National Missing Children's Day: 'Myth busting' the misconceptions about when to inform police of your concerns
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One of the priorities for Staffordshire Police officers specialising in locating missing people is knowing as early as possible that somebody has gone missing.
The first couple of days can be crucial in ensuring they are found safe and well – especially when that person is known to be suffering with mental health issues or is considered at risk of harming themselves.
Investigators have found that quite often, members of the public aren’t entirely sure when somebody becomes classed as missing and might wait to let the authorities know, wasting vital hours which could be utilised to bring that person home safe and well.
As part of Missing Person’s Week, the Missing Person’s Investigation Team (MPIT) and Missing Person problem solvers at Staffordshire Police and the charity Missing People would like to clear up some of the ‘myths’ that prevail about when to pick up the phone, or use the Staffordshire Police website, to report a missing friend or loved one.
It is hoped the following myth-busting, helpful facts will put people at ease about when to pick up that phone and help somebody who might need it.
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. There will often be both ‘push’ factors - things pushing someone to leave - and pull factors, things drawing someone away, involved in someone going missing. 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; and mental health concerns. For adults, some of the most common reasons are: diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues; problems at home and relationship breakdown; health issues such as dementia.
How long do people go missing for?
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.
Where do people go when they are missing?
Every missing person may go somewhere different depending on what is going on for them. People may choose to go somewhere they 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 that person.
Do you have to wait 24 hours to report someone missing?
No. For years, officers have been saying this is not the case, and it isn’t known where that myth has come from. It’s not wasting police time to report somebody missing. We are here to assist and protect you and your loved ones.
Is going missing a crime?
No, going missing is not a crime and you will not get into trouble. The police are involved in the location of missing people as they have a duty to keep people and the communities they serve, safe. Police also have the tools to help locate a missing person as quickly and safely as possible.
How many people go missing each year?
Nationally, 176,000 people are reported missing to the police every year in the UK, and many people will go missing more than once. Of these, nearly 100,000 are adults and more than 76,000 are children. In Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire in 2020/21, 1,711 people were reported missing, with 961 being adults and 750 children. ‘Missing’ incidents can total 353,000 reported incidents nationally each year, with around 130,000 incidents involving adults and nearly 220,000 incidents involving children. ‘Missing’ incidents in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire in 2020/21 totalled 3,072 reported incidents. Of these, around 1,139 were adults and 1,933 were children.
Staffordshire Police and the charity Missing People hope this advice will lead to a better understanding of when to report people as missing.
Sarah Hutchinson, a Problem Solver with Staffordshire Police’s Early Intervention and Prevention Unit, said: “It is important to ensure these myths around reporting people missing are corrected, so that we can assist in locating anyone that is missing as quickly and safely as possible.
“If you are concerned about a loved one, friend or someone you care for and their whereabouts are unknown then you should contact us to report them missing. Every call is risk-assessed based on the presenting circumstances and investigated thoroughly until the person is located.
“There are times when calls come to us that are not a police matter. For example, if a person’s whereabouts is known but a parent, friend or family member wants them to come home, or maybe a relative has lost contact with a family member over time. These are not missing person cases.”
Kate Graham, Missing People’s Communications & Campaigns Manager, said: “Missing People are happy to support Staffordshire Police in their mission to dispel the myths around going missing, so people feel able and confident to report someone missing as quickly as possible.
“Missing People is the only UK charity lifeline for anyone affected by someone going missing. Whether you are away from home yourself, or you are worrying about someone you think is missing, our guidance pages at www.missingpeople.org.uk can help you.
“Our helpline team can listen to any worries you might have, support you through the process of reporting your missing loved one to the police, help with both emotional and practical support throughout and produce a public appeal, if appropriate.
“If you are away from home yourself then our team will listen, not judge, and help you stay safe.”
To report somebody missing who is considered at high risk of hurting themselves or has other health problems that need addressing urgently, always call 999. To report missing adults who might be at less of an immediate risk, and to give officers a fuller picture to help locate those less at-risk people, fill in the online form at https://www.staffordshire.police.uk/ro/report/mp/v2/report-missing-person/ - please note this service is currently for missing adults only, and not missing children.
If you want to talk to the trained helpline team at the Missing People charity for advice, call or text 116 000 or email [email protected] It’s free and confidential thanks to the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery.