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 in someone going missing.
For children and young people, some of the most common reasons are:
For adults, some of the most common reasons are:
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.
170,000 people are reported missing to the police every year in the UK, and many people will go missing more than once.
Research suggests, however, that police data used in these figures is likely to be a significant underestimate. Some people will not be reported missing to the police at all, and there are problems with incomplete data on missing people.
The vast majority of missing people are found or return within 24 hours (80% of missing children and 75% of missing adults). Only a small proportion of people will be missing for more than a week (2% of children and 5% of adults).
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.
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, so if an adult is reported missing, the police will be involved in some way 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.
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.