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Introduction and Definitions

Introduction

Children running away and going missing from care, home and education is a central issue for the two Safeguarding Children Boards. Current research findings estimate that 25 per cent of children and young people, who go missing are likely to suffer significant harm. There are specific concerns about the links between children running away and the risks of sexual exploitation. Many looked after children (LAC) missing from their placements are vulnerable to sexual and other exploitation, especially children in residential care.

This guidance complements Working Together to Safeguard Children and related statutory guidance (2015) and the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulation volumes in respect of Care Planning and Review.

Definitions

Based on the ‘Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care’ (DfE 2014) the definitions which should be used when working with children, young people and their families are set out as follows:

  • Child: anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday. ‘Children’ and ‘young people’ are used throughout this guidance to refer to anyone under the age of 18;
  • Young runaway: a child who has run away from their home or care placement, or feels they have been forced or lured to leave;
  • Missing child: a child reported as missing to the police by their family or carers;
  • Looked after child: a child who is looked after by a local authority by reason of a care order, or being accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989;
  • Responsible local authority: the local authority that is responsible for a looked after child’s care and care planning;
  • Host local authority: the local authority in which a looked after child is placed when placed out of the responsible local authority’s area;
  • Care leaver: an eligible, relevant or former relevant child as defined by the Children Act 1989. Care leavers cover young people from aged 16-24;
  • Missing from care: a looked after child who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be (e.g., school) and their whereabouts is not known;
  • Away from placement without authorisation: a looked after child whose whereabouts is known but who is not at their placement or place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the police;
  • Grooming: Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation. Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know - for example a family member, friend or professional. Groomers may be male or female. They could be any age. Many children and young people don't understand that they have been groomed, or that what has happened is abuse.

    Children can be groomed for the purpose of sexual abuse as well as other forms of exploitation including involvement in criminal and extremist activity. Children who are missing are more vulnerable to being groomed and may also go missing as a result of being groomed.

Agency Roles and Responsibilities

See also: Missing Children: Who Cares? The Police Response to missing and absent children.


Dorset Police

Dorset Police as the lead agency for investigating and finding missing children, will respond to children and young people going missing based on on-going risk assessments in line with current guidance. The police will prioritise all incidents of missing children as medium or high risk. Dorset Police will not use the absent category for children under 18 years.

The Police will carry out a ‘Safe and Well’ check with a 'missing' child who returns and make a notification to Children’s Social Care when the child is missing and when a child is returned.

Risk Assessment

A missing child incident would be prioritised as ‘high risk’ where:

  • The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the child is in danger through their own vulnerability; or
  • The child may have been the victim of a serious crime; or
  • The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the public is in danger.

The high risk category requires the immediate deployment of police resources. Police guidance makes clear that a member of the senior management team or similar command level must be involved in the examination of initial enquiry lines and approval of appropriate staffing levels. Such cases  will lead to the appointment of an Investigating Officer and possibly a Senior Investigating Officer and a Police Search Advisor. There should be a media strategy and / or close contact with outside agencies. Family support should be put in place. The UK Missing Persons Bureau should be notified of the case immediately. CEOP (National Crime Agency) and local authority children’s services should also be notified.

A missing child incident would be prioritised as ‘medium risk’ where the risk posed is likely to place the subject in danger or they are a threat to themselves or others. This category requires an active and measured response by police and other agencies in order to trace the missing person and support the person reporting. This will involve a proactive investigation and search in accordance with the circumstances to locate the missing child as soon as possible.

Legal Powers available to Dorset Police and Local Authorities

The police can use the powers under Section 46(1) of the Children Act 1989 to remove a child into police protection if they are likely to suffer significant harm. Police Protection lasts up to 72 hours.

Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provides police with powers to enter and search a premises in certain circumstances, notably, with regard to this guidance, for the purposes of saving life and limb or to arrest without warrant a person who has committed an indictable offence or certain other listed offences under the section.

Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984  provides police the power of summary arrest for any offence subject to certain provisions notably, for the purposes of this guidance, under S.24(5)(d) to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person in question.

Should it be necessary to take the child into police protection, the child must be moved as soon as possible into local authority accommodation. The local authority should consider what type of accommodation is appropriate in each individual case. It is important that young people are not placed in accommodation that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation or trafficking.

The Local Authority may apply to the Court for a Recovery Order under Section 50 of the Children Act 1989.  A Recovery Order can only be sought when the child is subject to an Interim or Full Care Order and it is clear that the child is in no immediate danger of significant harm. Children’s Social Cares may need to obtain an Emergency Protection Order under Section 44 of the Children Act 1989, before expiration of the Police Protection.

Any person can be issued with a Child Abduction Warning Notice to prevent contact with a child U16, or a child U18 in local authority care. This is served with the child’s parents consent to prevent them coming to harm. This provides the Police with a power of arrest should this Warning Notice be breached.

Ofsted: Disclosure to Police of Children’s Homes’ Location

On 1 April 2013 regulations came into force requiring Ofsted to disclose details of the locations of children’s homes to local police services to support the police in taking a strategic and operational approach to safeguarding children particularly in relation to sexual exploitation and trafficking.

It should be noted that disclosure of this information to police services does not happen automatically and police services will need to request to receive this information on an on-going basis.

This duty is in addition to the existing obligation for Ofsted to disclose this information to local authorities. A protocol published alongside the regulations sets out the responsibilities of the public authorities to use information about the location of children’s homes only for the purposes for which it was disclosed; and to share it onward only where this is compatible with safeguarding children and promoting their welfare.

Department for Education: Joint protocol: children’s homes - procedure for disclosing names and addresses (2013).

Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole Local Authorities

Section 13 of the Children Act 2004 requires local authorities and other named statutory partners to make arrangements to ensure that their functions are discharged with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. This includes planning to prevent children from going missing and to do everything possible to ensure their safe return when they do go missing. Through their inspections of local authority children’s services.

The Local Authorities will name a senior children’s service manager (see Local Directory) as responsible for monitoring policies and performance relating to children who go missing from home or care. The responsible manager should look beyond this guidance to understand the risks and issues facing children missing from home or care and to review best practice in dealing with the issue.

The  Local Authorities must ensure that all incidents where children go missing are appropriately risk assessed, and  will record all incidents of looked after children who are missing or away from placement without authorisation.

Even with strong systems and services that minimise the likelihood of young people running away, some young people will still feel that they have to run away. In all circumstances local safeguarding procedures should be followed. If there is concern that the child may be at risk if returned home, the child should be referred to children’s social care to assess their needs and make appropriate arrangements for their accommodation. In most cases children will be returned to their homes / placements. Where significant risks in returning a child to home or placement is identified it is important that emergency accommodation can be accessed directly at any time of the day or night. Bed and Breakfast (B&B) accommodation is not an appropriate place for any child or young person under the age of 18 and should only be used in exceptional circumstances.

Children, who are looked after should have information about, and easy access to, help lines and support services including emergency accommodation.

Support should also be made available to families /carers to help them understand why the child has run away and how they can support them on their return.

Practitioners should be vigilant to indicators that a child is being radicalised and their missing episode may be an attempt to travel oversees. Any indicators of radicalisation should be reported using Prevent: Safeguarding Children and Young people against Radicalisation and Violent Extremism.

Children who go missing with their families - Sharing information to locate a child who is looked after, subject to a child protection plan or a child in need.

The local authority should consult with the police regarding what action should be taken to share information about a child who is missing with their family and who is looked after, subject to a child protection plan or a child in need. This should include an assessment of whether to release information to the media. The local authority should also notify other local authorities according to degree of concern. Consideration should also be given to whether the child or their family has links to other areas in the United Kingdom.

On receipt of a notification from another local authority, a flag should be added to the electronic record system for children’s social care and consideration should be given to notifying health and other relevant partners.

In some cases families may leave the country and in these situations the guidance Working with foreign authorities: child protection cases and care orders Departmental advice for local authorities, social workers, service managers and children’s services lawyers (July 2014).

Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare professionals have a key role in identifying and reporting children who may be missing from care, home and school.  

Missing children access a number of services provided by a range of health providers, for example:

  • Urgent Care Units;
  • Accident and Emergency Departments;
  • Genito-Urinary Medicine Clinics (GUM);
  • Community Sexual Health Services; and
  • Pharmacy Services.

Health professionals should have an understanding of the vulnerabilities and risks associated with children that go missing. Staff working in health settings should be aware of their professional responsibilities and the responses undertaken by the multi-agency partnership. Risks include sexual exploitation, trafficking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Radicalisation, also a risk factor for vulnerable young people, is managed via the national ‘Prevent’ strategy. See Prevent: Safeguarding Children and Young people against Radicalisation and Violent Extremism.

Local authorities have a duty to inform Specialist LAC Health Teams within their area if a Looked After Child goes missing, sharing identified known risks, and inform the same health teams when the child/YP returns.

Designated health professionals for Safeguarding and LAC should share relevant information relating to any emerging themes and patterns indicative of organised and targeted abuse at relevant Health forums such as the Safeguarding Children and Young People in Health (SCYPiH) Group They should also ensure that all health staff within their locality know how to identify, report and respond to a child who is missing from care.


Specific Risks


Children at Risk of Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

The sexual exploitation of children involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where the young person (or third person/s) receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common.

Involvement in exploitative relationships is characterised by the child’s or young person’s limited availability of choice as a result of their social, economic or emotional vulnerability.

A common feature of CSE is that the child or young person does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation.

Going missing is a significant risk factor in relation to sexual exploitation:

  • A child may go missing because they are being sexually exploited;
  • A child’s risk of being sexually exploited might increase because they are missing and are spending time with people who may seek to involve them in sexual exploitation. The risk is heightened whilst they are missing because the protective factors of family or care are not available to them.

Because there is such a strong link between children going missing and risk of sexual exploitation, professionals should always assess whether a child who has gone missing is being sexually exploited or at risk of being sexually exploited.

16 / 17 Year Olds who Run Away and may Become Homeless

When a 16 or 17 year old runs away or goes missing they are no less vulnerable than younger children and are equally at risk, particularly of sexual exploitation or involvement with gangs.

When a 16 -17 year old presents as homeless, local authority children’s services must assess their needs as for any other child. Where this assessment indicates that the young person is 'in need' and requires accommodation under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, they will usually become looked after.

The accommodation provided must be suitable, risk assessed and meet the full range of the young person’s needs. The sustainability of the placement must be considered. Young people who have run away and are at risk of homelessness may be placed in supported accommodation, with the provision of specialist support, where needs are identified.

Local authorities should have regard to statutory guidance issued in April 2010 to children’s services authorities and local housing authorities about their duties under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 and Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 to secure or provide accommodation for homeless 16 and 17 year olds.

Trafficking / Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People

Some of the children who local authorities look after may be unaccompanied asylum seeking children or other migrant children. Some children in this group may have been trafficked into the UK and may remain under the influence of their traffickers even while they are looked after. Trafficked children are at high risk of going missing, with most going missing within one week of becoming looked after and many within 48 hours. Unaccompanied migrant or asylum seeking children, who go missing immediately after becoming looked after, should be treated as children who may be victims of trafficking. Children, who have been trafficked, may be exploited for sexual purposes and the link to sexual exploitation should be addressed in conjunction with Trafficked Children and Child Sexual Exploitation.

Protecting Children at Risk of Radicalisation

Children and young people can suffer harm when exposed to extremist ideology. This harm can range from a child adopting or complying with extreme views which limit their social interaction and full engagement with their education, to children being groomed for involvement in violent attacks.

Children can by exposed to harmful, extremist ideology in the immediate or extended family, or relatives/family friends who live outside the family home but have influence over the child’s life. Older children or young people might self-radicalise over the internet or through the influence of their peer network – in this instance their parents might not know about this or feel powerless to stop their child’s radicalisation.

Going missing is a risk factor in relation to radicalisation:

  • A child may go missing because they have already been radicalised;
  • A child’s risk of being radicalised might increase because they are missing and are spending time with people who may seek to involve them in radical/extreme activities. The risk is heightened whilst they are missing, because the protective factors of family or care are not available to them.

Professionals should always assess whether a child who has gone missing is at risk of radicalisation. (See Prevent: Safeguarding Children and Young people against Radicalisation and Violent Extremism).

Children at Risk of being Drawn into Offending Behaviour

Children and young people who go missing from care, home and education also need safeguarding against the risk of being drawn into offending behaviour by gangs or criminal groups.


Children Missing from Care and Care Leavers


Prevention and Planning – Risk Assessment

Local authorities have a duty to place a looked after child in the most appropriate placement to safeguard the child and minimise the risk of the child running away. The care plan and the placement plan should include details of the arrangements that will need to be in place to keep the child safe and minimise the risk of the child going missing from their placement.

The Care Plan – should include strategies to avoid unauthorised absences and/or a child going missing. It should also include strategies to reduce the duration and risks associated if the child does have unauthorised absences/go missing. Where a child already has an established pattern of running away, the Care Plan should include a strategy to keep the child safe and minimise the likelihood of the child running away in the future. This should be discussed and agreed as far as possible with the child and with the child’s carers and should include detailed information about the responsibilities of all services, the child’s parents and other adults involved in the family network.

  • The Placement Plan – should include strategies for preventing the child from taking unauthorised absences/going missing;
  • In Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset a Missing Child ‘Passport’ may be used to capture the key information to assist in locating them;
  • In some situations a risk management meeting might be used to assist in planning the multi-agency actions to be taken when a child is repeatedly missing;
  • Provide the child with advice about an independent advocate and take the child’s views in to account;
  • Statutory reviews should consider any absences / missing episodes and revise strategies to prevent repeat absences and/or missing incidents and the care plan should be revised accordingly.

Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) should be informed about missing/ absent episodes and they should address these in statutory reviews. Any risk assessment should be updated after missing incident and should be regularly reviewed.

Designated health professionals for Looked After Children (LAC) should be informed of children missing from care. They should be included in any multi-agency strategy meetings or activity to manage the child’s retrieval and any subsequent health needs.

Designated education professionals should be informed and included in the review process.

Out of Area Placements

When a child is placed out of their local authority area, the responsible authority must make sure that the child has access to the services they need in advance of placement. This may include services to support children who go missing. Notification of the placement must be made to the host authority and other specified services. All children where there is a known risk of running away should be notified to the local police service. Information may be shared to assist in locating the child if they were to go missing.

If children placed out of their local authority run away, this protocol should be followed, in addition to complying with other processes that are specified in the policy of the host local authority. It is possible that the child will return to the area of the responsible authority so it is essential that liaison between the police and professionals in both authorities is well managed and coordinated. A notification process for missing/ absent episodes should be agreed between responsible and host local authorities and the placement providers as a part of the care plan and the placement plan.

Actions when the whereabouts of a Looked after Child is not known

Whenever the whereabouts of a looked after child is not known, the foster carer or the manager on duty in the children’s home is responsible for carrying out preliminary checks to see if the child can be located. For example, if a child was supposed to have returned home from school but has not arrived within the normal journey time, checks could include finding out if there are transport delays, phone calls to the child, phone calls to the school to see if the child has been delayed etc. If these initial checks do not succeed in locating the child or there are still concerns that, despite contact being made with the child they are at risk, the individuals and agencies listed below should be informed.

It is clearly important that a deadline is set at the outset of these initial checks so that they don’t continue beyond a reasonable timeframe. What timeframe is reasonable should be based on an assessment of the risks relating to the individual child. In some cases, there might be particular reasons to be worried for the child’s safety immediately and the individuals agencies detailed below should be contacted straight away – this in conjunction with on-going attempts to contact the child and find out why they aren’t where they are supposed to be.

The individuals and agencies who should be contacted when a child is missing or they are away from placement without authorisation:

  • The local police;
  • The authority responsible for the child’s placement – if they have not already been notified prior to the police being informed; and
  • The parents and any other person with parental responsibility, unless it is not reasonably practicable or to do so, or would be inconsistent with the child’s welfare;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO), designated health and education professionals.

As a minimum requirement, all reports should include the following information:

  • The child’s name/s; date of birth; status; responsible authority;
  • Where and when they went missing;
  • Who, if anyone, they went missing with;
  • What was the child wearing plus any belongings such as bags, phone etc.
  • Description and recent photo;
  • Medical history, if relevant;
  • Time and location last seen;
  • Circumstances or events around going missing;
  • Details of family, friends and associates;
  • Updated risk assessment.

The carer/s should take all reasonable steps, which a good parent would take, to secure the safe and speedy return of the child based on their own knowledge of the child and the information in the child’s placement plan. If there is suspected risk of harm to the child the carer/s should liaise immediately with the police.

Following initial discussions between the allocated children’s social care worker and the police, they should agree an immediate strategy for locating the child and an action plan. This will include a range of actions to locate and ensure the safe return of the child, including:

  • Arrangements for repeated attempts to be made to contact the child, for example, calling their mobile phone or the phones of friends or relatives that they may be with;
  • Visiting their parents’ address/es and those of any friends or relatives with whom they may be staying.

Within 3 days, a missing from care meeting/ telephone discussion between relevant parties should take place and include the police, the child’s social worker and the provider. The action plan and risk assessment should be reviewed and updated.

  • Missing from care meetings/discussions should be held at least monthly to update the action plan and share information;
  • The Local Authority Director of Children’s Services should be notified within 3 days of a child in care going missing who is not located. They will notify the Lead Member and Corporate Parenting Board within 7 days of the child going missing;
  • Any publicity will be led by the Police, the use of harbouring notices etc. will be agreed at the missing from care meeting. Recovery Orders may be used where the child is Looked After;
  • During the investigation to find the missing/run away child, regular liaison and communication should take place between the police, the responsible local authority children’s social care services and the host authority (if an out of area placement) and any other agencies involved;
  • The authority responsible for the child should ensure that plans are in place to respond promptly once the child is found and for determining if the placement remains appropriate.

Actions when a Child has been found

When the child has been located, care staff/ foster carers should promptly inform police and the child’s social worker that the child has returned. Arrangements will be made for Police Safe and Well checks and Independent Return Interview:

The IRO and the designated health and education colleagues will be informed of the return.

Safe and Well Checks

Police Safe and well checks are carried out by the police as soon as possible after the child has returned. Their purpose is to check for any indications that the child has suffered harm, where and with whom they have been, and to give them an opportunity to disclose any offending by or against them.

Where a child goes missing frequently, it may not be practicable for the police to see them every time they return. In these cases a reasonable decision should be taken in agreement between the police and the child’s parent or carer with regard to the frequency of such checks bearing in mind the established link between frequent missing episodes and serious harm, which could include bullying, sexual exploitation, maltreatment or abuse, gang involvement, forced marriage, radicalisation or other push / pull factors. The assessment of whether a child might run away again should be based on information about:

  • Their individual circumstances;
  • Family circumstances and background history;
  • Their motivation for running away;
  • Their potential destinations and associates;
  • Their recent pattern of absences;
  • The circumstances in which the child was found or returned; and
  • Their individual characteristics and risk factors such as whether a child has learning difficulties, mental health issues, depression and other vulnerabilities.

Independent Return Interview

The Independent Return Interview is an in-depth interview and should be carried out by an independent professional (e.g. a social worker, Barnardos, teacher, health professional, youth worker or police officer, not involved in caring for the child and who is trained to carry out these interviews and is able). In some situations a professional who is working with the child will be the most appropriate person to conduct the Independent Return Interview. The child should be seen on their own unless they specifically request to have someone with them. The child should be offered the option of speaking to an independent representative or advocate.

Barnardos have been commissioned to undertake Independent Return Interview in some situations and the process for referring to them is in a flowchart in local documents (see Documents Library).

The responsible local authority should ensure the Independent Return Interview takes place, working closely with the host authority where appropriate. The independent return interview should be offered and provided within 72 hours of the child being located or returning from absence, it should preferably take place in a neutral place where they feel safe. Delays in return interviews may mean a loss of important information or evidence.

The interview and actions that follow from it should:

  • Identify and deal with any harm the child has suffered – including harm that might not have already been disclosed as part of the ‘Safe and Well check’– either before they ran away or whilst missing;
  • Understand and try to address the reasons why the child ran away;
  • Help the child feel ‘safe’ / understand that they have options, to prevent repeat instances of them running away;
  • Understand what the child would like to see happen next whether short term and/or long term;
  • Gather the parents’ or carers’ views of the circumstances, if appropriate;
  • Provide the child with information on how to stay safe if they choose to run away again, including helpline numbers.

Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset Local Authorities have different criteria for offering a Return Home Interview – local Authority Policies will need to be reviewed to understand the different approaches.

It is especially important that the Independent Return interview takes place when a child:

  • Has been reported missing on two or more occasions;
  • Is frequently absent without authorisation;
  • Has been hurt or harmed while they have been missing;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of sexual exploitation or trafficking;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of involvement in criminal activity or drugs;
  • Has contact with persons posing risk to children; and/or
  • Has been engaged (or is believed to have engaged) in criminal activities during their absence.

Follow up

The local authority children’s social care services, police and other agencies involved with the child should work together to assess the child and:

  • To build up a comprehensive picture of why the child went missing;
  • What happened while they were missing;
  • Who they were missing with and where they were found; and
  • What support they require upon returning home;
  • Whether a statutory review of the care plan is required.

Where children refuse to engage with the interviewer, parents and/or carers should be offered the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence they may be aware of. This should help to prevent further instances of the child running away and identify early the support needed for them.

Repeat Running Away

Police have defined repeat missing as a child who has been missing for the third time in three months, or any other child who based on risks should be regarded as a repeat missing child. The Police Missing Person Unit will identify repeat missing children and be responsible for holding missing persons planning meetings with partner agencies.

If a child continually runs away actions following earlier incidents need reviewing and alternative strategies should be considered.

To reduce repeat running away and improve the longer-term safety of children and young people, the agencies involved may want to provide:

  • Better access and timely independent return interviews, particularly for the most vulnerable;
  • Safety planning with the child for their missing episodes;
  • Better access to support whilst a young person is away, which may come from the voluntary sector.

Children’s homes staff and foster carers should be trained and supported to offer a consistent approach to the care of children, including being proactive about strategies to prevent children from running away; and to understand the procedures that must be followed if a child goes missing.

The competence and support needs of staff in children’s homes and foster cares in responding to missing from care issues should be considered as part of their regular appraisal and supervision.

The Children’s Home Regulations 2001 (as amended) requires children’s homes to have a Missing child policy. They also require that before implementing, or making substantive changes to an existing policy, children’s homes shall consult with relevant partners and take into consideration any relevant local authority or police protocols on missing children. Finally, where a child is, or has been, persistently absent without permission from the children’s home; or is at risk of harm, the children’s home shall ask the local authority that looks after the child to review that child’s care plan.

The National Minimum Standards (Standard 5.5) specifies that staff should actively search for children and work with the police where appropriate.

Care Leavers

From the age of 16 young people in care are referred to as care leavers, however, it is important to note that local authorities have very similar duties and responsibilities towards 16 and 17 year old care leavers as they do to children in care and for the purposes of this guidance, the response to a missing care leaver age 16 and 17 year old should be the same.

Local authorities continue to have a range of responsibilities towards children leaving care until the young person’s 21st and in some instances their 25th birthday. It is good practice to follow the guidance set out below whilst a young person remains ‘leaving care’.

Care leavers, particularly 16 and 17 year olds, are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and may go missing from their home or accommodation. Local authorities must ensure that care leavers live in “suitable accommodation” as defined in Section 23B (10) of the Children Act 1989 and Regulations 9(2) of the Care Leavers Regulations, The Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010.

In particular young people should feel safe in their accommodation and the areas where it is located. Local authorities should ensure that pathway plans set out where a young person may be vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking or going missing, and put in place support services to minimise this risk.

Looked after Children who are away from Placement without Authorisation

Sometimes a looked after child may be away from their placement without authorisation. While they are not missing, they may still be placing themselves at risk (e.g. they may be at the house of friends where there are concerns about risks of sexual exploitation). The carer or social worker should take reasonable steps to ascertain the wellbeing of the child including, when appropriate, visiting the location. However, if there is a concern the child may be at significant risk of harm to themselves or to others then police should also be notified in order that appropriate safeguarding measures can be taken. This should not be confused with reporting a child missing.


Children Missing from Home


Children Missing from Home

Children missing from home are subject to risks and vulnerabilities similar to those for children who are looked after. NHS designated and named professionals hold a statutory role with regards to safeguarding in the local health community, and must be included in the information sharing and management processes being put in place for children deemed to be at high risk.

Sharing information with health agencies should be coordinated through Dorset Healthcare Trust Safeguarding Team, located within the MASH / MAISE who will liaise with the Named and Designated health professionals.

Notifying the Police

The police will respond to all notifications of children categorised as ‘missing’ as medium or high risk in accordance with this guidance.

The information required by the police to assist in locating and returning the child to a safe environment is as follows:

  • The child’s name/s; date of birth; status; responsible authority;
  • Where and when they went missing;
  • Who, if anyone, they went missing with;
  • What the child was wearing plus any belongings they had with them such as bags, phone etc;
  • Description and recent photo;
  • Medical history, if relevant;
  • Time and location last seen;
  • Circumstances or events around going missing;
  • Details of family, friends and associates.

Actions when a Child is Missing

Child protection procedures must be initiated in collaboration with children’s social care services whenever there are concerns that a child who is missing may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. See Referrals Procedure.

A risk assessment should be completed in line with this protocol and action by the police will include:

  • An active and measured response by police and other agencies in order to trace the missing child and support the person reporting;
  • A proactive investigation and search in accordance with the circumstances to locate the missing child as soon as possible;
  • The UK Missing Persons Bureau should be notified of the case;
  • CEOP and children’s social care services should be notified.

Actions when a Child has been Found

Police notification of the child being missing and subsequently found is sent to the relevant local authority children’s services. The Local Authority will assess the risk and decide what form of assessment is needed. There are a range of service options available to address the child's needs following the safe and well check and Independent Return interview.

Safe and Well Checks

Police Safe and well checks should be carried out as soon as possible after the child has returned. Their purpose is to check for any indications that the child has suffered harm, where and with whom they have been, and to give the child an opportunity to disclose any offending against them.

Where a child goes missing frequently, it may not be practicable for the police to see them every time they return. In these cases a reasonable decision should be taken in agreement between the police and the child’s parent with regard to the frequency of such checks bearing in mind the established link between frequent missing episodes and serious harm.

The assessment of whether a child might run away again should be based on information about:

  • Their individual circumstances;
  • Family circumstances and background history;
  • Their motivation for running away;
  • Their potential destinations and associates;
  • Their recent pattern of absences;
  • The circumstances in which the child was found or returned; and
  • Their individual characteristics and risk factors such as whether a child has learning difficulties, mental health issues, depression and other vulnerabilities.

Independent Return Interview

The Independent Return Interview is an in-depth interview and should be carried out by an independent professional (e.g. a social worker, Barnardos, teacher, health professional, youth worker or police officer, who does not usually work with the child and is trained to carry out these interviews). Sometimes it will be appropriate for a professional who knows the child to undertake the interview. Children sometimes need to build up trust with a person before they will discuss in depth the reasons why they ran away.

Barnardos have been commissioned to undertake Independent Return Interview in some situations and the process for referring to them is in a flowchart in local documents (see Documents Library).

The police should make a referral to the children’s social care services to ensure that an Independent Return Interview takes place. Contact should be made with the child and an independent return interview should be offered and provided within 72 hours of the child, being located or returning from absence, preferably in a neutral place where they feel safe. Delays in return interviews may mean a loss of important information or evidence.

Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset Local Authorities have different criteria for offering a Return Home Interview – local Authority Policies will need to be reviewed to understand the different approaches.

The interview and actions that follow from it should:

  • Identify and deal with any harm the child has suffered – including harm that might not have already been disclosed as part of the ‘Safe and Well check’– either before they ran away or whilst missing;
  • Understand and try to address the reasons why the child ran away;
  • Help the child feel ‘safe’ and understand that they have options, to prevent repeat instances of them running away;
  • Understand what the child would like to see happen next whether short term and/or long term;
  • Gather the parents or carers views of the circumstances, if appropriate;
  • Provide the child with information on how to stay safe if they choose to run away again, including helpline numbers.

It is especially important that the Independent Return  interview takes place when a child:

  • Has been reported missing on two or more occasions;
  • Is frequently absent without parental agreement;
  • Has been hurt or harmed while they have been missing;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of sexual exploitation or trafficking;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of involvement in criminal activity or drugs;
  • Has contact with persons posing risk to children; and/or
  • Has been engaged (or is believed to have engaged) in criminal activities during their absence.

Following the safe and well check and Independent Return Interview, the local authority children’s services, police and voluntary services should assess the child’s needs and work together:

  • To build up a comprehensive picture of why the child went missing;
  • What happened while they were missing;
  • Who they were missing with and where they were found; and
  • What support they require upon returning home

Where children refuse to engage with the interview, parents should be offered the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence they may be aware of. This should help to prevent further instances of the child running away and identify early the support needed for them.

Information about local help lines and agencies working with runaways should be provided to the child and family.


Children who are Foreign Nationals and go Missing


Definitions

This section applies to children who are ‘subject to restriction’. i.e. who have:

  • Proceeded through immigration control without obtaining leave to enter; or
  • Left the border control area Border Force accommodation without permission; or
  • Been granted temporary admission; or
  • Been granted temporary release or bail; or
  • Released on a restriction order; or
  • Served with a ‘notice of liability to deport’ or is the dependant of a foreign national offender whose status in the UK is under consideration by criminal casework – these dependants could be British Citizens or have extant leave.

Action and Responsibilities when the whereabouts of a Child ‘subject to restrictions’ is not known

A missing person’s referral must be made by Home Office staff to the police, the UK Missing Person Bureau and the local authority children’s social care in a number of circumstances including:

  • When a child ‘subject to restriction’ is identified as having run away from their parents;
  • Where they are looked after and have gone missing from their placement;
  • Where they are being hidden by their parents and where there is concern for the child’s safety because they are being hidden by, or have gone missing with, their family.

A copy of the missing persons notification form must be faxed or emailed to the local authority duty desk and the UK MPB.

If it is believed by Home Office staff that a child is being coerced to abscond or go missing, this must be reported as a concern that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm to the local police and children’s social care services.

Notifications will also be made where a missing child is found by Home Office staff. See Home Office Guidance: Missing Children and Vulnerable Adults Guidance.

The local authority and health are responsible for:

  • Reporting any missing child who is in their care to the police;
  • Notifying the Home Office when a child is reported missing to the police or is found.

The police are responsible for:

  • Investigating all children reported missing by the Home Office - following receipt of a missing person’s notification;
  • Conducting joint investigations with the Home Office where necessary;
  • Circulating a missing child on the Police National Computer (PNC).

The Police central point of contact is the PNC Team in Liverpool.

The local authority will also notify the Home Office Evidence and Enquiry Unit when a child in their care goes missing or when a missing child returns or is found. The Home Office must maintain regular weekly contact with the local authority and the police until the child is found and record all contact with the police and local authority.

Action when the Child ‘subject to restriction’ is found

Found by Home Office Staff

The local police and local authority must be informed immediately.

In consultation with the local police and local authority children’s social care, a decision will be made as to where the child is to be taken, if they are not to be left at the address where they are encountered.  The Home Office must follow up enquires with the local police and children/adult services in order to identify if there are any safeguarding issues.

Found by the police or local authority

The Home Office Command and Control Unit [1] will be the single point of contact for the local police and the Evidence and Enquiry Unit Evidence and Enquiry Unit [2] will be the single point of contact for local authorities to notify the Home Office that a child has been found.

[1] CommandandControlUnit@homeoffice.gov.uk
[2] Home Office UK Border Agency, Evidence and Enquiry Unit, 12th Floor Lunar House, 40 Wellesley Road, London, CR9 2BY


Flowchart: Statutory Guidance on Children who Run Away or go Missing from Home or Care

Click here to view flowchart showing roles and responsibilities when a child goes missing from care.

Data on looked after children who go missing or are away from placement without authorisation

The Department of Education Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care (January 2014) states the following:

Local authorities should collect data on children reported missing from care including repeat episodes of missing from care, unauthorised absences from care placements, and other relevant data and should regularly analyse this in order to map problems and patterns. Looked after children who go missing, or who are away from placement without authorisation, can be at increased risk of sexual or other forms of exploitation or of involvement in drugs, gangs, criminal activity or trafficking. Particular attention should be paid to repeat episodes. This should include identifying patterns of sexual and other exploitation. Regular reports on this data should be provided to council members (including the Corporate Parenting Board for the responsible Local authority) and the two LSCBs.

Data for children missing or away from placement without authorisation is reported to the Department for Education by the responsible authority (through their annual data returns on looked after children as part of the annual SSDA903 data collection).

Early and effective sharing of information between professionals and local agencies is essential for the identification of patterns of risky behaviour. This may be used to identify areas of concern for an individual child, or to identify ‘hotspots’ of activity in a local area.

Data analysis

Good practice suggests that the following data should be collected and analysed by a multi professional group:

  • Demographics of all children who are missing, or away from placement without authorisation;
  • Associates of the above;
  • The legal status of the children;
  • Episodes, and length of episode by child;
  • Numbers and themes from safe and well checks;
  • Numbers and themes from Independent Return Interviews;
  • Cross match data with local information about gangs, CSE lists, home educated and missing from education lists, including information about children who go missing for part of the school day;
  • Consideration should be given to analysing where the child is found as this information could help identify links between missing children and criminal groups.

Analyse data by establishment and geographical area.

Data about children and young people who go missing from home, education or care should be included in regular reports to Council members, especially to the Lead Member for Children’s Services and in quarterly reports by the local authority to the two LSCBs.

When the three Local Authorities and the Dorset Police analyse trends and patterns in relation to children, who run away or go missing from home, particular attention should be paid to repeat ‘missing ‘episodes. The Local Authorities and the two LSCBs needs to be alert to the risk of sexual exploitation or involvement in drugs, gangs or criminal activity such as trafficking and to be aware of local “hot spots” as well as concerns about any individuals, who children runaway to be with.

The Local authorities and the two LSCBs should also consider the ‘hidden missing’, who are children who have not been reported missing to the police, but have come to an agency’s attention after accessing other services. There may also be trafficked children who have not previously come to the attention of children’s services or the police. Research demonstrates that children from black and minority ethnic groups, and children that go missing from education are less likely to be reported as missing. Local authorities and the police should be proactive in places where they believe under reporting may be more likely because of the relationships some communities, or individuals, have with the statutory sector.



Amendments to this chapter

In August 2017 this chapter was updated. In Section 4, Children Missing from Care and Care Leavers in the guidance on Independent Return Interview a small amendment was added clarifying the importance that a Return Interview should be offered and provided within 72 hours of the child being located or returning from absence. This is in line with the Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home or Care (2014) and is important to reduce the risk of the loss of important information or evidence.

End.