National Missing Persons Framework for Scotland

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

Annex D: Return Discussion Best Practice


After a missing person has been located the underlying causes need to be identified and addressed. There may be multiple complex reasons that lead to an individual going missing and these issues do not simply disappear after a missing person has been located. Individuals who return to circumstances that are unchanged from when they left may be at risk of harm, or may be driven to further incidents of going missing and these will have a negative impact on them and their families.

A return discussion with a person who has been missing is an opportunity to help and support them. It provides a platform to identify, recognise and acknowledge underlying issues so that these can be addressed in an appropriate way to prevent future missing episodes. It is essential to be aware of the fact that a missing person is a vulnerable individual and they may have been exposed to harm and exploitation while missing. Therefore all discussions need to be taken forward with tact and consideration. Current statistics from the National Crime Agency suggest that around one third of missing people have been missing previously.

WHO should be invited to participate in a discussion?

Ideally, a discussion should be available to everyone after being missing, whether from his or her own home or from a formal care setting. The appropriate agency interviewing should be identified by local partnership. If an initial discussion is declined further attempts should be made to engage the person. When declined the reasons for this should be recorded by the leading agency and where appropriate reviewed by that agency and with partners to identify any changes required to the discussion process.

WHAT is the purpose of a discussion?

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 incidents for that person by;
    • determining any on-going risk of harm and relevant local risk information;
    • referring the individual to appropriate support services.

WHY hold a discussion?

There are many reasons to hold a discussion. These include, but are not limited to, obtaining information about:

  • 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; and
  • What could help prevent them going missing again.

This will help inform:

  • Any additional help or support (referral) that may be required;
  • Assessment of vulnerability;
  • Care plan, if applicable;
  • Local intelligence of potential risk factors, including exploitation.

Appropriate information sharing may be necessary between partners to adequately support, understand risk and prevent the person going missing in the future. This should be discussed with the person to ensure they understand why confidentiality cannot be unconditional and so they can provide consent to sharing of relevant information.

WHEN should a discussion take place?

There is no set time for the discussion to occur. Each missing person is different, their experience and reaction will be different, and some will need more time and space than others. When possible, first contact should be made within 72 hours of their return and the discussion should take place within one week and at a suitable time for the individual. 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.

WHERE should the discussion occur?

A return discussion should occur in an environment in which the individual feels safe with a trained professional or practitioner. This may, for instance, be in school or a neutral venue for a young person who is not comfortable speaking at their place of residence. Equally at home may be the most appropriate place. Each person who has been missing will have their own set of needs and allowing them to input where and when a discussion takes place can help to develop trust.

Local Practice

Provision and approach may differ based on the location and the needs identified for that area but the importance of agreed practice by local partners is paramount to ensure the discussions are:

  • available to all,
  • conducted, where possible, by a trained professional/practitioner,
  • when appropriate, conducted by an interviewer who is trusted and who may have a relationship with the person who has been missing,
  • able to sensitively address confidentiality and what information may need to be passed on.

Current practice has shown that engagement is often more positive when a positive relationship already exists. Allowing input from the person who has been missing into who they would like to speak with (or not) can help to avoid issues and increase the value of the discussion. In the absence of a relationship or care or support input with the person who has been missing, local partners should agree on who will be responsible for conducting a return discussion to ensure provision is available for everyone.

Interviewer Approach

Given the importance of the outcomes the interviewer should plan their approach to the discussion. It is good practice to speak with the person and explain the process beforehand. The reason for the discussion should be explained to the person before it begins as well as what will happen to the information they share. Information sharing should again be emphasised at the end of the discussion and consent obtained to share relevant information appropriately and any statutory duty to breach confidentiality is explained. Ideally, and if possible, the discussion should be informal and when vulnerabilities or needs are identified, support made available to the individual. If a referral is made for the person to receive further support the agreed leading organisation 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.


Email: Stephen Coulter

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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