Key information about missing people

Why do people go missing?

People go missing for a wide range of reasons, and there is often more than one cause. Going missing is an indication that someone is struggling for one or more reasons; anything from being unhappy at home or school, to experiencing mental ill-health, to risks around exploitation and grooming. There will often be both push (things pushing someone to leave) and pull (things drawing someone away) factors involved.

For children and young people, some of the most common reasons are:

  • Being unhappy at home or in care, including conflict, abuse and neglect in the home
  • Risks around exploitation, including sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation
  • Mental health concerns

For adults, some of the most common reasons are:

  • Diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues
  • Problems at home and relationship breakdown
  • Many adults with dementia will go missing

Every person who goes missing will have different circumstances and reasons for going, and it’s important that these are explored when they are found or return. For more information about why people go missing and research on this, please visit our ‘about the issue’ page here. 

Where do people go?

Every missing episode will be different, and every missing person may go somewhere different depending on what is going on for them. People may choose to go somewhere they themselves feel safe, which may include the homes of family or friends. On the other hand, people may be somewhere they are not safe, which can be the case where exploitation or grooming is involved, or where someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. This could include going somewhere outside, with nowhere to stay safe, or going to spend time with people who are unsafe or a risk to the person.

For adults with dementia, they may go to places they have previously felt connected to, for example childhood homes. Young people who are living in care away from their families may try to travel to see their family and friends.

Is it a crime to go missing?

It is not a crime to go missing. Adults can go missing, and in some cases this may be the safest thing for someone to do. However, the police do have a duty to keep people safe. If an adult is reported missing, the police will be involved in looking for that person until their whereabouts are known. However, those who are 16 and younger do not have a right to go missing. While it may sometimes be safer to not be at home, parents, carers and the government have an obligation to make sure young people are safe and looked after. If a young person is reported missing, the police will return them home or to somewhere else safe when they are found.

What help is there for people who have returned?

Going missing is often an indication that something is not going well for that person, whether that is worries at home, risks around exploitation, or mental health concerns. Return from missing is a key opportunity to find out what is going on for that person and to help them to address these issues. When someone returns from being missing the police should complete a ‘safe & well check’ / ‘prevention interview’ to make sure that the person is safe and to identify any help they might need. Young people will also be offered a return home interview, which is a discussion about why they went missing, what happened while they were missing, and what help they may need. These discussions should give someone who has been missing the chance to talk about any help or support they need and to identify who may be able to provide this help.

Thinking of leaving online help and resources

There can be lots of reasons you want to go missing or run away. Each situation is unique and we know there can be many things that are making someone want to leave home. They might feel unsafe at home or like they can no longer stay there. If that’s the case for you, we want to make sure you are safe and considering all your options. You can call or text 116 000 or visit the page below for online resources and access to our online chat.

Get support

Key statistics and figures about missing people

For more information and key statistics about missing, please visit our key information page below.

Learn more