Missing People is the only national charity supporting missing children, missing adults and their families. We have 30 years’ experience of working with police forces to find and safeguard missing people, and more than 6 years’ experience of working on behalf of local authorities and police to deliver support when children and adults return from being missing.
Statutory guidance for local authorities in England states that on every occasion a child goes missing, on their return they should be offered an independent Return Home Interview (IRHI), by someone who is not involved in caring for the child or young person. College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice (APP) guidance recommends that, ‘forces should establish a process for providing return interviews where adults are deemed to be vulnerable and/or at risk of harm.’ Guidance in Scotland recommends that Return Discussions for adults take place as good practice, which follow the same principles as a Return Home Interview (explained in more detail below).
“Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is a key duty on local authorities and requires effective joint working between agencies and professionals. When a child goes missing or runs away they are at risk. Safeguarding children therefore includes protecting them from this risk. Local authorities are responsible for protecting children whether they go missing from their family home or from local authority care.”
– DfE Guidance
A Return Home Interview provides an opportunity for a person to be listened to – to understand why they went missing, what happened whilst they were away, including exploring whether they have come to any harm, and discuss what needs to be put in place to prevent them from going missing again.
A Return Home Interview is a fundamental opportunity to engage with a person who may not previously have come into contact with any other professional support – there is no threshold for a Return Home Interview. Therefore, it is a fundamental opportunity to identify any previously unknown risk, harm, or exploitation that a child or young person for example, may have experienced, or currently be experiencing, and refer them to any additional support services that they may need.
A Return Discussion is the name for Return Home Interviews in Scotland, as explained in the National Missing Person’s Framework for Scotland. This Framework provides guidance on Return Discussions that Scottish Government recommended are completed with all returned missing children, young people and adults in Scotland, following a Prevention Interview (Safe and Well Check).
Initial contact is to be made with a person within 72 hours of their return, with the Return Discussion taking place within one week, preferably with a professional that the person already has a relationship with, or another professional of their choice. The principles of a Return Discussion and a Return Home Interview, remain the same.
We believe that Return Home Interviews and Return Discussions provide an important opportunity for a returned person to share their experiences, any risks they face, and highlight what would help to prevent them from going missing again.
Missing People is an independent organisation, and can offer a returned adult or child a confidential space in which to talk about their missing episode when it may be difficult for them to speak to their social worker, residential home staff, or police officer, for example. We believe that it is important to offer someone the choice of who they speak to and how they take part in the interview. Our model of delivering interviews reflects this, and we can offer interviews 7 days a week, including evenings, and in the way that suits the returned person, face to face or by telephone.
Our skilled, independent team has an impressive track record of building up trust with people, who then open up about why they went missing, what happened while they were away and what help they need to prevent future missing episodes. Our interview services focus on identifying and responding to the risks and harm people face linked to missing incidents, including criminal exploitation, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, and mental health issues. We can explore these risks with children, young people, and adults, and provide them with information and resources on how to stay safe.
Missing People’s work to support in the ‘search’ for a missing adult or child means that when they return, they may have already spoken to and been supported by us, linked to our TextSafe and Runaway Helpline services. This makes it more likely that they will accept our interview offer.
“The lady I worked with was kind and calm and really got through to me which most people don’t.”
– Young person aged 14, 2020
We can also refer any returned missing person directly to our free helpline should they need continued support, or are thinking about going missing again, and engage with parents or carers to offer them support, too.
“So happy that you did that for us. I’m emotional and really hopeful. Thank you so much – you’ve tried so much for us. I know it’s not been easy – thanks for sticking with us.”
– Parent feedback, 2020
Missing People acknowledges that appropriate information sharing between local partners is crucial to ensuring that a returned person receives adequate support and safeguarding where necessary. This is important to understand risk, and to prevent someone from going missing in the future. Our teams are highly experienced in safeguarding and multi-agency working with professionals, building relationships with relevant local authority teams, the police, and attending operational working group meetings in order to safeguard and contribute to safety planning around children and young people, in particular.
We explain to children and young people that we can offer them a confidential conversation, however we may need to share any information that they tell us which makes us worry about their safety, or the safety of other people, with local professionals. Following a Return Home Interview, we agree and gain consent from the returned person about information that we need to share.
Missing People has over 6 years’ experience delivering Return Home Interviews, having delivered services for children, young people and adults in Sussex, Surrey, Wiltshire and Swindon, South Wales, North Wales, Gwent and Lincolnshire and for The Metropolitan Police.
For more information on our existing Hertfordshire service, where we combine Return Home Interviews with intensive one to one support to children who frequently go missing or at most risk whilst they are away from home, please click here.
A Prevention Interview (formerly known as a Safe and Well Check) is an informal interview with a returned missing person completed by the police as soon as possible upon their return. These interviews aim to find out whether the returned person has experienced crime or harm while away, if there are any ongoing risk or factors which may make them more likely to go missing again, and whether the person is now safe and well. They are also an important part of closing a police missing person investigation.
“The purpose of the Prevention Interview is to identify any ongoing risk or factors which may contribute to the person going missing again […] The interview provides a valuable opportunity to find out useful information that may indicate harm suffered by the returning person. It can also identify details that may help trace the person in the event of a future missing episode.”
– Authorised Professional Practice, College of Policing
In England and Wales, a child or young person will be referred to the local authority for a Return Home Interview to be completed within 72 hours. In Scotland, following a Prevention Interview, a Return Discussion will be recommended for a child, young person, or adult with a local professional, with initial contact with the person to be made within 72 hours, and the Discussion to be completed within 1 week.
A follow-up Return Home Interview (in England and Wales) or Return Discussion (in Scotland) can identify if a child or young person (or adult in Scotland) has suffered any harm, including harm that may not have already been disclosed to police during the Prevention Interview.
In 2018-19 Missing People delivered a successful pilot of Prevention Interviews, on behalf of a local police force.
“85% of Prevention Interviews conducted by Missing People resulted in the disclosure of risk and vulnerability by the missing person, of which 47% was new information to the police. Though not directly comparable, initial scoping of [police] data at the start of the pilot suggested that 1.7% of police Prevention Interviews generated actionable intelligence.”
– Independent Evaluation in to Missing People’s Prevention Interviews, Brightpurpose 2020
The independent evaluation of this pilot showed the value of the charity’s team conducting Prevention Interviews with returned adults, children and young people, which free up police officer time to focus on other priorities, and is cost-effective.
“One of the young people we spoke to had experienced Prevention Interviews with the police before and stated that they were more comfortable with what they had experienced with Missing People staff. The other young person simply reported that ‘they wouldn’t speak to the police. Overall, [parents/ carers] observation was that the returned missing person seemed comfortable having the discussion, and that the member of staff from Missing People had developed a connection, which enabled the discussion.”
– Independent Evaluation in to Missing People’s Prevention Interviews, Brightpurpose 2020
We are currently looking for a local police force within which to trial a second-stage Prevention Interview pilot project, with funding. If we can help you to deliver fast and effective independent support to returned missing persons in your local force, please contact us to speak to one of our team.Contact us