About the issue

An estimated 250,000 people go missing in the UK each year.

The Policy and Research team at Missing People is responsible for improving the support and services available to missing children, adults and their families in three ways. 

Firstly, we undertake and support research to understand the experiences of missing people and their families, and to understand what help they need.

Secondly, using the findings of this research, we advocate for change through campaigns and policy work on issues affecting missing people and their loved ones.

Thirdly, we monitor and evaluate Missing People’s projects and services to assess the charity’s impact and how we should develop our services in the future.

Missing News

The Policy and Research team circulates a regular newsletter, Missing News, containing up to date information about research, policy, events and sector developments. To sign up to Missing News, or to read previous editions, click here.

Article Index

Welcome to the November 2018 edition of Missing News. This newsletter is produced by Missing People's Policy and Research team (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). It includes latest developments in policy, practice and research relevant to missing and other related sectors. If you are not already a subscriber to Missing News and would like to receive future issues, please sign up here

Click on the links below or scroll down to find out more. This edition of Missing News includes:

News from Missing People:

News from the sector:

  • Child sexual exploitation – organised CSE figures have been published; research by Barnardo’s suggests boys and young men are less likely to be recognised as victims of CSE so less likely to receive support.
  • Modern slavery and child trafficking – figures for victims of organised modern slavery have been published; an independent review of the Modern Slavery act has been announced; interim findings of the pilot of the Independent Child Trafficking Advocates Service have been released. 
  • Children and young people in care – the APPG for Children has published a report into the causes and consequences of varying thresholds for children’s social care; a new report calls for a more effective multi-agency response to tackle the neglect of older children.
  • Return Home Interviews – a clarification of statutory guidance relating to RHIs has been published by the Department for Education in response to local authorities’ queries.
  • Homelessness – new research has been published about the link between homelessness among women and experience of gender-based violence and abuse.

News from Missing People

Update on Guardianship legislation

Over the past seven years we have campaigned for Guardianship legislation, a new law which would allow families of missing people in England and Wales to look after their loved one’s affairs. At the moment families have no legal rights to look after a missing person’s finances so they are forced to watch as their loved one’s bank accounts get drained by direct debits, as bills go unpaid and, in some cases, as they even lose their home. Our research suggests that up to 2,500 families are faced with managing their loved ones’ growing debts and financial hardship.

We were delighted in April 2017 when the new law was finally passed. The Government assured families and the charity that the necessary steps would be taken to bring the law into force within a year, but sadly this has not been the case. It is now being suggested that the law will not come into force until July 2019, over two years after the legislation was passed, or may be delayed further until next year. This delay leaves thousands of families who desperately need this legislation in limbo.

Missing People are campaigning to ensure that the introduction of this vital legislation is prioritised. On 27 November we will be holding an event in parliament to encourage MPs to help keep pressure on the Ministry of Justice – ensuring that they realise that further delays are unacceptable. If you would like to find out more or join the campaign by emailing your MP you can do so here.

Vulnerable adults, mental health and missing

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, chaired by Ann Coffey and supported by Missing People, led a new inquiry into safeguarding vulnerable missing adults who have mental health issues. The Inquiry Report and Evidence Summary were published this summer.

An adult is reported missing every four minutes in the UK. The inquiry heard that up to 80 per cent of adults who go missing are experiencing mental health problems and up to one third go missing again. Tens of thousands of missing adults are left alone and isolated on their return home as there is insufficient support available for them and few go on to receive specialist help.

The inquiry also heard that up to 600 missing people a year are found dead: the most commonly known cause being suicide. Police responses to the inquiry revealed that on average up to a third of missing incidents were recorded as involving suicide or self-harm, with one force recording 42 per cent.

The inquiry’s central recommendation is that mental health services and the Department of Health & Social Care must take on a greater role given the high levels of missing people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Missing People think it is vital that all agencies take a greater role to ensure that this vulnerable group get the support that they need and deserve.

The main recommendations of the inquiry are:

  • Better initial risk assessment and long term support. Improved training of call handlers and frontline officers to identify mental health issues.
  • Health services should play a bigger role and mental health professionals should be available to assist the police at all stages of missing investigations.
  • The Department of Health should monitor numbers of people going missing from hospitals and care. About 15 per cent of missing reports relate to hospitals – with one area reporting 29 per cent.
  • Return interviews and other specialist support should be offered to vulnerable missing adults.
  • The College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Missing Persons should carry out a review of the use and effectiveness of initial prevention interviews.
  • Local protocols between the police, health and social services should outline pathways to support. Protocols should include automatic strategy meetings when a person goes missing on multiple occasions.
  • The Care Quality Commission should enhance their inspection on patient safety to include the response to adults who go missing while under NHS care.
  • Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary should include the response to missing people who are vulnerable because of their mental health in inspections.
  • Police and NHS Trusts should map ‘hot spot’ locations with high numbers of missing reports.
County Lines: SafeCall & County Lines Demonstration Pilot Project

Missing People together with St Giles Trust recently delivered a Home Office funded project to explore what might enable vulnerable children to move away from involvement in county lines drug distribution networks. The County Lines Demonstration Pilot Project, which ran for six months, had two main strands: a pilot project in Kent and national scoping research and analysis of the issue.

In the Kent pilot project, Missing People and St Giles Trust trialled a range of child focused interventions to support vulnerable children involved in county lines running between London and Kent, including one-to-one casework (Kent OT) and phone based support (SafeCall). The interventions aimed to reduce the number of children involved in county lines activity, improve the life chances of those who exit county lines activity, and facilitate enhanced intelligence and partnership working across relevant agencies. The project, which involved 38 children and their families in two areas of Kent and three London boroughs, was independently evaluated by JH Consulting and the evaluation report was published earlier this year. Key findings include:

  • The majority who received one-to-one support from September 2017 to March 2018 showed positive progress including reductions in missing episodes, returning to school or training and improved family relationships. The significant reduction in missing episodes was estimated to have saved Kent Police and estimated £271,253 over six months.
  • Several young people involved in the pilot project made a successful exit from county lines. The evaluation identifies “an urgent need for sustainable and specialist casework” to enable young people to exit county lines successfully in the long term.
  • SafeCall was particularly effective in providing support for parents and carers by telephone, as well as in helping to mediate between parents and statutory agencies: “Supporting parents and the wider family is a key element to providing the right conditions for children to begin to exit county lines activity. The SafeCall service can play an important role in helping to create these conditions.”

The second strand of the project was a national scoping research and analysis which aimed to: explore how county lines is being tackled in different part of the country; identify examples of effective or emerging practice as well as critical gaps or challenges in services and how best to address these; and explore how an understanding of factors across different areas can help to inform a national response. The results of this analysis, which was conducted by JH Consulting, were published in a separate scoping report.

The project findings were also presented at two conferences hosted by Missing People in partnership with St Giles Trust in London and Manchester: ‘Missing and Children Criminal Exploitation – How to support victims exploited through county lines’. These brought together representatives from the police, social services, criminal justice system, voluntary sector and more to review lessons from the pilot project and explore how professionals can work together most effectively to help young people and families affected by county lines and missing.

SafeCall has been awarded extra funding until March 2019 which means we can continue to provide vulnerable young people who are at risk of CCE and their parents/carers with emotional support and guidance. SafeCall is a telephone-based safe space for children, young people and their families to talk about their experience in confidence and seek advice. SafeCall also works with professionals, including social workers and the police, to ensure important information is shared (when consent is given to do so) and to contribute towards an effective safety plan being put into place.

Dementia & Missing: Search Dog Heroes

In September, Missing People and Lowland Rescue announced the launch of Search Dog Heroes, a national project which is aiming to train 100 trailing search dogs, and equip those caring for people such as those living with Dementia, with the knowledge and tools to act fast if their loved one was to go missing.

Purpose-made scent kits will be available for families over the coming months, with full instructions on how to capture and safely store a scent. Once the project is fully operational with trained dogs being deployed across the country, the scent article could be used in moments of crisis if the person was to go missing. Details of the person which are stored with the scent kit would offer an additional source of information to aid with the police search.

Although the initial focus of the project is on those living with Dementia, there are plans to extend this service to support others who may be at greater risk of going missing, such as people with learning disabilities or poor mental health.

Search Dog Heroes is being made possible by People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund, which awarded Missing People and Lowland Rescue £1 million. 

We hope that Search Dog Heroes will help the 4 in 10 people with dementia who go missing at some point, often unintentionally. People living with dementia can feel the urge to walk about, and in some cases, leave their home. Problems with orientation may make it difficult to find their way back, and contributing factors such as extreme weather and other medical conditions could increase their risk of coming to harm whilst missing.

In May, the Alzheimer's Society published a new report: Dementia - the true cost: Fixing the care crisis. The research, which is based on five listening events with people affected by dementia and professionals, suggests that people are facing huge costs to pay for their care and support; that many struggle to access the vital care they need in the first place; and that once people affected by dementia get support, their care is often poor quality. In relation to missing, the report illustrated that for some a pattern of going missing can be a red flag for dementia. One carer said that it was her mother going missing on a number of occasions that alerted the family that something was wrong and contributed to her being diagnosed. The report also noted that many families struggle with the cost of adaptations, which puts the health of the person living with dementia at risk, including through going missing. One carer noted “Some of us can’t afford basic adaptations – I couldn't afford a bed sensor for my mother. She went missing one night and the local police force sent out two helicopters and two cars to search for her. What would've been more cost effective?”

You can read more about the links between missing and dementia in a presentation of past research conducted by the University of Portsmouth and Missing People: The Impact of Living with Missing Incidents: How the experience and fear of missing incidents affect people with dementia and those who care for them.

News from the Sector

Child Criminal Exploitation

A number of important initiatives relating to tackling child criminal exploitation have been announced over recent months. In September, the National County Lines Coordination Centre was launched bringing together representatives from the National Crime Agency, police and regional organised crime units to “work together to develop the national intelligence picture of the complexity and scale of the threat, prioritise action against the most serious offenders, and engage with partners across government, including in the health, welfare and education spheres, to tackle the wider issues.”

Also in September, the Home Office published County Lines guidance aimed at frontline staff who work with children, young people and potentially vulnerable adults. This identifies a range of potential indicators for county lines involvement and exploitation, with “persistently going missing from school or home and/or being found out-of-area” being identified as of particular concern. It also provides guidance for practitioners working with a vulnerable person who they think might be at risk of county lines exploitation.

In October, a new fund for young people and families affected by gang and youth crime was launched. The Supporting Families Against Youth Crime fund will make up to £5 million available through the existing Troubled Families Programme for initiatives that aim to reduce gang and youth crime with a particular emphasis on early intervention, prevention and whole family working. It plans to support work to develop resilience in children to withstand peer pressure and make positive choices, as well as more in-depth work with parents and carers to help them fully understand the risk factors and dangers of their children becoming drawn into gang crime.

The Department for Education has announced that a new national response unit to tackle child criminal and sexual exploitation will launch in 2019 and operate until 2022. Children who go missing from home or care are vulnerable to exploitation from a range of criminal threats, so the unit will provide tailored support to local areas so they can "respond effectively to these safeguarding challenges and learn from what works."

In September, Mayor Sadiq Khan said that the risk in youth violence must be treated as a public health issue and announced £500,000 of funding to establish a new Violence Reduction Unit in London. While this intervention has been welcomed, there has been a call from experts for there to be a specific focus on the impact of youth violence on mental health due to the level of trauma young people are exposed to when experiencing or even witnessing violent deaths within their communities.

The impact of youth violence on mental health is one of the themes to emerge from a piece of exploratory research Missing People has been conducting into the experiences of families who have children who have been criminally exploited, in particular through county lines. The research, which is due to be published early in 2019, aims to increase knowledge of exploitation, the impact of that exploitation on family members, and the availability of support services for children and their families. It explores the role of and response to missing within criminal exploitation, particularly as an early warning sign. It will also highlight family perceptions of where interventions may have been helpful and any examples of successful interventions. The research was based on in-depth interviews lasting between 2 and 10 hours with families of five exploited children. It is hoped that the findings will help to fill the current gap that exists in knowledge about family experiences. Recommendations will be made for support services as a result of the research findings.

Child Sexual Exploitation

In November, the government published its Understanding Organised Crime report 2015/16. One area of serious organised crime covered in the report is child sexual exploitation; in the UK in 2015 it estimates that there were approximately 6,850 victims of organised CSE.

Also in November, the government published its Serious and Organised Crime Strategy. Within this, the government sets out its commitments in relation to tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse, which include: investment in detecting and disrupting offenders and networks; developing information sharing capacity between stakeholders; and funding to collaborate with child protection organisations to better understand and prevent offending behaviour.

Child Sexual Exploitation – boys and young men

Recent research by Barnardo’s shows that boys and young men who are being sexually exploited are missing out on vital support because professionals are less likely to recognise them as victims. The BOYS2 research, which was funded by the Home Office, found that behaviour which in girls triggers concern they are at risk is not always being picked up in boys, leaving them without the specialist support they need. Furthermore, boys who took part in the research said that the failure to see them as possible victims of abuse had created barriers and stopped them talking about the abuse they had suffered.

In response to the fact that CSE among young males is less well understood and more likely to be overlooked, a toolkit for professionals which explores the issues for boys and young men in relation to child sexual exploitation was produced by the Children’s Society in partnership with Victim Support and the National Police Chief’s Council earlier this year. It notes that “when given safe spaces to do so, boys and young men do report it and do want to talk about their experiences”. It also highlights how gendered perceptions and attitudes among professionals can mean that signs of exploitation in boys are less likely to be identified.

Modern slavery and child trafficking

In November, the government published its Understanding Organised Crime report 2015/16. This estimates that there were 7,679 victims of organised modern slavery with a social and economic cost of around £2.3 billion in the financial year 2015-16.

In September, the government announced an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The review, which will report in March 2019, will focus on transparency in supply chains, the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, child victims of modern slavery, and the Legal application of the Act and in particular ensuring it is ‘future-proof’ as understanding and the nature of modern slavery evolve.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires local authorities to provide Independent Child Trafficking Advocates to all children who need them. In October, the Home Office announced the expansion of the Independent Child Trafficking Advocates Service to the West Midlands from January 2019 and to Croydon in from April 2019. The service, which is run in partnership with Barnardo’s, has previously only been piloted in three ‘early adopter’ areas. Interim findings from the pilot were published by the Home Office in July. The early findings show some interesting differences between children who have been trafficked from abroad compared to those within the UK, including different patterns of missing between UK and non EEA children. Both went missing but non EEA children were more likely to be missing on referral and remain missing and out of contact with the ICTA service. UK children were more likely to go missing while in service but then come back into contact with the ICTA service.

In September, new research published by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) found that thousands of children are not being sufficiently protected from exploitation. The report, Before the Harm is Done: Examining the UK’s response to the prevention of trafficking, suggests that while there are positive examples of good practice and outstanding work by some bodies, the UK continues to lack an overall strategy to prevent trafficking. Key recommendations include the development of an evidence-based UK-wide prevention strategy by the government and a commitment to independent evaluation of all government-funded prevention measures.

In relation to missing, the ATMG report notes that unaccompanied children in their late teens are particularly vulnerable, with many going missing and being re-trafficked. It suggests that the levels of missing and re-trafficking of these young adults could be reduced if guardianship schemes, such as the ICTA scheme currently being piloted, are extended to provide support until the age of 21. The report also points to some inadequacies in the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is the system used for recording data on child trafficking. It notes that the NRM does not monitor outcomes for children after the decision-making process has ended, so it is not known whether they go missing, are re-trafficked, or are returned to their country or origin. Without this information, it is not possible to effectively assess whether current interventions for supporting children are working effectively and keeping them safe from further harm.

Young people’s wellbeing and mental health

One in three young people aged 15 to 18 are struggling with mental health and emotional wellbeing issues according to new research by Action for Children published in October. The research, which was conducted in schools with over 5,000 young people, found that the most common problems experienced by these young people were:

  • Feeling depressed
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Inability to shake negative feelings
  • Struggling to ‘get going’
  • Problems focussing
  • Feeling like everything is ‘an effort’

Also in October, research by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) was published which reveals that reported mental health problems among 11-15 year-olds have increased five-fold over the past 20 years. Furthermore, these levels will increase a further 63% by 2030 if current trends continue the report suggests. The research uses long-term historical data to project outcomes for children and young people's health in 2030 and compares child health trends in England with European and other western countries.

Analysis by the Department for Education of the published policies of 45 primary, 45 secondary and 10 special schools suggests that policies to support children's mental health are often not embedded within coherent whole-school strategies. The research, which was published in October, noted that approaches and interventions to promote mental health and wellbeing were often identified within schools’ behaviour policies, suggesting that schools were identifying pupils’ additional emotional and psychological needs by the extent of their disruptive behaviour. It also found that the mental health needs of pupils with SEN were not consistently addressed across SEN policies. The report recommends: "To further enable schools’ awareness of mental health, and to fully underpin how schools’ policies can promote the mental health and wellbeing of pupils, it might be helpful if there was a shift in the discourse of guidance and training from behaviour and behaviour management, to a focus on mental health, wellbeing and building emotional resilience."

Children and Young People in Care

In September, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children published a report from the inquiry into the causes and consequences of varying thresholds for children's social care: Storing Up Trouble: a postcode lottery of children's social care. The report builds on findings from the first inquiry, published in 2017: No Good Options, which noted that the system was struggling to manage increasing and more complex demand in the context of scarce resources and, furthermore, that policies and practice varied across the country meaning that the support children and young people receive was, in part, being determined by where they live. This second inquiry aimed to establish the extent to which thresholds for accessing services vary across the country and whether thresholds are rising. The findings show that four in five Directors of Children's Services say that vulnerable children facing similar problems get different levels of help depending on where they live. Furthermore, children often have to reach crisis before social services intervene and decisions over whether to help a child - even in acute cases - are influenced by budget constraints.

Also in the summer, Growing Up Neglected: a multi-agency response to older children was jointly published by the Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation; Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services; Care Quality Commission and Ofsted. The report recognises that much has been done by agencies to address neglect of younger children but calls for a greater awareness of the neglect of older children and a focus on trauma-based approaches to tackling it. The report shows that older children who are experiencing neglect present with different risks than younger children, including wanting to spend more time away from the neglectful home which means they are vulnerable to risks like going missing, offending behaviour or exploitation. The findings showed that that professionals do not always recognise the risks older children present with as neglect and, consequently, can fail to take appropriate action.

Return Home Interviews

In June, the Department for Education published a paper clarifying some local authority queries about the updated statutory guidance: Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018. One of the questions raised was whether local authorities are always required to complete a Return Home Interview with a child on their return from missing, which received the following response:

“The Department and Ofsted agree that an independent return home interview should be offered to a child to allow the opportunity to gather information that may help protect the child or prevent them from going missing again. The offer made must be genuine and the young person encouraged to accept, but if the child does not want this interview then it does not have to take place. We would expect good practice to be that the reasons for this are noted and recorded. The guidance does not prescribe who the independent interviewer should be. This person will vary depending on the scenario and the needs of child. If the child does not want an independent interviewer they can chose who they want to do the interview. It is important that whoever does the interview is sympathetic to the child’s perspective whilst also being able to take any necessary follow-up action, for example, sharing information with the right agencies around disclosures of harm, or reasons for patterns of repeat missing episodes.”

We were pleased to see the Department for Education’s continued commitment to every missing child being offered a return interview. It is vital that children are given the opportunity to speak to a professional upon their return; if this doesn’t happen it is possible that serious harm and ongoing risks to vulnerable children will be missed. In 2017, we worked with the English Coalition for Runaway Children to produce a briefing on good practice in return interviews and we are continuing research to understand more about this important intervention.


In October, researchers from The University of York published a new report: Women and Rough Sleeping: A critical review of current research and methodology. The report, which was commissioned by St Mungo’s, presents the findings of a rapid evidence review on the topic and highlights the high levels of women sleeping rough who have experienced gender-based violence and abuse, whether before, during, or after their time on the streets. Women who are victims of such abuse are more likely to be homeless; 54% of St Mungo’s female residents who have slept rough have experienced violence or abuse from a partner or family member and one in three say that domestic abuse contributed to them becoming homeless. The report notes that as these vulnerable women are often hiding from harm, they are also hidden from help; they may not be able to access homelessness services and are often missing from statistics and counts. The authors recommend that data collection approaches are improved to produce a better estimate of the number of women rough sleepers, with the multiple data point approach used in Denmark and some other European countries being suggested.


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