BTB Missing Lost and FoundIn July this year alone, officers dealt with 300 reports of missing people - 193 of these were children.

Our summer long Beyond the Beat campaign, explores what policing in 2018 involves and looks at some of the hidden demand on police officers. This week, we are looking at the complex area of missing people, including some of the reasons children go missing. 

 "I've lost my child!" For parents and carers, these are dreaded words. The overwhelming panic is indescribable the moment you realise that you can't find your child.

Your instinctive response is that your child has been harmed, or abducted by a stranger. And whilst we are all aware of the high profile cases where this has happened, the reassuring reality is that in most cases, children are found physically unharmed and are quickly reunited.

Unfortunately children do get lost: in supermarkets, play parks, shopping centres, theme parks - and closer to home if they are old enough to be out playing independently. The UK has seen a blisteringly hot summer where children have been enjoying the freedom of playing outside more than usual - in outdoor pools, by rivers and lakes and on the beach.

People are often surprised to hear that there's no law to say when it's OK for a child to be left alone and all children and young people are different. Some 11 year old children are mature and confident enough to go the park or to the shops on their own, but others might not be ready to do this safely. It's up to parents and carers to decide if their child is ready and mature enough.

However, it's important to stress that If a child is left alone in a way that's not safe then their parent or carer will be breaking the law. If you're unsure, the NSPCC have a short leaflet giving examples of what is acceptable and what's not.

Inspector Mark Kent, Wiltshire Police's Force Lead for Missing says: "Losing a child doesn't mean you're an irresponsible parent. Children are naturally inquisitive and curious and, let's face it, adventurous.

"Whilst we don't want to curb their natural spirit and independence, we can put in place some basic guidelines and give them advice that will help avoid, or at least minimise, the potential trauma and possible physical harm that occurs when a child is lost.

"It may seem counter intuitive, but stay where you are for the first few minutes after your child has disappeared. The likelihood is that they'll come back to where they last saw you."

With these simple tips, you can help keep your child safe.

  • Agree an obvious meet up point just in case your child gets lost, like a first aid point, information point if you're in a shopping precinct, or tell them to go to a member of staff in a supermarket.
  • Make sure your child has your telephone number - landline and mobile. If they're very young, teach them your number through rhyme and rhythm or learning by rote and repetition.
  • Teach them their address and postcode.
  • Make a note of what they're wearing - blue T-shirt, black shorts etc.
  • Have a recent photo of your child.
  • Make sure they can describe you too.

Head to your agreed meet up point. If they are not there, alert the staff on hand that you have lost your child and that the've been told about your meeting point. Give the staff your phone number so that they can call you if/when your child turns up. Describe what they're wearing and what they look like.

If your child has their own mobile phone, try and call it. You can set up their phone with a saved ICE number (In Case of Emergencies) so a parent or other relative is easy to contact.

 What to do if someone you know goes missing

  • Before calling the police, take the following steps to try to locate the missing person.
  • Search their home or the place they were last seen, in case they are hiding or fallen and suffered injury. Remember that children can hide in small spaces.
  • Look out for any notes or clues that may suggest where they may be.  Check diaries, social media or email messages.
  • Check to see if they have left you a message on your phone voicemail or email.
  • Contact family members, friends and the person's place of work to verify that they are missing and not just somewhere unexpected.
  • Make a list of family/friends.
  • Check places of significance to the person ie, parks where they may play, or gather with friends.

Inspector Kent says: "If even after all this preparation, your child still manages to wander off without you noticing, the most important thing is to try and stay calm. That way you'll be able to think and communicate more clearly and logically, helping you and others to find your child."

How to report a missing person

You can report a missing person to us at any time.  You do not need to wait 24 hours before making a report.

Call us on 101, or 999 if the missing person is a child, or someone thought to be at serious risk or harm.

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