Opinions

Safeguarding Missing People

Written by: Marjory Burns, Ambassador, Missing People in Scotland

Published: 04/12/2015

Marjory Burns highlights the Scottish Government’s initiative to develop a strategy for missing people in Scotland.

Over 30,000 people go missing in Scotland every year. The need for a strategy on missing persons is clear and is a major step forward for those who go missing and their families.  Let me pull out a few key elements of the draft strategy:

Return Home Interviews (RHIs) for adults and children who return from being missing is an important focus within the draft. Missing People believes these are crucial to finding out why people went missing, what happened while they were away and to ensuring that they are able to access the support they need to stop them from going missing again. They are offered to children but at present are rarely provided for adults.

An RHI would have helped Rhona, who has gone missing many times over many years. She is now 25, living in a hostel, and has not gone missing for some time.

She explained: “It turned into this big cycle of I’d be home, then I’d be gone…a lot of it is to do with mental illness…I felt like everything was closing down on me and the only escape was to run… I’ve lived in squats that would make your skin crawl. I’ve lived on the streets among rats and everything…I ended up in hospital a few times and I tried to say what was wrong, but they didn’t want to know, [Now I have] started to go to counselling, …because it is helping me work it out and understand it better.”

Every missing incident can put the missing person at risk of harm so introducing RHIs for adults would be a great step forward for Scotland.

The emphasis on organisations working together is important. For example, given that 80% of adults who go missing have a mental health issue (whether diagnosed or undiagnosed), the NHS and charities in the mental health field are critically important both for prevention and for support.

Educating children and young people about the risks of running away is another crucial recommendation in the strategy.  We need to inform them of the dangers if they are thinking of going missing. We know that just one in 20 children seeks professional help when they are missing, partly because there is a lack of knowledge about support services available. Missing People works hard to publicise our 24 hour RunawayHelpline on 116 000 which provides non-judgemental, confidential support.

Helpfully, the strategy proposes that local authorities review provision of emergency accommodation. The review is needed as evidence shows that 1 in 6 young runaways end up sleeping rough or staying with strangers. We think the review should include looking at gaps in provision, and recommendations for a way forward.

This is just a flavour of the objectives and commitments in the draft strategy. It will enable key partners – The Scottish Government, Police Scotland, local authorities, the NHS and charities like Missing People – to work closely together to safeguard missing persons and support their families. To play your part and for further information, contact marjory.burns@missingpeople.org.uk.

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