FOUR children are reported missing each day in the Capital, putting a huge strain on police who spend thousands of hours a year hunting them.
A total of 1589 under-16s were reported missing during 2011, although all of them were later found safe and well.
Police chiefs said that all cases were treated with the “utmost seriousness”.
The figures, released under freedom of information laws, also showed an overall decrease in under-16s going missing. In 2010, 1660 cases were recorded while 1831 were reported the previous year.
It is believed that much of the annual caseload involves the same children who went missing on multiple occasions.
A former police officer, who has worked on cases of missing children, said the caseload did put a strain on the force but was “absolutely necessary”.
He added: “Even if someone has gone missing dozens of times it’s always treated with the utmost seriousness. The particular circumstances around each case are examined to make sure there is nothing untoward.
“For the vast majority of cases, it is very quick to identify those where you would expect them to turn up again relatively fast. These cases involve thousands of hours but the resources put in are absolutely necessary.
“For some youngsters going missing, particularly those who might have went missing before, only one or two officers might be involved, speaking to family and friends and visiting places where they might be. For other cases where they’ve not gone missing before, additional officers may be involved.
“CID keep an eye on all missing person cases, checking for those that may start looking suspicious.”
Children’s charities today said that most youngsters return safely within 48 hours while “physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, bullying or family breakdown” are common reasons for their absence.
Anne Houston, chief executive of Children 1st, said: “There are many reasons why children and young people run away – such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, bullying at school or family breakdown for example. Family lives can be complex and there can be many different relationships and dynamics within the family at any one time.”
A police spokesman said: “Lothian and Borders Police treat all reports of missing people with the utmost seriousness and carry out robust enquiries to trace anyone who is reported to us as missing.
“Whenever a person under the age of 16 is reported missing, officers engage closely with their family, friends or those responsible for their care to determine the full circumstances surrounding their disappearance and to establish their whereabouts.
“We work closely with various partner agencies to ensure any social, behavioural or medical issues are considered in attempts to trace a missing person.”