PREVENT: Introduce preventative measures to reduce the number of missing persons episodes

Information sharing opportunities along a person’s missing journey

Multi-agency working involves the consideration of the support needs of an individual from all relevant agencies such as the police, education, NHS and the local authority at each stage in a person’s missing journey. Relevant and proportionate information sharing about a missing person between local agencies will mean that the person receives more appropriate and coordinated support and safeguarding, and will help to prevent further missing episodes.

The following is designed to highlight key points in a missing person’s journey that provide opportunity for relevant and proportionate information sharing by professionals.

Key Principles

The following principles should be upheld when considering sharing information about a person who is or has been missing:

  • Any information shared should be proportionate and relevant to a person’s safety and in their best interests (ask yourself the question – ‘Is this going to help?’)
  • Obtain consent to share where possible, including for children, and as a must for adults
  • Everyone working with vulnerable people should approach conversations about going missing with genuine professional curiosity. They should explore topics and provide an open, non-judgemental space for the person to talk about what is happening for them
  • Information sharing must be accompanied by action – ensure you follow up with the information you have shared, be sure that it informs a safety plan, or that a referral is made to the relevant support services, for example.

Please remember that any information that you come across relating to any immediate safeguarding concerns for adults or children must be shared immediately with the relevant social work duty team and/or the police.

Click the drop-down boxes below that correspond to a person's missing journey

  • Before the missing episode

    Multi-agency prevention work and planning can help prevent people from going missing. For example, if a looked-after young person is placed in a new local area, significant relevant information should be shared between agencies in any previous and new local authority such as; whether the young person is vulnerable to exploitation; any potential new local hotspots and known risks; and the location of the young person’s family and friendship groups. This can be particularly important when there is reason to believe that the police can play a role in keeping a young person safe, and be useful for a missing investigation.

    Good Practice: In Dundee, Joint Action Forms are used between police and residential care home staff, and between police and local mental health units to share up to date information, such as recent associates of children and young people at risk of going missing. You can download a copy of a Joint Action Form here.

    Good Practice: In Fife, the role of a local Coordinator for Young People within Police Scotland allows police to work closely with residential homes, social work, and schools to prevent recurring missing episodes. As single point of contact for local agencies, The Coordinator builds relationships with frequent missing children and young people, takes actions away from IRD meetings, liaises with social workers, and attends additional risk-management meetings, to identify hidden harm on a daily basis.

    Local Multi-Agency Operational Working Groups are a vital space in which relevant and proportionate information about persons of concern can be shared between agencies on a regular basis for the purposes of safeguarding, including information about those who are frequently missing. These groups create a pathway for long-term information sharing between agencies about local hotspot areas for crime or harm, frequently emerging issues and local concerns that involve vulnerable people. Good practice in Scotland has seen this information shared between agencies on a regular basis at Operational Working Groups, every 1-4 weeks.

    For adults, information sharing between local care homes and Community Mental Health Teams can be vital in prevention planning, and for informing documents such as The Herbert Protocol, which should be kept up to date and in an accessible but safe place for adults with dementia who are at risk of going missing.

    Good Practice: In Edinburgh, Police Scotland have initiated a poster campaign for Accident and Emergency in local hospitals, to encourage patients to tell staff if they intend to leave. This has reduced the number of people being unnecessarily reported missing to police should they leave without informing a member of staff. (Link to poster in other part of toolkit here).

  • Reporting and Point of Investigation: During the missing episode

    Reporting person to share relevant information with police about the missing person –  their circumstances and information directly related to the missing incident such as any push or pull factors; any areas they are known to frequent;  known associates, and known risks or causes for concern e.g. any relevant medical information.

    Relevant Protocols should be used to share up to date information, quickly, such as The Philomena Protocol or Joint Action Forms for looked after children, and The Hebert Protocol for people living with dementia.

    Any previous Safe and Well Checks and/or Return Discussions should be consulted for any new, relevant information to help inform the investigation and assessment of risk and safeguarding concerns.

    Open Communication from police should see all relevant agencies be asked for any relevant information relating to the missing person police should communicate directly with any care settings for adults and children regarding any update relating to the missing investigation.

    Good Practice: In Dundee, regular training is delivered by police and children’s services to management staff at residential care homes. Focus is on upskilling and refreshing knowledge on risk assessment and missing risk categories. This joint agency work allows people to meet, learn and build trust with one another, feeling part of a single, local team.

    Information should be shared back and forth between the missing person’s primary care giver or single point of contact within their family, if appropriate, relating to updates on the ongoing investigation and any actions taken to a reasonable degree.

  • After the Missing Episode: From the point of return

    Open communication at the point of a person’s return is vital. Police should share news of a person’s return with a single point of contact within the missing person’s family (with permission if an adult) or carer, and any relevant agencies.

    Primary information from Safe and Well Check should be shared with any professional completing the returned person’s Return Discussion, especially any initial push/pull factors and concerning information relating to risk. If crime is disclosed, police should inform carers and social workers, if appropriate. Information from the Safe and Well Check should also be shared at any local multi-agency Operational Group meetings to inform prevention and planning work.

    Professional completing the Return Discussion should be as open and as transparent as possible with the returned person about any information that they already know about them and the missing incident.

    Relevant and Proportionate Information from the Return Discussion should be shared with other agencies with the returned person’s consent, unless there is a significant safeguarding concern, which must always be shared. Information from a Return Discussion relating to safeguarding or wellbeing concerns should be shared back to police, social work and any relevant key workers and the duty social work team, if necessary.

    Relevant and proportionate information should also be shared at any local multi-agency operational working group meetings to inform prevention and planning work.

    Good Practice: In Edinburgh, Police Scotland and local children’s residential homes hold Prevention Meetings every 24 hours regarding high-risk looked after children.

    Information from Safe and Well Checks, Return Discussions and other conversations with the returned person should be used to update care plans and trigger plans in place for any future missing episodes.

    In order to manage a child or young person’s expectations, where possible, consent should be obtained from children and young people about information you intend to share. When this information must be shared, even without their consent, explain to the young person or adult what may happen next. Any disclosure of crime must be reported immediately to police if disclosed by a child.

    Unless there is a significant safeguarding concern, consent must be obtained for any information shared about an adult.

    When referring a person into additional support services ensure to gain an adult’s consent, and notify a child or young person of your actions, and what may happen next.

  • Speaking to people at risk and safety planning (adults and children)

The Herbert Protocol, Purple Alert and The Philomena Protocol

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