Missing Children Statistics UK 2021
As a parent or caregiver, your child going missing is likely to be one of your worst fears. Not knowing where they are or whether or not they’re safe can be heartbreaking, as unfortunately some parents and caregivers have had to experience. But how many children go missing each year? And are children in some parts of the UK more likely to go missing than others?
In this article, we share all of the most recent missing children statistics gathered from the government’s latest UK Missing Persons Unit Report. We also speak with counselor, Anita Lonsdale to find out what signs caregivers should look out for, and what to do if your child goes missing.
How many children go missing in the UK every year?
- Last year, 68,944 missing children reports were made to the police in England and Wales.
- More males are reported missing than females, with missing incidents comprising 56% men and boys and 44% women and girls.
- Last year, twice as many reports of transgender individuals going missing were made than the previous year (proportionally).
We have not included data from Police Scotland and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in this research, as their data collection systems and processes differ from those used in England and Wales (E&W). Therefore their figures are not directly comparable with those of E&W.
Where Are Children Most Likely to Go Missing?
Which parts of the country have the highest number of missing children?
- Last year, more calls were made to the police to report missing children in Cumbria than in any other part of England and Wales. Cumbria’s missing children rate was therefore equivalent to 1 in every 38 children. That’s 2.63% of all children in the area, making Cumbria’s missing children rate 4 times higher than the national average (0.6%).
- In North Wales, the number of calls to the police to report missing children was equivalent to 1 in every 80 children last year (1.27%). North Wales’ missing children rate is therefore more than double the national average.
Unfortunately, as you can see from the graphs, these figures are continuing to rise.
It’s important to note that the number of reports does not necessarily correlate with the number of individual children missing, as more than one report may have been made for the same child.
For more information on how we collected this data, please see our full methodology.
What happens to missing children?
How many missing children are found? And how soon after going missing do they return home?
- 90% of children who go missing are found within 48 hours, and the vast majority return home unharmed.
- However last year in England and Wales, 9% of missing children incidents were related to child sexual exploitation.
- Alarmingly, the latest Missing Persons Unit report reveals that the number of deaths that take place during missing persons incidents is on the rise, with 5% more incidents resulting in fatalities last year than the year before.
What warning signs should parents and carers look out for?
Counsellor Anita Lonsdale has over 14 years experience working with both adults and children, and has provided us with the following list of things to look out for that may indicate that your child is at risk of going missing.
- Changes in appearance
- Becoming more withdrawn than normal
- Guarded talking about certain matters
- Behavioural changes i.e., depressed/anxious/isolating themselves from friends and family
- Staying in their room all the time and not interacting with family
- Uncharacteristically aggressive
- New friends online i.e., Facebook/Instagram/ticktock – or/and high number of friends
- Developing new friendships outside their normal social network i.e., high risk peer groups/gangs
- More rebellious/argumentative/dismissive than normal
- Online, with possible new friends and /or online boyfriend/girlfriend – possibly older
- Lonely/lack of social skills
- Low self-esteem/vulnerable
- Gifts/money that cannot be accounted for
- Signs of self-harming behaviours i.e., cutting, substance abuse, high risk of sexualised behaviours, suicidal thoughts,
- Eating issues – over eating/not eating/binge eating, etc
- Knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age
- Knowledge of bullying at school/home with peers/siblings
- Reportingly breaking family rules i.e., time to be at home by
- Constantly lying/covering up of whereabouts or who they were with
- Threatening or talking about running away
- Refusal of attending school or truancy
How can parents prevent their children from going missing?
“I have come across many parents who do not notify other parents that their child is with them.” says Anita. “Before any child comes into your house, clarify that their parents/carers are aware that they are allowed to be there. If your child’s friend stays over longer than you think they should, please ring the parents/carers to let them know that they are still with you and don’t take the word of your child or their friend that it is OK.
“Positive Communication as a parent is key to help avoid a child running away, by listening (without interrupting), being non-judgemental/confrontational, and giving them time to express their feelings and concerns along with using words such as “tell me more about that” and “what would you like me to do to help.
“Problems build up for children and young people when they are unable to talk to parents about what is going on for them and this may make them feel alone and overwhelmed with the situation/s they are worried about. At times they are worried about their friends and do not wish to break confidentiality, in these cases it is wise to say, “tell me about the situation and leave their names out of the conversation and I can give you some ideas how to solve what is worrying you”. However, if it is a safeguarding matter you will need to break their confidentiality and report it to the relevant service.
“Regardless of the situation, or the angry words spoken to each other, it is important that the adult/parent/carer initiates to repair the breakdown to show them that regardless of what has happened they are still there for them. You should always create opportunities to engage with your child.
“Share any concerns/worries that you have about them along with giving third person stories of the situation they have gone through/going through or similar situations. It could be about someone you know (or a made-up scenario) or could discuss a TV show such as Coronation Street/EastEnders storyline that is similar. This will take the focus off your child, so you do not sound judgemental or lecturing them.
“If the concern is you as parents, it may be beneficial to obtain parenting support along with both you and your child to obtain counselling to support you all through the issues/crisis that your family is in.
“Generally, please get to know your child. What do they like, what do they do as hobbies? Is there something you could do together? Who are their friendship groups? Do you know them? Do you know where they live or their telephone numbers? If not try finding out (gradually). When friends come around the house, make sure that you speak to them and find out a bit more of the peers your child is hanging around with.
“Try and also encourage more family interactions, giving them an opportunity to see you as mum/dad/carer rather than the person who moans at them, this will make them feel that they can come and talk to you more openly about things that matters to them. Ensure that each day you set aside at least 30 minutes to chat to them about their day (without being judgemental) and explore their feelings during this time.
“Tell them stories about yourself where you did things wrong and learnt from them, so they can see that you are not perfect, and you too make mistakes. Praise your child regularly (at least five praises a day). This builds your child’s confidence and self-esteem.
“Be kind to yourself as well.”
What should you do if your child goes missing?
“If your child does go missing, please report it immediately to the Police”, says Anita. “For some reason, some people think that you cannot report anyone missing until after 24 hours, and this is not the case. The Police would rather you report it to them, and if they return home, you can call back and let them know.”
We also spoke with Children’s Society policy manager, Iryna Pona to ask about the reasons why so many children go missing.
“They may be having problems at school, finding it difficult to cope with family issues, such as relationship breakdowns or addiction issues, they could be a victim of abuse or criminal or sexual exploitation by people outside the family home.
“Whatever the cause, running away is a cry for help and must be taken seriously.
“There are warning signs parents and professionals can keep an eye out for, such as if a child becomes more unhappy or you see changes in their mood; they may start behaving in a more challenging way, become secretive, skip school or you may see a change in their appearance or levels of tiredness.
“These are all indicators that something could be very wrong in their lives.
“If you see these signs, do not ignore them, speak to the young person, ask them what is wrong and then listen to their answers without judgement or criticism.
“Then try to help by talking to them openly and involving them in the choices that could overcome the underlying issue.
“Sadly this does not always happen or work, hence why so many children do run away each year.
“If it does reach a crisis point and your child goes missing, it is vital parents always report the incident to police straight away and encourage them to have a return home interview.
“These interviews give the child a chance to talk about why they ran away, what happened whilst they were away and how they are feeling now they are back; they also enable professionals to put in place safeguarding measures to stop them going missing again.”
We hope this article has been useful in providing you with the latest missing children statistics for England and Wales and information about how to prevent your child from going missing.