The first hours following the disappearance of a child are the most critical in terms of finding and returning that child safely home -- but they also can be the most troublesome and chaotic. Use this checklist during those first hours to help you do everything you can to increase the chances of recovering your child.

Immediately report your child as missing to your local law enforcement agency. Ask investigators to enter your child into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Persons File. There is no waiting period for entry into NCIC for children under age 18.

Request that law enforcement put out a Be On the Look Out (BOLO) bulletin. Ask them about involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the search for your child.

Limit access to your home until law enforcement arrives and has collected possible evidence. Do not touch or remove anything from your child's room or from your home. Remember that clothing, sheets, personal items, computers, and even trash may hold clues to the whereabouts of your child. The checklist for  Gathering Evidence  contains detailed information about securing your child's room and preserving evidence.

Ask for the name and telephone number of the law enforcement investigator assigned to your case, and keep this information in a safe and convenient place.

Give law enforcement investigators all the facts and circumstances related to the disappearance of your child, including what efforts have already been made to search for your child.

Write a detailed description of the clothing worn by your child and the personal items he or she had at the time of the disappearance. Include in your description any personal identification marks, such as birthmarks, scars, tattoos, or mannerisms, that may help in finding your child. If possible, find a picture of your child that shows these identification marks and give it to law enforcement.

Make a list of friends, acquaintances, and anyone else who might have information or clues about your child's whereabouts. Include telephone numbers and addresses, if possible. Tell your law enforcement investigator about anyone who moved in or out of the neighborhood within the past year, anyone whose interest in or involvement with the family changed in recent months, and anyone who appeared to be overly interested in your child.

Find recent photographs of your child in both black and white and color. Make copies of these pictures for your law enforcement agency, the media, your State missing children's clearinghouse, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and other nonprofit organizations. For tips on producing and distributing fliers and other information click here .

Call NCMEC at 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678) to ask for help with photo distribution. Also, ask for the telephone numbers of other nonprofit organizations that might be able to help.

In Alabama,  call the Alabama Center for Missing at Exploited Children at  (800)228-7688  to find out what resources and services it can provide in the search for your child.

Ask your law enforcement agency to organize a search for your child. Ask them about using tracking or trailing dogs (preferably bloodhounds) in the search effort. Find key points about the Search and Working With Volunteers .

Ask your law enforcement agency for help in contacting the media. Find additional information in the sections Working with the Media and Checklist for Conducting Media Interviews .

Designate one person to answer your telephone. Keep a notebook or pad of paper by the telephone so this person can jot down names, telephone numbers, dates and times of calls, and other information relating to each call.

Keep a notebook or pad of paper with you at all times to write down your thoughts or questions and record important information, such as names, dates, or telephone numbers.

Take good care of yourself and your family, because your child needs you to be strong. As hard as it may be, force yourself to get rest, eat nourishing food, and talk to someone about your tumultuous feelings. You will find more information in the section Personal and Family Considerations .

Source:  Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Report:  When Your Child is Missing