As Cleo comes home, we're thinking of the parents whose children are still missing.

On Wednesday morning we woke up to incredible news.

Four-year-old Cleo Smith found alive and well after allegedly being snatched from her family's tent more than two weeks ago.

She was rescued from the locked bedroom of a WA home at 1am this morning. 

She peered up from a police officer's arm as she was scooped up to safety.

"My name is Cleo," she told them. 

We don't yet know what happened to Cleo in that house. What she endured will no doubt come to light in coming days and weeks as police interrogate the man they found with her. 

But she's alive. 

She's back with her family. 

She's safe. 

How incredible!

Australians across the country who have been watching the blanket coverage of the little girl's alleged abduction over the past 17 days have no doubt breathed a collective sigh of relief. I know I have. 

But as little Cleo is reunited with her family, we're also thinking about the parents who are still missing their children. The news will have been bittersweet for the parents who never got to tuck their kids back into their beds.

Some weren't even afforded the closure of being told what happened to their children, leaving them to agonise for years and decades to come. With no body, no answers and no clue as to whether their children are alive or dead.


Data from 2016 tells us there are more than 2000 long-term missing persons in Australia at present, with around 150 of those being people aged 18 or under.

In 1973, Joanne Ratcliffe, 11, and Kirste Gordon, 4, disappeared from Adelaide Oval in South Australia. A 1979 coronial inquiry concluded they'd been abducted. But more than four decades later, the person responsible has gone unpunished, and a $1 million reward still stands for information leading to a conviction. 

Joanne and Kirste went missing in 1973. Image: National Missing Persons Coordination Centre.  

Ten-year-old Bradford Pholi left his family home in Dundas, NSW, intending to get on a train to Newtown to see his aunt on Boxing Day in 1982. A $100,000 reward was offered in 2009, with his siblings holding onto hope even three decades later that someone might know something.

Helen Karipidis, 10, was playing with friends in a Marrickville, NSW, playground in 1988. It took hours for her dad to notice she wasn't with the group. An inquest in 2012 ruled that Helen was likely abducted and killed, but no one has been charged in connection with her death. 

10-year-old Bradford Pholi vanished in 1982. Helen Karipidis was last seen in 1988. Image: NSW Police/TownHallOnline. 

Thirteen-year-old Bung Siriboon never made it to school on June 2, 2011. She'd left her Melbourne home at 8.30am for the 10-minute walk and hasn't been seen since. This year marks 10 years since she disappeared and police in June made a fresh appeal for information. The case continues to baffle Victoria Police. 


Every Australian know the case of William Tyrell. The three-year-old vanished from his foster grandmother's house in Kendall, NSW, in 2014 wearing a Spiderman costume. His story still pops into the headlines every few months as police chase leads seven years later. 

Bung Siriboon never made it to school on June 2, 2011. William Tyrell vanished in 2014. Image: Vic Police/Facebook.  

A 14-year-old Aboriginal boy was last seen in Balgo, Western Australia, on December 3, 2020. Planes, drones and motion cameras have all failed to find any sign of him.

These are just some of the children who have never been found. There are many others. Their families have never been given any closure, and may never get that closure.

Then there are families who have been forced to face the unimaginable. 

The Morcombes' fall into that horrible category. 

Thirteen-year-old Daniel Morcombe's murderer is currently serving a life sentence for his death.

The Queenslander was abducted from a bus stop in 2003, sparking the biggest manhunt the state had ever seen. His family waited eight long years for answers, and 11 years for justice. 

Daniel Morcombe vanished in 2003. His killer was arrested eight years later. Image: Supplied to Mamamia. 

Denise and Bruce Morcombe describe having two lives; the one before Daniel vanished, and the one that came after. This would undoubtedly be the case for every parent of a missing kid.

Every Christmas, every birthday, every milestone that follows hurts immeasurably. How could it not? 

"It’s never going to be the same, because there’s always one missing," Denise told Mamamia just last year.

As for the families still waiting; Joanne Ratcliffe's sister told the Australian Federal Police in 2016, her mum still left the front porch light on, just in case Joanne ever found her way home. 

"Forty-three years later, we still leave a light on in memory of her," shared Suzie Ratcliffe.

This morning Cleo woke up in hospital surrounded by her family and loved ones.  

"Our family is whole again," her mum Ellie wrote on Instagram. 


Welcome home, Cleo. 

To the families still searching – know we're holding space for you too.

You can keep up to date with Gemma Bath's articles here, or follow her on Instagram, @gembath.

Feature image: Facebook/WA Police.