Vulnerable adults need help to prevent them going missing again
When an adult goes missing it is almost always a clear sign that something is seriously wrong in their life. Each year, police forces in the UK receive more than 100,000 reports of missing adults. Up to 80 per cent of these adults have mental health issues, and a significant number have experience of domestic violence, financial problems, family conflict, or alcohol problems. In addition, research has shown that 40 per cent of adults who have dementia will go missing at some point, mostly unintentionally. Being missing makes all of these adults more vulnerable, as they are separated from their support networks and professional help, and are at greater risk of becoming a victim of crime. Sadly, around one in every 100 people who go missing is found to have died, with suicide one of the most common causes.
Despite their vulnerabilities, adults returning from going missing are usually offered little support to tackle the problems that caused them to go missing in the first place. The police are responsible for undertaking a “Safe and Well Check” soon after a missing person returns to find out where they have been, if they suffered harm, and to provide an opportunity to disclose any offending by or against them. However, following a Safe and Well Check, most adults do not get offered a proper assessment of their health and support needs, or help to get their life back on track, and consequently many go missing again.
Rhona has gone missing many times over a number of years. She is now 25 and is living in a hostel, and has not gone missing for some time.“It turned into this big cycle of I’d be home, then I’d be gone… a lot of it is to do with mental illness...I felt like everything was closing down on me and the only escape was to run… I’ve lived in squats that would make your skin crawl. I’ve lived on the streets among rats and everything ... I ended up in hospital a few times and I tried to say what was wrong, but they didn’t want to know. [Now I have] started to go to counselling, started to go to therapy… because it is helping me work it out and understand it better.”
The situation is different for children returning from a missing incident, due to clear guidance on different agencies’ responsibilities for safeguarding and support. Statutory guidance on missing children states that a child who comes back from a missing incident should always be offered a return interview to discuss what risks they faced and what support they need to prevent them going missing again. We believe vulnerable adults deserve the same help when they return. We think there should be statutory guidance to clarify the responsibilities of different agencies in responding to missing adults, to include the need for return interviews and post-missing support to prevent these vulnerable people from going missing again.
Preventing adults from repeatedly going missing would bring huge benefits. Each missing incident makes an adult more vulnerable as it: separates them from their support network, puts their income and assets in danger, and increases their risk of harm. For families, each missing incident creates heartache and great stress. For the police, each missing incident costs an average of £1,500-£2,400, but in some cases much more.
Call to action – Return interviews for vulnerable adults: We are calling on the government to ensure that every adult who returns from being missing is offered a return interview to find out what help they need, and then support to access that help.