Research and information

A collection of current knowledge about the issue of missing as well as our research reports, projects, collaborations and events.  

Understanding the reasons why people go missing and the impact on families left behind enables Missing People and our partners to provide better services.

Missing People’s research team conducts research and evaluation projects on a range of topics, and seeks to share the findings through these web pages. 

The Policy and Research team also provides a hub of information about missing, advocates for change through campaigns and policy work, and monitors and evaluates the charity's impact.

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.

  • Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK
  • 180,000 people are reported missing every year
  • There are 340,000 reported missing incidents every year
  • Children are more likely to be reported missing than adults: 1 in 200 children goes missing each year; 1 in every 500 adults goes missing every year

How many people go missing each year?

  • Missing people: of the 180,000 people reported missing over 95,000 are adults and over 80,000 are children

  • Missing incidents: of the 340,000 reported incidents over 125,000 incidents are adults and over 210,000 incidents are children

  • Looked after children are at high risk of being reported missing. 1 in 10 looked after children are reported missing each year compared to 1 in 200 total children. Looked after children who are reported missing will be reported on average 6 times

The number of missing incidents is higher than the number of individuals who go missing because some people go missing more than once. Most of the people who are reported missing are vulnerable or at risk and many are reported missing multiple times, making them even more vulnerable.

Under-reporting

Research shows that police data is likely to be a significant underestimate. There are limitations to the NCA data, including differing recording practices and incomplete data, and some people will not be reported missing to the police at all. Research suggests that as many as 7 in 10 children are not reported to the police when they go missing. Little is known about adults who are not reported missing.

What is 'missing'?

The National Police Chiefs' Council's definition for missing: 'Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another'.

However, it is difficult to provide a singular definition for missing. This largely stems from the huge variety of potential reasons behind a person going missing, and the different ways an incident may be understood by different parties. Adults, unless they are within the criminal justice system or detained under various sections of the Mental Health Act, have a legal right to go missing. For more information regarding this question please see our information sheet.


How long are people missing for?

  • Children
    • 80% of children are found within 24 hours
    • 90% of children are found within 2 days
    • Only 2% of children will be missing for longer than a week (estimated 1,600 children)
  • Adults
    • 77% of adults are found within 24 hours
    • 87% of adults are found within 2 days
    • 4% of adults will be missing for longer than a week (estimated 3,800 adults)

Why do children and young people go missing?

There are a wide range of reasons why adults and children go missing, with varying levels of intentionality, and often more than one cause. The charity is keen to enhance understanding of these factors further, which will require further research.

Among the most common reasons for children to be missing are:

  • Conflict, abuse and neglect at home: more than half of missing children have experienced this and 1 in 5 children felt forced to leave
     
  • Sexual exploitation: 7 in 10 young people who have been sexually exploited have also been reported missing
     
  • Mental health issues: at least 1 in 10 missing children

The most common issues raised in conversations with the children contacting our helpline are (in order of commonality):

  • Problems at home
  • Abuse, domestic violence or child sexual exploitation
  • Mental health issues including risks of suicide or self-harm
  • Living in care

Research about the reasons why people go missing can be found in Lost from View (pg. 14-26)


Why do adults go missing?

There are a wide range of reasons why adults and children go missing, with varying levels of intentionality, and often more than one cause. The charity is keen to enhance understanding of these factors further, which will require further research.

Among the most common reasons for adults to be missing are:

  • Diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues: up to 8 in every 10 missing adults
     
  • Relationship breakdown: 3 in 10 missing adults
     
  • Dementia: around 1 in 10 adult missing incidents (4 in every 10 people with dementia will go missing at some point, often unintentionally)
     
  • Financial problems: 1 in 50 adults have stated this as a principal reason for missing
     
  • Escaping violence: 1 in 50 missing adults

The most common issues raised in conversations with adults contacting our helpline (in order of commonality):

  • Mental health issues including risks of suicide or self-harm
  • Homelessness
  • Problems at home including relationship breakdown
  • Abuse or domestic violence


Police statistics

The National Crime Agency's Missing Persons Bureau also publish annual reports about people reported missing to UK police forces. Click on the links below to visit the Missing Persons Bureau website:

2015-16 data report

2014-15 data report

2014-15 and 2013-14 high level data reports

2012-13 data report

2010-11 and 2011-12 data reports