National Missing Persons Framework for Scotland

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


Over 30,000 episodes of people going missing are reported to Police Scotland every year. In 2015/16, that figure was 40,070. 1 For agencies dealing with missing people, this meant the police were receiving over 100 calls about missing people every day. Going missing exposes people to unnecessary risks; it impacts negatively on their health and wellbeing; and, in a small number of cases, it can lead to death. The impact of someone going missing can be devastating for families and friends who are often left in limbo, desperately waiting for news of their missing loved one.

Anyone can be affected by someone going missing. That is why agencies need to continue to work together to prevent people from going missing in the first place and to do their best to keep them safe from the potential risks they could be exposed to. However, it is also important that those who do go missing are located quickly and are given the support they need to allow them to return to their communities or to build new lives for themselves.

Almost 1 in 2 of all missing people reported have gone missing on one or more previous occasions. 1 Evidence suggests that, if agencies do not deliver successful interventions tailored to the needs of the individual, then he or she can find themselves locked into a pattern of behaviour where they are repeatedly going missing, which in turn can expose them to greater risk.

All individuals who go missing are at risk of harm. However, for some individuals, this harm can be exacerbated by their circumstances:

  • Almost two thirds of people reported missing are children and young people, with many looked after in care or residential settings. 9 We know that children and young people are a particularly vulnerable group who are more likely to be subjected to exploitation while they are missing. 8
  • Similarly, adults with dementia, although only making up around 3% of the people who are reported missing, remain one of the most vulnerable groups. 9
  • Evidence suggests that up to 80% of adults who go missing have one or more mental health problems. 2

The decision to go missing is not one that people take lightly and it is often an act of last resort in response to abuse, distress or desperation. Many people do not disappear by choice - including people with dementia who often go missing unintentionally and young people who are thrown out of their homes.

In some cases, missing adults may choose to start their lives again. They are, of course, perfectly within their rights to do that provided they are not engaged in any criminal activity. However, the evidence tells us that this is very rare and that the overwhelming majority of people who go missing are children, young people and vulnerable adults.

The story around missing people is not all negative. Thanks to agencies - and their dedicated staff - working in a coordinated and cooperative way, the vast majority (88%) of those who have gone missing are found or return safely within 48 hours. This is a significant achievement and we should also recognise that there are numerous high quality services operating in this area. 9

Our aim with this framework is to build on existing good work. We want to:

  • prevent people from going missing in the first place: and
  • limit the harm associated with people going missing.

This Framework is the first of its kind in Scotland. It sets out how organisations can play a positive role in meeting these aims by working together, and seeks to raise the profile of the issues connected with people going missing. It doesn't propose to change policy direction or create new systems alongside those that already exist. Rather, its purpose is to ensure that, by identifying successful practice, we adapt where necessary and increase the impact of our existing systems. It also sets out some organisational roles and responsibilities to deliver the best outcomes possible for missing people. As this is a joint Framework, it has been developed in close partnership with organisations and agencies working in this area.

Families, friends and communities can be confident that, when vulnerable people go missing in Scotland, the agencies responsible for finding them already work together to minimise the likelihood that they will come to harm. These same agencies are highly effective in resolving cases as quickly as possible and provide - or guide people to - specialist aftercare to support them and their families. However, to date, there has not been a unifying Framework such as this one to support agencies in co-ordinating that activity or a national aim to reduce the number of people going missing and limit the harm related to those that do.

To achieve its aims, this Framework will focus on four closely interconnected objectives:

  • To introduce preventative measures to reduce the number of episodes of people going missing.
  • To respond consistently and appropriately to missing persons episodes.
  • To provide the best possible support to missing people and their families.
  • To protect vulnerable people to reduce the risk of harm.

All four objectives are mutually supportive and are underpinned by a series of commitments. They are all targeted at the groups most likely to go missing - children and young people; vulnerable adults; and older people with dementia.

Missing people in Scotla nd

Missing people in Scotland infographic


Email: Stephen Coulter

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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