New data released by the National Crime Agency's (NCA) UK Missing Persons Bureau shows that there has been a steep increase in the number of missing person reports made to police over the past year. Last year police in England, Scotland and Wales received almost over 375,000 calls relating to missing person reports compared to 321,000 reports in the previous year.
People who go missing are almost all vulnerable before they go missing. Up to 80% of missing adults have a mental health issue and around 4 in every 10 adults with dementia will go missing at some point. The most common reasons for children to go missing are abuse, neglect and conflict at home. We also know that most victims of sexual exploitation have also been reported missing.
Once missing, people are more vulnerable as they are hidden from help, away from support networks and at higher risk of being victims of crime and being exploited. Although the new NCA data indicates that 4% of missing people come to harm while missing, they recognise that this is likely to be a significant underestimate, as people may not report being a victim of crime while missing to the police and because reported crimes are often recorded on a different database to the missing persons database.
One reason for the growing number of missing incidents is likely to be linked to improvements in recording, and increases in reporting of vulnerable people who have gone missing. This in itself can be viewed as a positive step as it means that more missing people are being put in touch with services that can offer them support and work to safeguard them. Some growth may also be linked to more people being in crisis and feeling they have no option but to run away due to the reduction in support services for example community mental health services.
More than 6 out of every 10 children who go missing and 2 out of every 10 adults, do so more than once. This pattern highlights the importance of agencies working together to provide the right support for these vulnerable people to help stop the cycle of them going missing again and again.
The steep increase in the number of reports being made to the police reflects a significant increase in the use of Missing People's services. The charity’s services, including a free, 24/7, confidential helpline, help the police and families find vulnerable missing people, support them and make them safe. Last year we searched for 1,900 missing children and adults who were found safe, compared to 1,400 in the previous year.
Missing People currently provides Return Home Interviews for young people in Hertfordshire, Sussex and Surrey. These one to one conversations between young people and a charity worker provide a space for them to explore the reasons why they went missing, to talk about what happened while they were away and think about what may lead them to go missing again. The charity is calling for this kind of one to one support to also be made available to adults who have been missing.
Susannah Drury, Director of Policy and Research at Missing People said “When someone goes missing it is nearly always a sign that something is wrong. The high number of people, especially children, who are reported missing more than once, shows that it is crucial to have a framework in place to prevent people being vulnerable to harm by going missing again and again. This should include one to one support for children and adults who have returned from being missing as well as excellent inter-agency work between professionals. Working together, we could break the cycle and provide better support.”