Growing concern over funding cuts to 116 000 missing children hotlines
116 000 is the European hotline number for missing children: through this number parents and children alike, whether in their home country or in another European country, can get free emotional, psychological, social, legal and administrative support 24/7. The service works in complementarity with law enforcement and helps all categories of missing children including runaways, parental abductions and criminal abductions during the extremely stressful event of a child disappearance.
In view of the proposed end to the funding provided by the European Commission to these national services, Missing Children Europe, 116 000 hotline organisations as well as other supporters have raised concerns over the possible end of these services due to lack of funding. Member of the European Parliament, Catherine Bearder is one such supporter, calling for the millions of euros worth of EU funding to be restored for a vital helpline that has helped thousands of missing young people and their families.
In the UK the helpline is operated by charity Missing People, the UK member of Missing Children Europe which has received £330,000 of EU funding over the past 3 years. However this funding came to an end in December 2014 and so far has not been renewed. Use of the 116 000 number in the UK has dramatically increased in recent years, with calls to the number doubling since 2012.
Last year 116 000 hotlines across Europe received 250,012 calls, with the amount of calls having increased 179% since operation in 2012. Over 5,065 missing children cases were handled by these hotlines collectively. In the UK alone, Missing People received over 4,000 calls including 477 from the South East, as well as over 50,000 texts and emails. This allowed it to help 4,105 people and directly reconnect 1,126 of them to a place of safety.
These include 16-year-old Macey, who was being abused at home by her stepfather and for whom the 116 000 number provided a vital lifeline. She had run away from home and called the helpline when she realised she had nowhere to stay that night. They were able to direct her to accommodation and ensure the correct authorities were informed. This took four long hours and eleven separate phone calls but was vital to ensure Macey had somewhere safe to stay and would not be at risk of continuing abuse.
Catherine Bearder commented: "We need to keep this essential tool for tackling international child abduction in place. Figures show just how needed this helpline is. It provides a crucial source of emotional and practical support for vulnerable children and families going through the toughest time in their lives. I'm now calling on the Commission and UK government to work together and secure the funding for this vital service so missing children do not go unheard." Watch MEP Catherine Bearder’s speech here.
Susannah Drury, Director of Policy and Research at Missing People, added: "Funding from the European Commission is vital to help us continue to be a lifeline to the 140,000 children who go missing in the UK each year and the families they leave behind. This funding has helped us to deliver our 24/7, free to access 116 000 helpline across the UK, develop our links across Europe and extend our reach in searching for abducted and high-risk missing children in the UK.
Getting statutory funding helps us deliver vital Europe-wide initiatives and, importantly, to leverage voluntary funding to match their contribution."
European Commissioner Vera Jourová responded yesterday to a question raised by MEP Vilija Blinkevičiūtė in 2014 on continued funding for the 116 000 hotlines in 2015. In her response, the Commissioner recalled the Member States’ responsibility under the Universal Service Directive to ensure that a service for reporting missing children is available in their territories under the number 116 000. Commissioner Jourova furthermore stated that the Commission is currently funding a project coordinated by Missing Children Europe aiming to improve the quality of the 116 000 service in the EU, which will look at synergies with child protection systems in the Member States. Finally, the Commission is also exploring whether it can make a limited amount of funding available in 2015 to further promote sustainability of the hotlines.