In the last month Missing People has seen first-hand the impact of coronavirus and self-isolation on people going missing and their loved ones, with the charity seeing a surge in people seeking support.
Compared to an average for the five months previous, this has included:
- 35% increase in a Live Chat service aimed at vulnerable children and young people (supporting 112 people in March)
- 22% increase in requests to publicise a missing person (180 in March)
- 15% increase in contacts to the 24/7 Helpline from children and adults who are missing or are at risk of going missing (supporting 285 people in March
The charity expects further increases in the weeks ahead and a trend to greater use of digital channels to access support, particularly from children and young people. Once the wider impact of coronavirus on the economy is felt in the months ahead, Missing People is concerned that financial issues may well contribute to more adults going missing to escape their problems.
One young person told us that the restrictions introduced due to Covid-19 meant that she had to return from university to live with her father who is abusive. Despite feeling unsafe at home, she had nowhere else to go. Missing People listened to her, giving her the time and space to feel heard and understood, and explored some of her potential options. The young woman said she had found the discussion helpful and appreciated the support.
In the last two weeks Missing People has adapted to the crisis by moving its Helpline team to a system that enables remote working, and launched a weekly virtual social group for families. This comes at a time when the charity has 38 (63%) fewer trained people able to deliver Helpline support due to sickness or inability to work or volunteer remotely.
Chief Executive Jo Youle says: “Families tell us that the current crisis creates extra anxiety for them – from the risk of their loved one getting Covid-19, to the ability of the police to search - mixed with not being able to access support from friends and families who are isolating.
One sixteen year old we spoke to wanted to run away because they felt fearful about the high number of Coronavirus cases in their area. Other young people are concerned their own safety is at risk because members of their household are ignoring the social distancing measures – so they see no choice but to run away.
We cannot forget missing people and their loved ones during this emergency. Their needs have never been more acutely felt. Their vulnerability is greater than ever.”
The charity is planning for a scenario where far more people in crisis will need help in the coming months, at a time when the charity’s income will also be impacted. We expect an inevitable reduction of income due to coronavirus of at least £149,000 (of which £116,000 is voluntary).
To help meet the need, we are urgently prioritising a programme of digital transformation and focusing on reaching people in greatest need. Missing People is one of a small number of essential services like Samaritans that provide a special Helpline (ours is 116 000), assigned by Ofcom to indicate a freephone Helpline that protects the wellbeing of people who are in great difficulty, like children living in households with domestic abuse, addiction issues, or severe mental illness, who are at high risk of going missing.
In order to do this the charity has had to divert resources for a new VOIP phone system, and needs additional capacity to recruit and train volunteers with digital skills. In the longer-term we plan to expand a Chatbot for children and young people, launch a new website serving anyone affected, and create an online community for people to support each other safely.