Call for answers over number of Scottish children in care reported missing

Children in care are going missing 'at an alarming rate'. Picture: John Devlin
Children in care are going missing 'at an alarming rate'. Picture: John Devlin
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Nearly 2,000 children in care were reported missing to the police last year, figures show.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives show Police Scotland recorded 1,935 cases in 2018, including 198 in Glasgow, 170 in Fife and 164 in Edinburgh.

The party described the statistics as “worrying” and called on MSPs and support agencies to work better together to reduce the numbers.

Conservative MSP Maurice Golden said: “These are very worrying statistics affecting an extremely vulnerable group of young people. People don’t run away from loving homes on this scale, so there’s clearly a problem.

“No one’s pretending there’s an easy answer to this, and many of these cases may have been quickly and satisfactorily resolved.

“But we need to ask why these young people are going missing, and where are they running away too.”

He added: “It’s incumbent upon us all, from the Scottish Parliament to agencies on the ground, to work harder to ensure these figures can be reduced substantially in future years.”

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government announced funding for a project seeking to raise awareness about the risks of running away.

The money was allocated to Barnardo’s and Missing People to develop materials to encourage children and young people to access support.

It is estimated that only five per cent of children who run away reach out for professional help.

Figures released last year showed a small number of children in care had gone missing hundreds of times in a year, with children in residential units or foster homes accounting for one third of all missing person cases for Police Scotland.

Most people reported missing to police are found and returned safe within 48 hours.

Duncan Dunlop, chief executive of Who Cares? Scotland, said: “Everything about these statistics will, rightly, feel strange to people who have no experience of living in or delivering care.

“Children who are not in care do go missing but the over-representation of care=experienced people in missing statistics is worrying.

“It’s really important to understand what is making children want to leave somewhere that is supposed to keep them safe and what is leading to care staff contacting the police so often. Research from the Howard League and the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice shows that this level of police involvement in children’s lives can have a longer term impact on how they see themselves and the police. Our own research shows that children are at times running away in search of love and away from an environment which they feel is controlling.

“What the data makes clear is that there is an issue. It is only by listening to Care Experienced people and respecting their perspective that we can understand what is happening and change it.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Corporate parenting – where organisations have a parental responsibility – is driving improvements across the public sector, with more people championing the rights of care-experienced young people. We have also funded the Missing People charity to increase awareness of their services in Scotland, including their 24-hour helpline, textsafe facility and telephone counselling and are currently developing an education resource with and for young people. Training has been provided for frontline services to deliver return conversations and better understand the reasons someone may have gone missing.”