Missing Children: A Systematic Review

Ana Tavares, Carla Crespo, Maria Teresa Ribeiro


Aim: A child’s disappearance can be characterized by an ambiguous loss, where the child is physically absent but psychologically present. Research on this phenomenon is scarce and currently it is not clear how individuals and families adapt to this event. Thus, we carried out a systematic review to identify the studies about child disappearance, with greater focus on understanding its impact on the family. Method: This systematic review aims at empirical studies related to the topic of a child’s disappearance. Results: Thirty-seven studies were analysed qualitatively and four thematic categories where established: kidnapping prevention programmes; disappearance characteristics; missing person’s recognition implications; psychosocial impact of the disappearance. Conclusion: This review concluded that studies evaluating the individual and family impact of the disappearance are still scarce and heterogeneous. There is a need to examine the characteristics and the impact of different types of disappearance. The intensity of this non-normative phenomenon justifies the need for further research that can inform empirically supported prevention and intervention practices.


missing child; family; ambiguous loss