Research has identified that youth are one of the three groups most at risk of going missing, with almost two thirds of all missing persons reported being under the age of 18.
Young people go missing for lots of reasons including family conflict, wanting to become independent, being a victim of crime, forgetting to tell someone where they are going, mental health problems, drugs/alcohol abuse, other abuse and neglect. Only a very small percentage of missing persons cases in Australia are stranger abductions. Most young people and children who go missing disappear for short periods and are then located.
The most common reasons that youth go missing can broadly be classified into two groups voluntary and involuntary.
Involuntary reasons for going missing (e.g. being a victim of crime or stranger abductions) are difficult to prevent. The best method of prevention is to make your child aware of their own safety. For parents with younger children we encourage you to take note of the following tips to help keep your children safe. We also suggest that you consider downloading the Australian Police Child ID App.
Safety Tips for Parents
- Make sure that your child knows his/her full name, your full name, your address, and your telephone number(s), including area code(s). Make sure your child knows how to use a telephone and how to call 000.
- Do not leave your young children home alone. If you must leave your older children at home by themselves, tell them not to answer the door. If they answer the telephone, they should not mention that they are alone but should say that you are unavailable and will call back.
- Tell your children to move away from cars that pull up beside them if they do not know the driver, even if the driver claims to know you. If your child is being followed, they should know to run home or go to a safe house or the nearest public place.
- Teach your children not to play in isolated areas and not to take shortcuts through empty parks, fields, or alleys.
- Let your children know that they should not accept items from strangers or others without your express permission.
- Tell your children that they may contact you at any time to pick them up and where to go if you are not available. Point out which houses in your neighbourhood they may visit if they are in trouble.
- Never leave your child alone in a public place, stroller, or car, even for brief periods of time.
- Accompany your young children to the toilet in public places.
- Go with your children during all door-to-door activities.
- Maintain up-to-date identification information on your children at all times, including medical and dental records, photographs, etc. The Australian Police Child ID App is a handy tool to record much of this identification information on your mobile phone.
Recognise, React, Report
The Daniel Morcombe Foundation has developed three easy to remember safety tips to help kids stay safe.
Recognise, React and Report.
- Recognise – Be alert for the clues that warn us when something is unsafe. These clues can be as simple as smelling smoke which warns us there is a fire or body clues such as butterflies in your stomach warning you that you feel unsure or unsafe.
- React – If you feel scared, confused, sad or upset you need to REACT. This could even mean breaking a rule, like smashing a window to escape a fire or screaming “NO” to an adult.
- Report – Tell an adult in your life who cares about your safety when there is a problem. It’s adults who can keep you safe from harm and who can make a situation safe again for you.
Visit the Recognise, React, Report website for more information including downloadable activities and videos.
Young people can also go missing by choice, often as a short term way of responding to tension or conflict. In these circumstances, going missing is often a symptom rather than the cause of the problem. Youth go missing to remove themselves from something that isn’t making them happy. Running away from the problem can seem like the best available option when they have run out of other solutions. For youth who voluntarily go missing if underlying factors aren’t addressed issues will likely remain and could lead to the young person going missing again.
Talking to your child is one of the best ways to help prevent them from going missing. Seek to build respectful trusting relationships with open communication that is non-judgemental. This provides alternatives for dealing with issues that might otherwise contribute to young people going missing.
While talking through issues can be uncomfortable for both you and your child, it is likely to be better than worrying about where they are and what they are doing if they go missing. The Railway Children (UK) website has more information about talking to your child about running away and there is also a ParentLink guide on Running Away produced by the ACT government.
Don’t worry about putting ideas in their head. While this is a common fear, if your child isn’t thinking about running away, talking about it is unlikely to make then want to do so. If they are already considering running away then talking about it may open the door to other ways of dealing with their problems.
Don’t be afraid to seek support for yourself or your child from counselling or support services.
The NMPCC has also developed the following factsheets around youth and ‘missing’.
- Are you a young person at risk of going missing?
- Are you working with a young person at risk of going missing?