National Missing Persons Framework for Scotland

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

Objective 1: Prevention

"I was only allowed half an hour time out from the ward. So I thought if I went down in my slippers, if I buggered off they wouldn't know I was gone and half an hour would give me a good start" (Adam).

(all quotations are sourced via 3


While each missing persons episode is unique, when grouped and analysed we can draw out some patterns. For example, the National Crime Agency's ( NCA) analysis of UK missing persons episodes during 2015/16 shows that just under half of all cases reported to the police during the period were repeat episodes, and that children were more likely to go missing on multiple occasions. 1

It follows, therefore, that awareness of these patterns would allow for practitioners to tailor specific interventions if, for example, young people were going missing repeatedly from one area or care facility, or adults were continually being reported missing from a hospital or, indeed, if a person is repeatedly being reported missing from their home. By understanding and addressing the reasons why a person goes missing - and identifying where they are more likely to go missing from -there is scope to prevent similar occurrences. We have to be aware that there are many reasons people can go missing and these include abuse and exploitation of children, young people and adults.

Prevention may take different forms, and be targeted at different groups. For example:

  • For elderly people with dementia in care homes, it could involve taking additional, practical measures to help prevent at risk individuals from walking off the premises and getting lost.
  • For younger people at risk of going missing, it could involve providing early third party mediation for them and their family to help defuse and find workable solutions to difficult circumstances before these reach a crisis point.

There is compelling evidence on the value of conducting a well-structured and reflective discussion with the person who has gone missing after they have returned (see Commitment 5). Typically, such a discussion would provide a safe and confidential space for the person to talk to a trained professional about any harm - physical or psychological - they have suffered while missing. It would also try to understand any underlying reasons explaining why they may have gone missing; identify options to prevent repeat instances; and provide information on how to stay safe should they feel they might be reaching a crisis point in future.

The information uncovered by these discussions can then be used, first and foremost, to protect the individual and prevent them from going missing again in the future.

As indicated above, a relatively small number of locations in each local authority area - and, typically, care homes or hospitals can see a disproportionately high number of missing persons incidents. This type of local knowledge is essential in allowing partners to build an understanding of where focus and resources can be best used to make a positive impact on the areas where there is the greatest need. The most effective tool in building this local knowledge is Police Scotland's National Missing Persons Database, which brings together information on missing people from across Scotland, and combines information held on specific geographic areas with local partner knowledge. Having this knowledge, local agencies can provide a range of practical preventative measures (see Commitment 3).

In order to provide greater intelligence and to focus activity locally, Police Scotland have been working with partners to deliver and test pilot protocols. These can be put in place to prevent missing persons episodes where, as evidence suggests, they are most likely to occur. The protocols can be used, for example, to inform local prevention plans for children and young people at risk of going missing from care; for patients at risk of going missing from NHS Scotland care; and for adults at risk of going missing from care home settings.

Commitment 1: Agencies to ensure that prevention planning takes place locally for vulnerable individuals and groups.

There are already a number of statutory frameworks to support vulnerable children and adults and we will ensure that, where appropriate, these support efforts directed at the prevention of missing persons.

Children and Young People

The Getting it Right for Every Child ( GiRFEC) approach (and, when commenced, the relevant provisions in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014) will ensure that a single planning framework - a Child's Plan - will be available for children who require extra support that is not generally available to address a child or young person's needs and improve their wellbeing.

Where a child or young person is in care or has a care plan, evidence shows that better outcomes can be achieved when he or she is involved in their respective care plan. This allows the young person to feel greater ownership and understanding of why an action they may take will result in the care provider or parent taking subsequent decisions, such as reporting them missing to Police Scotland. 47% of children and young people missing in 2016/17 went missing from home. 9 Through this Framework, we will ensure that, where appropriate, all young people in care or who have a care plan and are at risk of going missing are involved in their respective care plans.

Vulnerable adults

When agencies undertake assessments of vulnerable adults and those at risk of harm, they should already be taking account of the potential for them going missing at some point and putting in place preventative measures where these are appropriate. We know that this already happens across Scotland - and, through this Framework, we will ensure that good practice on this is shared from area to area.


- We will ensure that, where appropriate, responsible agencies will involve all young people in care or who have a care plan and are at risk of going missing in their respective care plans.

- We will ensure that, when agencies undertake assessments of vulnerable adults and those at risk of harm, these will take account of the potential for them going missing at some point and put in place preventative measures where these are appropriate.

Commitment 2: Agencies to ensure that people at risk of going missing are treated as a priority locally.

Through better data sharing and appropriate use of the intelligence held by a range of agencies, local multi-agency partnerships can build and maintain an oversight of the scale and nature of missing episodes in the local area. This will then inform required preventative activity.

Police Scotland data on missing people includes information on the location, time and circumstance of each case of a person going missing. Those who go missing do so at all times of the day, some go missing from education or health setting others from care or home. This can be combined with other sources such as local authorities' information on missing people from care homes, or third sector organisations' intelligence on un-reported missing people, in order to build a rich picture of who goes missing, from where, and why. Notably, the importance of taking such a partnership approach is already established by both Child and Adult Protection Guidance. Local circumstances will differ, but existing structures such as Community Planning Partnerships or Community Safety Partnerships might also provide a suitable forum for multi-agency working and sharing appropriate information on missing persons.

As a minimum, multi-agency partnerships should be doing the following:

  • Developing local strategies for missing people.
  • Liaising regularly with each other - bringing together Police Scotland's divisional missing persons lead with social work, child and adult protection committee leads, NHS Scotland, third sector partners, education and housing.
  • Identifying a missing persons 'champion' within the partnership.

In most areas of the country, partnership working on missing persons is already very well developed. For example:

  • In Dundee and Perth - there is strong, concerted and regular partnership working specific to missing people in both areas.
  • In Greater Glasgow - community safety officers co-ordinate regular missing persons workshops for relevant partners.
  • In South Lanarkshire - Police Scotland and Local Authority partnership working is ensuring weekly monitoring of missing persons issues and identifying patterns as they develop.

Development of local strategies should, of course, fit in with local priorities and structures. This flexibility will allow relationships to be built and result in local assessment, consideration and risk assessment taking place appropriately and efficiently. Responsibility will be shared and early indicators of risk can be flagged up from one agency to another highlighting that a person may be in need of support. This may be done in school for children and young people or at point of entry in a hospital or care facility.


- Through this Framework we will ensure that local multi-agency partnerships will work together to help children, young people and adults who are vulnerable or at risk of harm by:

- establishing appropriate information sharing protocol;

- developing local strategies to safeguard vulnerable people and prevent missing episodes;

- Identify a missing persons 'champion' for the partnership.

'Prevention' objective - Roles and Responsibilities

The following sets out the roles and responsibilities for key partners based on the best practice that has been gathered

Local partnership

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

  • Ensure that 'missing people' is a priority in local structures, for example in Community Planning Partnerships or Community Safety Partnerships.
  • Draw up and take forward local Missing Persons strategy.
  • Identify missing persons champion.

Local authorities

  • Ensure assessment and prevention planning takes place for vulnerable children and adults in care and those living at home.
  • Agree local protocols with Police Scotland regarding children missing from care, and people with dementia going missing from care/community.

NHS Scotland Health Boards

  • Ensure prevention planning takes place for patients at risk of going missing.
  • Agree local protocols on information sharing with Police Scotland.

Police Scotland

  • Provide local analysis and data for partners about missing episodes.
  • Co-ordinate with local authorities, Health Boards and partners appropriate roll-out of pilot protocols, following evaluations, regarding children missing from care, NHS patients going missing, and people going missing from care homes.


  • Provide early identification of a person causing concern or showing signs of distress.
  • Ensure that the person is provided with specialist support, where appropriate.

Third Sector

  • Provide specialist support and share information with relevant agencies.


Email: Stephen Coulter

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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