Hiring A Private Investigator For A Missing Child

 No parent wants to ever think of their child going missing. It does happen everyday. Many parents use the police and a private investigator to help in their search. The quicker they find their child safe and sound, the better. We asked star of Missing in Alaska and Private Investigator of Atwell Investigations, Jax Menez Atwell for some advice and insight on hiring a private investigator for a missing child.

Why would parents consider hiring a Private Investigator when they have the local police department?

This  important question that needs to be resolved quickly if your child is missing.  There is multiple answers to this question.  Before beginning you must understand the function of law enforcement is “reactionary” and “categorized” based on certain levels of priority.  These priorities can vary wildly from agency to agency, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, etc. etc.  You cannot control what the agency prioritizes your missing child.  Many factors go into this such as age, risk factors, mental health factors, circumstances surrounding the event, etc.

First of all, you need to assume that your agency has not given your child, what you would deem, in the case ranking.  Always assume the worst, it is better to have over kill in this situation then to, God forbid, have to address inaction mentally after a horrible situation.

Next reason is simple, a PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR that you hire is YOUR advocate, your tool, your tool to solve your issue.  They don’t work for the government, they don’t work for anyone but you so they can explain things at your level, walk you through the steps, prepare, prevent, work at all levels of the investigation, etc. etc.

I will not slam any law enforcement agency.  They are all undermanned, stressed, overly busy and always under the gun to produce.  That being said there are just too many “human” failures that can occur in trusting such a volatile situation such as a missing child with just faith in the law enforcement agency.  This is not the time to relax and “Give it to God”…this is a time to act and put all your ducks in a row…QUICKLY.


 What can a Private Investigator do to look into a missing child in the first 24 hours of that child missing?

This question is probably better suited by asking what can a private investigator NOT do? Listen, your investigator is probably (and should) have knowledge of how law enforcement works, how government agencies work, and obviously how to go about his or her investigation from the private sector.

The Positive Reasons For Hiring A Private Investigator For  A Missing Child

The good part about hiring a private investigator is they are licensed by the government so that affords them access into things that you might not be able to access or that you might not even have knowledge of PLUS they are just a citizen, just like you.  What does that do?  Sworn law enforcement officers that takes an oath and have many legal restrictions both by law and by case law (procedural items that are created based on legal decisions).  As a citizen AND a private investigator much more “grey” area can be accessed.  Things law enforcement might need a warrant for, or have procedural things that slow them down, can easily be accessed by your investigator.

This truly helps not wasting time on dead ends.  Yes, laws need to be followed and your investigator should have integrity but in emergency situations like this you should be able to trust your investigator to be able to get you the fastest answers to questions you may have.


Can Private Investigators access the child’s social media and phone?

This is a very dicey question. The short answer is NO.  There are exceptions to this being that if the child’s social media is open to public (most common) or there is way to access through say someone who is already on the child’s social media.  For instance, the child’s friends should be contacted and immediately determined if they are on the child’s social media.  Most parents would be sympathetic to your plight and gain their child’s access to help in recovering your child.

When it comes to phones lets at first take a preemptive approach here and let me state your child is just that A CHILD.  Do not buy into this world view being pushed that they have some sort of rights over an adult.  They do not.  You are the parent.  Do not get yourself in this position where your child is missing and you cannot access their phone.  You should be routinely checking your child’s phone.  This is not trust factor this is good parenting even if you trust your child.  Additionally, most phones have “gps” finders in them (Apple’s is called FIND MY PHONE) so they should be routinely checked and verified that they are on.

Split Parenting Relationships

If you are in a split parenting relationship please discuss and plan for this.  A plan  should be in place with your other parenting half if they control the phone/phone bill.

As to why you need to do this:  It is highly illegal for someone to break into a phone other than those who have access to the phone.  As an investigator, I avoid these scenarios as they can lead to Federal wire-tapping and communications law violations.  The best bet is to be prepared for this and at least have some access to what your child is doing on their phone, on line, and with any electronic.  There are some great apps out there also for parenting controls, locations, etc.


Can Private Investigators look into cold cases of children who have been unfortunately missing for years?


We refer to these cases as “cold cases” and yes, many investigators in the private sector work on missing persons cases well past law enforcement.  Truly, this is the only way an old case gets worked with true investigative passion.  Missing persons cases will quickly gather dust (metaphorically) in a law enforcement scenario.  You have to remember, with each day that passes that agency is getting more and more cases, some of which push your case to a lower priority.  It is sad but honestly this brings us back to why you need to get an advocate, a private investigator, on  your case immediately.

Working cold cases is an extreme passion of mine.  The loss of a child, the unanswered questions, the hole left in my clients souls in these situations is something I truly try my best to resolve and bring some resolution too.


 Do Private Investigators work with lawyers?

Investigators do work with attorneys and a sign of a good attorney is one who utilizes investigators.  There is many reasons for this but mostly for monetary reason.  Attorneys can use investigators and bill for work “they did”.  Attorneys that truly see the power of the investigative tool will not just utilize investigators for more numbers on their billing but truly because solving their clients cases should be paramount. If that isn’t the case with your attorney, find a new one!

The relationship between attorneys and investigators should be symbiotic.  Depending on where you are living this can vary wildly.  Many older attorneys have utilized investigators for most of their careers.  Younger attorneys might not know the tricks of the trade yet.  Don’t hesitate in asking and inquiring about the investigative practices of your attorney’s office.

Another reason why your attorney might not being utilizing an investigator might simply be because of geography.  I’ve found certain areas of the United States and Canada just aren’t familiar with investigators and how they can strengthen their clients cases, save them embarrassment, and help them win in court.

It seems once I’ve helped educate an attorney in what I can do to help them, I find myself on a plane, heading to work on a case for them! Don’t hesitate to have your investigator contact your attorney!

 Do Private Investigators work with the media?

You must remember that an investigator is your tool.  If your investigator has ulterior motives then you need a new investigator.  Baring crimes against children or animals there are very few things I’d go around a client for.

The easy answer is yes, the investigator can work with the media but that takes two parties to work.  The media usually controlling what goes on their programming.  Secondly, utilizing the media should be part of an overall strategy that you have formed with counsel.  This should be a decision you make with an attorney, trusted family and friends, and the investigator.

There are some very big cases that you can see investigators on news broadcasts that work for the families involved. Most of all, be careful that your investigator isn’t just using the platform for self-promotion.  This is another reason why you should have your trusted investigator in place from the beginning.

 Can Private Investigators work out of state or out of country?

This is a tricky question.  From place to place there are rules and laws governing investigators and sometimes there are NO rules or laws governing investigators.  Your investigator will discuss what needs to be done.  Remember, an investigator is just a civilian like you so there is no reason an investigator can’t join your case.  The issue comes down to if that jurisdiction has some rule or law that might affect something of evidence for court purposes only.


In law enforcement this is called “fruit of the poisonous tree” basically meaning evidence that was obtained illegally is subject to a judge deciding if it can be admissible as evidence.  Private investigators aren’t police so many of these things don’t apply but it is something to discuss.  As citizens we can stumble onto evidence and still have it admissible but the best way is to not to have these issues to begin with!

Many investigators are great networkers so there are ways to get around licensing issues.  Some jurisdictions offer reciprocity to their license or some places offer temporary licenses.  These really are going to vary wildly.  The best way I have found is through my networking to utilize a local, licensed, and insured agency and “consult” through them.  That way if the rare chance there is an evidentiary issue that will be moot with the local liason.

 When your child goes missing. Does the Private Investigator work with police or do they conduct their own separate research?

Have you ever seen “Smokey and the Bandit”?  Does Jackie Gleason’s character look like someone who’d work with a private investigator?  Much like the question about working in other jurisdictions this question can vary wildly.  I’ve had great investigations working hand and hand with local and federal agencies.  I’ve also had horrible experiences with, “get off my case” type of law enforcement.  It really is going to be on the shoulders of your local law enforcement if they are going to want to work with your investigator or not.

The Independent Investigation

That is okay though.  Your investigator should be working an independent and separate investigation.   Sure there are parallels and in the case of emergency or evidentiary situations, your investigator will need to be in contact with officials.  That being said you want fresh eyes and eyes working for you.  You don’t want tainted eyes that might be loathing an open minded investigation.  These are really two very separate things and should be conducting separate investigations that hopefully meet with a positive outcome.  Regardless of who solves the case, this is your child!  Winning is having your child safe and home.  If the alternative happens you won’t care about any of the above.  Let us not forget the ultimate goal.


We see many divorce cases where a child has been taken away from one parent and moved to a different country. How can a Private Investigator help in those cases?

These cases are so sad.  This is truly a tragic situation that normally the judicial system has somehow managed to really mess up.  I’ve seen a few of these with Hollywood families that I’ve worked on.

There are, again, varying situations as to why we are here.  The first might be the other parent took the child without permission or illegally.  The second is post judicial ruling.  Most of all, these situations are very sad.

How an investigator is used in these situations is really specific to the case.  I’ve been hired to “watch” over the child or children since the other parent can’t be there.  As a parent, I can  understand the anxiety of being this detached from their child.  Being the eyes for the parent is just one small role an investigator can play.

 If they find a child, can the Private Investigator bring the child back or do they contact the parent(s) or police?

I personally believe that keeping the child in place, baring a medical or dangerous situation, is best.  Obviously if the child needs medical attention that is paramount and if a danger is still prevalent then removing them from that danger is priority number one.  Location also might have something to do with moving the child or possibly circumstances.

For instance, let us say there are none of those then your best bet is to contact the parent (ie your client). After discussing the matter have them contact the police (or you). Staying in place with the child can help the law enforcement’s case if there if there is evidence to be saved and preserved and/or if there is an arrest that will be made.

Scene integrity is huge for law enforcement and for court purposes.  Keeping the child in one place, baring all the above issues, will always be best. As a result, I also like to keep the child’s contacts to a minimal with anyone other than the parent or law enforcement.  I’ve had cases where a cousin or distant relative shows up first and as a result, these can be tricky.  Lastly, law enforcement might have an angle or suspect that the investigator is not aware of and allowing that kind of contact should be swayed from until the proper people are on scene to take over.


Twitter @jaxmenezatwell