records, birth certificate, or passport, which may be signs they plan to flee.

Child Abduction: A Look at the Statistics

The number of children reported missing every year is alarming, exceeding 400,000 annually. Child abductions are just a small percentage of that figure, though, with the vast majority of missing children being runaways rather than abductions. According to NCMEC, about 4% of reported missing children were family abductions. Less than 1% of those children reported missing were abducted by non-family members. As a result, the odds of your child being abducted by a stranger are low, but that doesn’t make the possibility any less scary. 

Even more, while a child going missing is a truly terrifying experience for all involved, it usually ends with the child being reunited with their family. According to the Polly Klass Foundation, 99.8% of the children who go missing come home. That’s because the vast majority of children who go missing simply get lost or run away, only to regret it and return home or be found after a search. Of the less than 100 children per year who are kidnapped by a stranger, about 50 of them come home safely, too.

kid going with a stranger

Protecting Your Child

The numbers show that child abduction cases are a small percentage of overall missing children cases in the U.S. annually. However, that doesn’t mean that you should simply overlook that abductions can happen. Instead, you need to arm your family with the knowledge they need to keep your child safe when they’re by your side or out on their own. Preventive strategies and open communication can help reduce your risk of facing this terrifying situation.

Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Abductions

Bringing up scary subjects with your child can be daunting, and it might even be something that you avoid. However, you want your child to be informed of potential risks in life so that they have effective strategies to combat them. So, talk early and often to your child about stranger danger, and let these conversations evolve as your child matures and is capable of understanding and discussing more serious subject matter. Here are a few tips to help open these conversations.

Talk to Them About Strangers

Introduce the concept of strangers as soon as your child can understand it. Preschoolers, for instance, can understand the difference between family, friends, and neighbors and strangers. Emphasize to them that they should never talk to strangers or go somewhere with them. 

As they get older, go into more detail about ways to avoid strangers who may be bothering them. Tell them to scream and run away if a stranger tries to accost them, never accept gifts or candy from a stranger, and find you or another parent if they feel they are around someone who makes them feel uncomfortable.

Equip Them With Knowledge

Teach your children their full name, address, and phone number, which they could provide to a trusted individual or police if they were missing. Review how to call 911 if they feel like they are in danger. Point out what cars and houses your child is permitted to go in, and emphasize that they should never go into a stranger’s car or house. 


Stranger danger is certainly real, but the chances of your child being abducted by a stranger are, at the same time, very slim. Talking to your child about personal safety and providing adequate supervision can help reduce the odds of an abduction.

Barbie Carpenter is a writer, editor, and mom of three. When she isn’t writing, she’s enjoying the outdoors, watching her girls dance ballet, or cheering on her son on the soccer field.