Most people who go missing in Saskatoon are girls.
They’re typically runaways — kids in government care trying to escape trauma or get back to their families.
Of the 2,683 missing person reports filed last year, 2,108 were for children, according to a report by the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS).
Fifty-seven per cent of all reports were for girls (1,541), 20 per cent were for boys (535) and one per cent were for gender diverse kids (32).
Girls may be overrepresented in missing person calls because predators are more likely to exploit female youth, said police Chief Troy Cooper.
“They are likely to suffer from the consequences of that exploitation,” Cooper told Global News.
“They are more at risk, certainly, to go missing and are at risk when they are missing, and so that’s something that’s certainly a concern for police and a concern for their caregivers.”
Many children are considered “habitual missing persons,” who’ve gone missing at least twice before, police said.
Of the reports filed last year, 1,950 were for habitual missing persons, and most of them were for female children and youth. There were 1,369 repeat reports for girls, 400 for boys and 31 for gender diverse children, police said.
Two girls accounted for more than 50 reports each.
Shirley Isbister, president of Central Urban Métis Federation Inc., said the safety of children — including her six grandkids — is often on her mind.
“If your children are in a jam, they know they can phone you. It doesn’t matter what time of the night,” she said. “There’s lots of children that don’t have that option, and so who do they call?”
Many reported missing from care homes
The top 20 places people went missing from were care homes, comprising 57 per cent of missing person calls, police said.
The head of a youth centre that has 11 homes dedicated to kids said many children in government care have been abused and struggle with mental illness and addiction.
“The youth … (say), ‘50 per cent of the time, we’re running away from something and 50 per cent of the time we’re running to something,’” said Don Meikle, EGADZ executive director.
“A lot of these kids are facing a lot more issues than what people even really understand and realize.”
Not all kids who don’t make it home by curfew are reported missing, Meikle said.
EGADZ staff call police if the child is under 12, has been sexually exploited, or has serious mental health concerns, he said. If staff confirm a child is safe with friends or family, they won’t call it in, despite a “ridiculous” social services policy that requests otherwise, Meikle said.
“They’d go to their friend’s place and the police would show up looking for them,” he said.
“What you end up doing is pushing kids underground and they get better at hiding from you.”
Instead, he said police, government and community agencies must better support children, instead of further restricting their movement.
Despite the large proportion of missing persons cases involving children, Meikle is optimistic.
Last year’s numbers were better than 2019’s, down from 3,265 total reports and 2,489 for children.
Meikle credits Operation Runaway for helping drive the numbers down. Community groups and police meet with kids who run away repeatedly, connecting them with supports like counselling and education.
“Everybody is in it to win it for the kids. It’s not about policies,” Meikle said. “It’s just about making kids’ lives better.”
For more information on safety and prevention, visit Canada’s missing children resource centre.