National Missing Persons Framework for Scotland

Document providing a focus for all agencies with an interest in missing people to work together.

Objective 3: Support

"He made it very easy for me to relax a little and talk to them and we spoke about other things that helped. I think that all has to contribute to my getting better" (Sophie).

"Everybody wants you to explain yourself and I couldn't. For days afterwards I was still the same so, you know, it was on the verge sort of "I can still walk out" I still threaten it" (Trish).

(all quotations are sourced via 3


After a missing person has been located, the underlying causes which led the individual to going missing need to be identified and addressed. There may be multiple complex reasons which lead to an individual going missing and these issues do not simply disappear after a missing person has been located. 7 Individuals who return to circumstances which are unchanged from when they left, and where there is little prospect of them changing in the future, may be driven to further episodes of going missing and these will have a negative impact on them and their families.

Of course, in some cases, action to address those underlying issues will already be happening; a young person may already be under Child Protection Plan/supervision for example, or an adult may already be identified as at risk of harm under the Adult Support and Protection Act 2007. However, for other people, going missing may be the first indication that there are problems or vulnerabilities. In all circumstances, it is important that there is an opportunity to identify the issues, and then help or ensure people get the appropriate support or protection available. Those who are vulnerable in the community and without care or support around them are the most difficult to protect.

In the case of vulnerable children and young people, there are protections in the Children's Hearings System. Where the Reporter considers compulsory measures of supervision may be necessary to keep a child or young person safe, either from themselves or others, the child will be referred to the Children's Panel to make a decision on the most appropriate measures to be taken. In some circumstances, the risks associated with going missing may be the trigger which leads to the Hearings System being used.

The Hearings System can also authorise the use of secure care for the small number of children who present a high risk to themselves or others. The secure care criteria must be met and a child absconding is part of the criteria which indicates the level of risk presented. Professionals would make a judgment on whether a child who is missing should be considered to have absconded. The welfare of the child or young person must be the primary consideration and exploration of the current reasons for going missing should always take place.

All people who go missing are at risk of having to sleep rough - outdoors and exposed to the elements - or making other risky decisions about where to spend the night, (1 in 6 children who go missing overnight sleep rough or stay with a stranger and 1 in 3 adults who are missing overnight sleep rough). It is also consistently identified that young people who run away before they are sixteen years old are at high risk of homelessness and having housing problems later in life. 6 The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 provides local authorities with powers to provide short-term refuge for children or young people who appear to be at risk of harm and who request refuge. Some children and young people who are missing make confidential contact with ChildLine or Missing People's Runaway Helpline as an initial support. At present, there is no dedicated emergency accommodation available for young people in Scotland.

For the families of those who are missing, practical information is available from the National Missing Persons Bureau which has developed a range of factsheets. Missing People, the national charity dedicated to bringing missing children and adults back together with their families (see case study below) also provides support services across the UK including a free and confidential 24/7 helpline, and Police Scotland provides a single point of contact for families of a missing person.

Where an adult is missing for a long-time, there can be practical implications for family members, such as having to manage finances or mortgages. In Scotland, applications can be made to the courts to appoint a Judicial Factor 'in loco absentis' to provide control over the missing persons' affairs, including finances. These powers appear to be used very rarely. The Scottish Government is therefore currently reviewing the administrative options for handling missing persons' estates.

Commitment 5: Agencies to hold return discussions with young people and adults after they have been missing.

A return discussion can help to support a person following their return, provide a platform to identify underlying issues and obtain information that could prevent future missing episodes.

The purpose of a return discussion is to:

  • support the individual who has gone missing and identify the underlying causes so that these can be addressed;
  • provide an opportunity for them to talk about the circumstances that prompted them to go missing;
  • provide an opportunity for them to talk about their experience when missing and their feelings following their return;
  • use relevant information gathered to help prevent further missing episodes by;
    • determining any on-going risk of harm and relevant local risk information;
    • referring the individual to appropriate support services.

There is no set time for the discussion to occur but, when possible, first contact should be made within 72 hours, with the discussion taking place within one week, at a suitable time for the individual. The discussion should take place in a safe environment with a trained professional of their choice when possible. It is important that a person who has been missing is given the opportunity to speak about it as soon as they are ready to do so.

Speaking and listening to people after they return is an important way of understanding the reasons they went missing and any harm they may have come to, or could still be at risk of. The most appropriate support can then be offered to the person. The information obtained can also help to inform the necessary steps or actions required to prevent a repeat incident.

The discussion may not be practical at the point of return; it can often be more useful for Police Scotland to conduct a brief 'safe and well' check and allow a return discussion to be followed up in the coming days when circumstances may be more appropriate for the individual. This should be seen as a process rather than a one off event. The person who has been missing may well be vulnerable and it's important that they have time and the opportunity to talk to a skilled professional.

The benefits of a return discussion are widely recognised. Currently, some form of return discussion is in place in all areas across Scotland. However, they vary substantially depending on local circumstances. Sometimes a local authority service such as Housing may carry out a discussion for its own purposes. In Aberdeen and Fife, Police Scotland has specialised officers whose role it is to carry out discussions and these officers have developed considerable expertise. In other areas, third sector organisations including Barnardo's and Shelter Scotland provide an interview service on behalf of Police Scotland and the local authority.

Discussions should generally respect the confidentiality of the adult or child who has been missing. However, information gathered during the discussion which could help safeguard the adult or child from any harm should be shared with the relevant agencies. Appropriate information sharing between partners may be necessary (sometimes required by law) to adequately support the individual, understand risk and prevent the person going missing in the future. This point should be discussed with the person at the beginning of any return discussion to ensure they understand why confidentiality may be broken and can give informed consent to sharing of relevant information. By having this conversation the professional allows the returned person to build trust.

An expert working group has coordinated the development of good practice guidance, including examples that draw out the areas key to providing successful return discussions ( Annex D). The group was established at the recommendation of the national steering group and recommends that:

The return discussion should:

  • Be available for all people (adults and children) who return from being missing in Scotland;
  • Be conducted in person, where possible, by a trained professional/practitioner who is trusted by the person who has been missing;
  • Happen at the most suitable and appropriate time in a safe and comfortable environment (ideally within one week with initial conduct occurring within 72 hours) for the individual after they have returned from going missing;
  • Sensitively address confidentiality and what information may need to be passed on.

Aim to obtain:

  • How the person is feeling;
  • What he or she thought about their experience when missing;
  • The reasons for going missing;
  • What happened, including where they went, and who with;
  • Whether any harm was experienced;
  • What the person feels could help prevent them going missing again.

And inform:

  • Additional help or support that may be helpful;
  • Assessment of vulnerability;
  • Care plan, if applicable;
  • Local intelligence of potential risk factors.

Appropriate provision should be provided for all adults as well as children and young people. Support should be provided, for example, through the attendance of a caregiver or communication aids where appropriate, and a discussion held when the person is available to do so.

In many circumstances, the discussion can be done informally as a conversation between the person who has returned and a service provider they may already be engaged with, such as a social worker, a key worker in a care facility or a support worker from a third sector organisation. However in some instances the person may prefer to speak with someone else and should wherever possible be given this option as this is likely to increase the value of the discussion.'

In the absence of another service provider local provision for return discussions has been provided by Police Scotland, as the main responders to a reported missing person. Although, it is recognised that in some circumstances Police Scotland are not the ideal body to have responsibility for a return discussion, it is important that a missing person, when they return, has the opportunity to speak about their experience. The lead agency for a return discussion should be agreed locally within each partnership group, including but not limited to local authorities, Police Scotland, Education, NHSScotland and Third Sector organisations, to identify local responsibility and ensure provision is available for all missing people.

A return discussion should be treated as essential following the return of a missing person. It is intended to identify support that may be required, understand the issues and reduce risk of future episodes. Those leading the return discussion should be trained and aware of the purpose and importance of the discussion and not approach it as a tick box exercise. Training is important for professionals and practitioners and the Scottish Government, along with partners, will develop a training package for conducting return discussions.

Appropriate and proportionate information gathered should be shared with the agencies concerned, including Police Scotland and the local authority, as agreed with the interviewee, and in line with information sharing protocols. Disclosures that are made about criminality or harm should be actioned accordingly and the individual should be made aware of this process and why it is necessary, both before the discussion begins and again at the conclusion to ensure understanding.

Where a referral is made for the person to receive further support or protection, the leading organisation, agreed within the local partnership, should follow this up to ensure action is being taken. This will develop good practice and allow local partnerships to measure the outcomes for people who have been missing following a return discussion.

When a referral is not deemed necessary, the returned person should still be signposted to more general support, for example Missing People or Runaway Helpline, Childline, Samaritans or alternative Third Sector organisations. They will therefore have the opportunity to further discuss the issues they are facing, or to reach out if they're thinking about going missing again.

If a discussion is declined, any reasons given should be recorded and the leading agency should consider if any change is needed to the return discussion process itself.


- Local partners to agree a consistent return discussion procedure for their area.

- Scottish Government, with partners, will develop training for return discussions.

Two Case Studies: Return Interviews

In Aberdeen City, Police Scotland has a dedicated return-interview officer who is based in a Community Safety Hub. The trained officer reviews missing person cases involving young people and identifies where a return interview is needed. The officer works out of uniform and arranges meetings in a location where the interviewee can be comfortable and best supported. She proactively provides support and builds relationships where possible, not only with the young person concerned, but directly with local care homes. As a result she has successfully broken down the barriers which can sometimes exist between young people and the police.

The Safer Choices service in Renfrewshire is a partnership established in 2012 between Barnardo's Scotland and Police Scotland to reduce episodes of young people going missing from home and care, and reduce the risk of sexual exploitation and other crime. The service provides a rapid response to problems such as disengagement from school and offending, and provides return interviews after a young person returns from being missing. The interviews identify the trigger points to help develop effective coping mechanisms. They also help young people manage risky situations identify the support available to them, and assess the risk of harm and the likelihood of any future episodes of going missing from home or care.

The impact has been a reduced frequency and duration of missing persons episodes, and an increase in young people's understanding of the risks and how to keep themselves safe. Barnardo‟s approach to return interviews is to ensure they are effective in both information gathering and providing an opportunity for the young person to talk about the circumstances

Commitment 6: Support is made available to people who have been missing and their families.

When someone goes missing it is often not only the missing person who is affected. The families of missing people can face significant emotional turmoil and practical difficulties. Everyone who has a loved one go missing should be provided with some form of support. Police Scotland, as well as any other agencies involved with the missing person, should refer people to the appropriate services available.

Often there will be a range of local and national voluntary organisations that may be able to offer support to people with specific needs. People who have been missing and their families should be encouraged to contact these organisations. These include national services, such as Missing People or the Runaway Helpline, Barnardo's, the Samaritans, ChildLine, ParentLine Scotland and Shelter Scotland. Police Scotland; for example, have been working with Missing People to promote the support that is available to families and friends of missing people.


- Through this Framework, all local multi-agency partnerships will draw in specialist expertise on missing people that is available locally and will build signposting to support services into their protocol.

Case Study: Missing People charity

When someone goes missing the families left behind face huge emotional turmoil. The national charity Missing People provide support to not only children and adults who are thinking of going, or who have gone missing, but also the families and friends of missing people.

"The emotional turmoil of a child going missing is beyond words to express and I can only express what I have known. It goes without saying that anytime a family member mysteriously goes missing, it is unbearable for the family left behind."
Mother of a missing boy.

Missing People provides free, confidential 24/7 helplines offering practical and emotional support for missing children, adults and for the families left behind. All Missing People services are delivered by experienced and accredited staff and volunteers and can be accessed for free by calling or texting 116 000, or emailing . The charity provides a wide range of online information and guidance for missing people, for families left behind and for professionals at The charity is also able to offer commissioned services such as return interviews, family support services and follow-up support for children and adults after a missing incident.

Missing People provides a publicity appeal service to gather vital information from the public when someone is missing and considered to be vulnerable. With consent from the family, they disseminate a tailored publicity which can be local, regional or across the whole UK appeal through 150,000 social media followers and other sources including national and local media partners, and a national network of digital advertising billboards. Police officers can request a publicity appeal through

'Support' objective - Roles and Responsibilities

Local partnership

May differ from area to area but will include a combination of lead departments from the agencies below to:

  • Work with partners to agree who will conduct return discussions from relevant setting in the local area.
  • Review local support services available and build reference file to refer and sign post when appropriate.

Scottish Government

  • Work with partners around training for practitioners to conduct appropriate return discussions.
  • Work with partners to provide an evidence base for the Framework and the efficacy of return discussions.
  • Continue to support a legacy national working group to review the operation of guidance for missing persons in Scotland.

Local authorities

  • Work with partners to ensure adults, children and young people receive an appropriate return discussion.
  • Review the provision of emergency accommodation and other therapeutic support.

NHS Health Boards

  • Work with partners to ensure adults, children and young people in their care receive an appropriate return discussion.
  • Review the provision of emergency and other therapeutic support.

Police Scotland

  • Work with partners to ensure adults, children and young people receive an appropriate return discussion.

Third Sector

  • Work with partners to build awareness of support services available.
  • Work with partners to highlight support available to those affected by missing episodes.


Email: Stephen Coulter

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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