Thursday, 27 August 2015

A major step forward for missing people and their families in Scotland

Today, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on its draft national missing person’s strategy. Anna Collins, our Policy and Campaigns Manager, explains our reaction to it.

With over 30 000 people going missing in Scotland every year the need for this strategy is clear. It’s a major step forward for missing people and their families in Scotland and it comes at a time when the Westminster Government is reviewing its own cross-departmental strategy. It feels like issues affecting missing people and their families are getting the attention they deserve across Great Britain.

Our most recent campaigning efforts have focussed on calling for guardianship legislation at Westminster, something which exists already in a slightly different form in Scotland. In Scotland an Accountant of Court can grant Judicial Factors ‘in loco absentis,’ which can provide control over the missing person’s affairs, such as mortgages. We’re pleased to see that families of missing people are able to use this power and as part of the consultation we'll review the legislation to ensure it can help families manage the range of financial and legal challenges that arise when someone goes missing. The strategy mentions that this power is rarely used perhaps indicating a lack of awareness and encouragingly suggests that the strategy could help address this.

The strategy also highlights a focus on providing return home interviews for vulnerable adults and children who return from being missing, something we think is crucial to find out why people went missing, what happened whilst they were away and to ensure they are able to access the support they need to help prevent them from going missing again. This is something that would have helped Rhona who has gone missing many times over a number of years. She is now 25 and living in a hostel, and has not gone missing for some time.

She explained
“It turned into this big cycle of I’d be home, then I’d be gone…a lot of it is to do with mental illness…I felt like everything was closing down on me and the only escape was to run… I’ve lived in squats that would make your skin crawl. I’ve lived on the streets among rats and everything…I ended up in hospital a few times and I tried to say what was wrong, but they didn’t want to know, [Now I have] started to go to counselling, started to go to therapy…because it is helping me work it out and understand it better.”

Every missing incident has an emotional toll on missing people and their families, puts the missing person at great risk of harm and requires significant police resources. A return home interview could help reduce the likelihood of people going missing repeatedly,  and lessen the impact on the missing person, their family and police. We’d like to see return home interviews provided for vulnerable adults who return from being missing, across the UK and this is a great step forward for Scotland. 

The strategy highlights our manifesto calls about missing and runaway children. Firstly, it recommends raising awareness amongst young people on the risks of running away and how to get help if they are thinking of going missing. We know that just one in 20 children seeks professional help when they are missing and that part of the reason why is because of a lack of knowledge about services that can provide support to them.

We’re pleased it suggests that local authorities review provision of emergency accommodation. This shelter would help the 1 in 6 young runaways who end up sleeping rough or with strangers. We think that all children and young people in the UK should have access to flexible emergency accommodation.

We’re pleased to see the launch of a consultation on this strategy which we feel contains excellent ideas and it’s fantastic that the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and other organisations, including Missing people are all working together to safeguard missing people and support their families.

We’d be pleased to hear your views on the strategy which can be viewed here

If you’re interested in hearing more about what we’re campaigning on as well as the latest policy and research news affecting missing people and their families then sign up to Missing News here.

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