76,000 times too many

Care-experienced young people are much more likely to go missing than their peers. On average, 1 in 10 care-experienced young people will go missing, in comparison to 1 in 200 of their peers. Research from NYAS Cymru has found that in Wales, a child is reported missing every hour. In England, more than twenty children are reported missing every hour.

Across England, there were over 76,000 missing incidents involving care-experienced young people in 2022. This is 76,000 times a care-experienced young person’s whereabout was unknown.

This is 76,000 times a care-experienced young person could have been exploited or abused.

This is 76,000 times a care-experienced young person could have felt not listened to. 

This is 76,000 times too many.


What does ‘missing’ mean to professionals?

When a young person is missing from care, this means they are not where they are expected to be, and their whereabouts is unknown. When a young person is missing, this is often a sign that something is wrong in their life and may be the only way they are able to communicate this to the adults around them.

When a young person is missing, there is a risk of them experiencing abuse or exploitation. This risk is even greater for care-experienced young people. UK wide data from 2020 highlighted that 1 in 3 victims of child trafficking had gone missing from local authority care. Not knowing where a care-experienced young person can be very concerning for professionals, and this often leads to quick reporting to the police that a young person is missing.


What does ‘missing’ mean to care-experienced young people?

For care-experienced young people, their view of what it means to be missing can often be different to professionals. Sometimes care-experienced young people want to see their families, stay out late with their friends, or even just need some time to themselves. In these cases, care-experienced young people do not view themselves as missing. Instead, they are doing ‘normal’ teenage things, just like their non-care-experienced peers.

Quick or over-reporting of care-experienced young people being missing can normalise frequent police involvement in their lives. This increases their chances of criminalisation in later adulthood, as well as facing stigma and stereotyping from their peers.

Our own research at NYAS found that breakdowns in communication between young people and their carers is a leading cause of why care-experienced young people are often considered missing. To reduce the number of care-experienced young people reported missing each year, local authorities and carers must focus on building stronger relationships and improving communication with young people.


Missing the Point

In 2019, NYAS launched our ‘Missing the Point’ campaign, which calls on local councils to listen and take seriously the wishes and feelings of children in their care to reduce the risk of them going missing. NYAS’ campaign has three key recommendations:

  • No child is forced to live ‘out of area’ unless it is in their best interests. It is also essential that their wishes and feelings have been considered before this move occurs.

  • No child is criminalised as a result of being a victim of child criminal exploitation, such as county lines.

  • After going missing, every child is entitled to an independent return interview. This interview must be conducted by someone who is not employed by the local authority


NYAS Return Interviews

Return interviews are an opportunity for care-experienced young people to voice their thoughts and feelings when they return home and can help to build a picture of why they may have been missing in the first place. At NYAS, our independent reviewers complete around 2,000 interviews across England and Wales each year.

Return interviews are currently a statutory entitlement in England, but not in Wales. NYAS data has shown that when a NYAS return interview is completed, the average number of times a care-experienced young person is missing reduces to 2.8 times, from an average of 6.3 times. This is why NYAS Cymru are calling upon the Welsh Government to make return interviews a statutory entitlement.

76,000 missing incidents a year is 76,000 times too many. Find out more about the work NYAS is doing to reduce this number and how we can all stop Missing the Point.