Report on the implementation of the National Framework for Missing Persons in Scotland, September 2020
Across Scotland people are reported missing every day. On average Police Scotland undertake 22,100 missing persons investigations per year. Although the vast majority of people who go missing return or are traced safe and well, the trauma of going missing and the risks associated with being missing can continue long after the missing episode.
The National Missing Persons Framework (the Framework) was developed as a basis for understanding good practice across Scotland and developing closer multi-agency working to prevent people from going missing and limit the harm associated when they do. The core principles of the Framework are 'prevent, respond, support, protect'.
The Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham, appointed the Working Group for Missing People to support and assess the implementation of the Framework aims and recommendations.
We began our work in April 2019 with a focus on assessing the implementation of the Framework on local practice.
As a group we were already aware that implementation would differ across local authorities but we wanted to better understand challenges and where improvement or action could be made. The Framework was clear that a flexible approach was needed to suit the issue of missing in local areas but emphasised the need for national alignment in a few areas that included i) the definition of a missing person ii) risk assessment and iii) return discussions. We set out to understand more about the implementation of these core areas and how the aims of the framework were being applied locally across Scotland.
We began by meeting with organisations and individuals to gather evidence on our understanding of missing in Scotland; examining available evidence and looking at what can be learned from existing practice.
It was important that we gained views from a wider perspective of people working with missing persons in Scotland. We developed and circulated a survey across all 32 local authorities in early 2020. The survey does not provide conclusive results however it offers an insight to missing practice in and between organisations in local authority areas.
Alongside the survey we have been working closely with National Implementation Project which is being taken forward by the National Coordinator for Scotland. This project began in August 2019 with the National Coordinator working directly with three local authority areas: Dundee, Fife and Edinburgh to April 2020.
The National Implementation Project has allowed us to see how direct focus in an area can help to clearly identify good practice, current gaps and where training would be beneficial. We have been able to support the National Coordinator and learn from her feedback of the work and practice going on in those local areas.
The Implementation Project has been extended into year 2 by the Scottish Government and we have been delighted by the engagement from local authority areas seeking to work with the National Coordinator. Three new areas have been selected from the applications received and the National Coordinator will work with North Lanarkshire, Moray and Renfrewshire to April 2021. We have been greatly encouraged by the level of interest that has been shown and the good practice being demonstrated alongside the varied areas identified for improvement.
We believe there is a need for a more ambitious approach to providing solutions to the complex problems surrounding missing people. Continued funding through the Implementation project beyond year 2 will further enhance multi-agency practice across Scotland and help to prevent people from going missing and limit the harm when they do.
The update below provides a snapshot of progress across the actions required by the National Framework and a series of recommendations and further steps.
We wish to highlight some priorities from this update:
1. The need for more effective multi-agency working, information and data sharing: making it easier to work together to identify, protect and respond to missing people.
Key recommendation: all local authorities should be required to consider missing in an appropriate local multi-agency group as a core response to the National Missing Persons Framework.
2. Effective training for return discussions to establish tracked outcomes for both adults and children who go missing from a range of settings and ensure return discussions are taking place (in addition to Police Scotland "safe and well check") for all missing people.
Key recommendation: that there is a long-term commitment to fund and deliver e-learning and face-to-face training across multi-professional groups for return discussions that have auditable outcomes as a core prevention strategy.
3. The need for clear commitment to engage with Scotland's National Coordinator for Missing People from each local authority in Scotland.
Key recommendation: Scottish Government should commit to build on the success of the National Implementation Project with multi-year funding for an external agency to establish a national team to guide and engage with local authorities and partners to promote best practice around prevent, respond, support and protect. The existing National Coordinator model - as a good practice initiative - has demonstrated that there is a clear need for this support in multiple areas across Scotland.
4. The need for new and continued investment in education and awareness raising amongst vulnerable people and age groups, families and professionals.
Key recommendation: a new strategy to educate and raise awareness of support available for missing people is developed.
5. The need for a strong Scottish Government-led approach designed to provide international leadership in reducing the economic and social costs of missing incidents and dedicated to responding to missing people with joined-up professional services.
Key recommendation: for the Scottish Government to i) develop new statutory guidance outlining the role of local authorities to work with partners, including Police Scotland, to offer return discussions when people return from being missing, ii) to support an analytic assessment of average costs relating to risk levels of missing person cases in a local area.
Over recent years Scotland has made significant progress on how we are working together to reduce the harm and vulnerability caused by missing. The Working Group for Missing People strongly believes that missing persons continues to be a significant problem in Scotland, and that this work should continue by further prioritisation and investment by all partners. COVID-19 has meant all partners have adapted to support missing people and the Working Group for Missing People has invited key national partners to reflect regularly on the related impact of the public health crisis.
We would like to thank everyone who contributed to our meetings and took the time to provide information through our survey which has helped to inform our current update of the implementation of the National Missing Persons Framework for Scotland.