Euro-MP Catherine Bearder is calling for millions of pounds worth of EU funding to be restored for a vital helpline that has helped thousands of missing young people and their families.
The 116000 helpline is a 24-hour number that gives emotional and practical support to missing children and their relatives across the EU. It is provided by different organisations in each country, allowing them to work together across borders to locate missing children.
In the UK the helpline is operated by charity Missing People, which has received £330,000 of EU funding over the past 3 years. However this funding came to an end in December and so far has not been renewed.
Use of the 116000 number in the UK has dramatically increased in recent years, with calls to the number doubling since 2012.
Last year 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 116000 number provided a vital lifeline. She had run away from home and called the helpline when she realized 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.*
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."
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 116000 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."