When a small child goes missing - whether they’ve wandered out of sight in a supermarket or got lost on a crowded beach, or something more sinister - the natural reaction is to panic. When adults go missing, it’s easier to assume that they can take care of themselves, or that they’ve made a choice to go missing. For their loved ones who miss them, however, an adult disappearance can be equally terrifying.
As many as 80% of missing adults are thought to have a mental health problem and, for some, this will be the cause of their disappearance. Others go missing because of dementia, others because of difficult relationships at home, and still more because their personal circumstances make it hard to stay in contact with loved ones.
Most adults return or are found quickly. Not all – tragically a small number of adults die whilst missing – but most come back safe. Missing People believes that what happens to a missing adult when they return is just as important as when they left. Whatever the reason they went, it’s likely that the original problem will return with them, and they may face new problems resulting from their absence. For some returned adults, these problems cause them to go missing repeatedly. One in five missing adult incidents is a repeat incident.
In our Manifesto for Missing People, we are calling for all returning adults to be offered a Return Interview. Once the police have done a ‘safe and well’ check and gathered the information they need, the returning adult should then be offered the chance to talk with an independent person. They should have the chance to talk freely about why they went, what happened while they were gone, how they feel about being found or returning, and what support they will need from then on. Whether it’s a person with dementia who is no longer able to find their way when out alone, or an adult who went missing in mental health crisis, a Return Interview would provide a gateway to enhanced support.
When an adult returns from being missing, those people and organisations who want to help them have a very important opportunity - the opportunity to:
• Reconnect – get them back in contact with people who can help
• Reassure – make sure they know they aren’t in trouble
• Reassess – check whether their support needs have increased
• Re/refer – make sure they are known to appropriate services
• Reduce repeats – resolve the problems that cause them to go missing
Missing People is working hard to ensure that this opportunity is not missed:
1) We are trialling a brand new Aftercare service in Wales, funded by Big Lottery Wales, which supports returned adults, children and their families.
2) In partnership with Professor Hester Parr of the Geographies of Missing People research project, we recently organised events in London and Cardiff to bring together professionals who can influence change. You can read about these events, and see a short film about returning, at www.missingpeople.org.uk/returningadultsevent
3) We have jointly written a briefing paper about returning adults and we will continue to work with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, which hopes to conduct an Inquiry about vulnerable missing adults in the coming months.
4) We hope to pilot and evaluate Return Interviews for adults in the near future and are currently exploring the idea with potential partners.
Effective support for adults when they return would make sure that every reconnection is safe, that fewer people would need to go missing a second time, and that fewer families face the pain of a missing loved one.