Police Scotland have joined forces with a range of agencies and charities in Fife in a bid to combat the issues that lead to missing people.
The new combined approach aims to reduce the number of people who go missing and help ensure the safe return of those that do.
It is hoped that by working together the authorities can address the needs of those in vulnerable positions, and help prevent people from going missing.
NHS Fife, Education and Fife Council, the Child Protection Committee, the Adult Support and Protection Committeee groups are also involved.
The group wants to better understand why people go missing in the first place so that appropriate measures can be taken to prevent repeat episodes, provide relevant support to loved ones and respond consistently to protect missing people who often have underlying vulnerabilities.
Detective Chief Inspector John Anderson from Fife’s Public Protection Unit said: “We’re working collaboratively to prevent people going missing in the first instance, but when people are reported missing, then we need to ensure that there’s a consistent response and that there’s support there for individuals when they return and also their families in the longer term.
“I think if you look at vulnerability and the mental health issues which can be a factor in people going missing, you can say that society’s more vulnerable now than it was previously and this is potentially a natural consequence of that.
“Our partnership in Fife, which is very strong, recognises that and it’s about ensuring that we are working together to make the best use of our resources.”
DCI Anderson said that while some people may go missing on multiple occasions, a consistent approach would always be taken.
“The partnership allows us to be consistent in our risk assessment,” he said. “Whether it be someone in the police, a school, someone within a hospital, or a private care home, there’s an understanding of what level of risk potentially that person could be at.
“The age of a child and their individual circumstances may dictate a particular response. That could be from one end of the extreme where someone might be high-risk where there’s a potential threat to life, or it could be understood that it’s expected that the person is likely to return.
“Each one of those stories will have an individual attached to it. We cannot rest on our laurels and assume that people will return. We need to respond consistently to that.
“I would say that repeat episodes in persons going missing on more than one occasion is a big factor in this, because we recognise that vulnerability does not go away, especially at this time of year during the festive period when people may be a bit more distressed.
“However, even one person who may go missing on one occasion may be vulnerable and may be suffering in silence.”
The new partnership also looks to follow-up any episodes where someone may return after going missing, looking deeper into the reasons for behind the absence.
“It’s about understanding our response to not only the investigation,” said DCI Anderson, “but when those people do return, which is on the vast majority of occasions, we have to take the time to understand the situation with them and with their family why they went missing in the first place and maybe prevent any episodes in future.
“There’s also support, and a big part of that is people who have maybe gone missing before, so where we can learn from that.
“We can discuss with them, as a partnership, the mechanisms or means that they could use in order to stop feeling like they have to do that again.
“It’s not a matter of one thing solving all problems, so again it’s a collaborative approach.”
And the launch of the new partnership at this time of year was no coincidence.
“Experience would always tell us that at this time of year there’s people with pressure in their lives over the festive period and they need to reach out for help.
“It’s not just in regards to missing persons, but in other matters like domestic abuse, we recognise that it is heightened at this time of year.”