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2.19 Children missing from care, home and education
- Introduction(Jump to)
- Definitions(Jump to)
- Principles(Jump to)
- Protection and action to be taken(Jump to)
- Roles and responsibilities(Jump to)
- Data collection(Jump to)
- Specific risks(Jump to)
- Children who are foreign nationals and go missing(Jump to)
The purpose of this procedure is to assist professionals to respond to children who go missing from home, care and education.
The procedure has been devised to support the implementation of Department for Education statutory guidance Children who run away or go missing from home or care (2014) and the College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice (2017). Department for Education statutory guidance is issued under Section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970, which requires local authorities in exercising their social services function to act under the general guidance of the Secretary of State. Local authorities must comply with this guidance when exercising these functions, unless local circumstances indicate exceptional reasons that justify a variation.
Refer to the Children Missing Education (CME) procedure for further information and guidance about children who are of compulsory school age who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at school.
The College of Policing has issued Authorised Professional Practice (APP) guidance for missing persons (2017). Police officers and staff are expected to have regard to APP in discharging their responsibilities. There may, however, be circumstances when it is perfectly legitimate to deviate, provided there is clear rationale for doing so. APP states that: “going missing should be treated as an indicator that the individual may be at risk of harm. The safeguarding of vulnerable people is paramount and a missing person report should be recognised as an opportunity to identify and address risks. The reasons for a person deciding to go missing may be complex and linked to a variety of social or family issues.
Three key factors should be considered in a missing person investigation:
- protecting those at risk of harm;
- minimising distress and ensuring high quality of service to the families and carers of missing persons;
- prosecuting those who perpetrate harm or pose a risk of harm when this is appropriate and supported by evidence.”
This guidance complements Working Together to Safeguard Children and related statutory guidance (2018) and the Children Act (1989) guidance and regulation volumes in respect of care planning and review, and The Statutory Guidance on Children who run away from Home or Care (2014).
Children running away and going missing from care, home and education poses a significant operational challenge for the children’s partnership, with Children’s Society identifying that 100,000 children run away from home or care in the UK every year. When children run away they are at risk of physical abuse, sexual exploitation and are forced to use risky survival strategies.1 Inspections have told us that the multi-agency response to missing children requires further development.2
This procedure gives a high level overview of our responsibilities to children missing from home, care and education. Given the different needs, risks, service availability and implementation of the statutory guidance in each of our local police force and local authority areas, it is imperative that local processes, pathways and expectations are well understood. Check with your local area procedures.
Other relevant procedures include:
- Children affected by Exploitation and Trafficking (including Gangs)
- Female genital mutilation
- Forced marriage
- Honour-based violence
- Children from abroad
1.Rees, G (2011) Still Running 3: Early findings from our third national survey of young runaways, 2011 London: The Children’s Society.
3. Voices of England’s Missing Children The Children’s Commissioner June 2022
Based on the statutory guidance on Children who run away or go missing from home or care (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 run away: 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.
Responsible local authority: the local authority that is responsible for a looked after child’s care and care planning. If a child is placed in care outside of a child’s local authority, the responsible local authority remains the child’s home local authority or the placing authority, not the local authority where the child is placed in care.
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 experienced: an eligible, relevant or former relevant child as defined by the Children Act 1989.
Away from placement without authorisation: a looked after child whose whereabouts is known but 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, should be treated as missing.
Parent: The parents, friends, relatives, or those providing private fostering arrangements who look after the child at their current place of residence.
Carer: The care provider who has been tasked by the Local Authority and those with parental responsibility for the child to act in ‘loco parentis’.
The College of Policing APP defines missing as:
“Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located and their well-being or otherwise confirmed.
All reports of missing people sit within a continuum of risk from ‘no apparent risk’ through to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action.”
* NB Children missing from care, home and education is not to be confused with the children missing education (CME) policy. Children missing from care, home and education is when a child has gone missing or whose whereabouts cannot be established. The definition of a child missing education is:
"A compulsory school-age child who is not on the roll of a school, not placed in alternative provision by a local authority, and who is not receiving a suitable education at home" .
The overriding principle is ‘Every missing episode is potentially serious’.
Our joint aim is to reduce the incidence of all children and young people going missing, and if they do, to reduce the risk of them suffering harm and recover them to safety as soon as possible. We do this through partnership working, information sharing, problem solving, and performance management.
Each safeguarding partnership will monitor compliance with local protocols and monitor the appropriateness and relevance of this policy. Together we will take steps to ensure improved responses and practice thereby delivering better outcomes for children and young people.
Where known information is minimal, the risk cannot be accurately assessed without active investigation. It does not mean low or no risk; appropriate lines of enquiry should be set to gather the required information to inform the risk assessment.
The fact that the child or young person may have gone missing on a number of previous occasions does not reduce the risk. In fact, children or young people who repeatedly go missing are often being enticed away from their placement by risky activities that they see as exciting or by predatory influences and as such the risk is increased. Furthermore, short absences may be as risky as lengthy ones.
No child shall be deemed low or no risk missing who is:
- at risk of/experiencing child sexual or other forms of exploitation
- an unaccompanied asylum seeking child (UASC)
- under 12.
The length of time a child has been missing should be a contributory factor to the assessment of risk.
Interventions are important in attempting to address repeat missing episodes. They must be informed by effective return interviews, multi-agency risk assessments and reflected as SMART actions in the child’s care plan.
A child or young person's concerns will be taken seriously, they should feel heard and their words recorded verbatim but this should not prevent safeguarding action from being taken.
All professionals need to be careful not to label young people despite challenging and/or criminal behaviour the young person is involved in. The starting point should always be that young people who go missing are in potentially dangerous situations because of complex push and pull factors.
All professionals will be mindful to give careful consideration to address equality issues in relation to ethnicity, religion, gender, disability.
It is important that any relevant information obtained is shared with all partner agencies, to ensure effective future safeguarding. Information and intelligence should be shared via local processes with the host and home local authorities and the police.
In the event that a child cannot be located but the parent/carer has any concern about their whereabouts or safety or a risk the child may pose to others, there should be no delay in calling the police and reporting the child as missing. Schools have a duty of care for the child whilst in their care and schools may report missing students directly to the police. This is particularly the case if the child has additional risk factors such as being neglected.
The expectation is that parents/carers accept normal parenting responsibilities and undertake reasonable actions to try and establish the whereabouts of the child. Children who are breaching parental discipline should not be dealt with by police unless there are other risks. For example, a child who is late home from a party should not be regarded as missing until the parent or carer has undertaken enquiries to locate the child.
Parents or carers may need police support if they are very distressed or otherwise unable to undertake enquiries.
In the event that a child cannot be located, and where it is safe to do so, basic steps taken to locate and establish wellbeing might include*:
- Search the bedroom/house/outbuildings/vehicles.
- Contact known friends and relatives where the child may be.
- Visit locations that the child is known to frequent.
- Attempt to contact the child on the telephone, via text or social media.
- If applicable checking with the school, college, other education provider or work placement.
If the child is looked after:
- make appropriate enquiries with the child’s parents/ carer and other relatives
- make appropriate enquiries with other residential homes, foster carers, residential schools
- make enquiries with other carers and professionals who have been involved with the child.
*NB In exception to 4.1 above; in some circumstances, if a child’s behaviour/ previous behaviour is high risk, agreed child missing protocols concerning that child are put in place. These protocols may include contacting the police immediately before steps are taken to locate the child.
The local police force, 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 and in line with current guidance.
Detailed and accurate information must be recorded about the circumstances and the reasons for making the report. This will ensure that the correct level of risk is assessed and appropriate police action prioritised.
An immediate risk assessment will be made on the basis of the questions asked by the call handler. In preparation, the person making the report should consider:
- The circumstances around being unable to locate the child.
- The age, basic details and description (including last known clothing).
- The maturity of the child or young person.
- The possible reasons for the child going missing and their likely intentions.
- Whether the child is running from or to anything.
- Medical needs or need for urgent or ongoing medical treatment.
- Whether they use or are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
- The influence of peer groups/family.
- Patterns of criminality or offending.
- Any learning or physical disability of the child.
- Environmental factors such as weather, time of year, community events or tensions.
- Any known risk of abduction.
- Previous behaviour and history of the child.
- Danger posed by the child to themselves and others.
- General vulnerability of the child.
- Predatory influences on the child including others wanting to use them for crime, sex or drugs.
Where a child is not known to the police or there is limited information available, a joint assessment should be undertaken by the police who will make contact with partner agencies, to gain further information, to inform the risk assessment and search for the child. If the child has been missing for 24 hours or more, a strategy meeting will be held including a full multi-agency review of the risk. If the child is an open case to Children’s Social Care, the responsible social care team will run the meeting. If the child is not currently receiving support, the strategy meeting will be held by the MASH or local equivalent.
Extreme caution should be exercised before making a decision of low or no risk for a child for whom there is limited information and/or to go missing is out of character. Risk levels can be reduced following new information but should they have been made incorrectly low in the first instance valuable time may have been lost to safely locate a child.
It is imperative that you understand your local police force policy on the definition of missing and how national guidance has been implemented. As a guide, the APP states:
No apparent risk
There is no apparent risk of harm to either the subject or the public.
Actions to locate the subject and/or gather further information should be agreed with the informant and a latest review time set to reassess the risk.
The risk of harm to the subject or the public is assessed as possible but minimal.
Proportionate enquiries should be carried out to ensure that the individual has not come to harm.
The risk of harm to the subject or the public is assessed as likely but not serious.
This category requires an active and measured response by the police and other agencies in order to trace the missing person and support the person reporting.
The risk of serious harm to the subject or the public is assessed as very likely.
This category almost always requires the immediate deployment of police resources – action may be delayed in exceptional circumstances, such as searching water or forested areas during hours of darkness. A member of the senior management team must be involved in the examination of initial lines of enquiry and approval of appropriate staffing levels. Such cases should lead to the appointment of an investigating officer (IO) and possibly an SIO, and a police search adviser (PolSA).
There should be a press/media strategy and/or close contact with outside agencies. Family support should be put in place where appropriate. The Missing Person’s Bureau should be notified of the case without undue delay. Children’s services must also be notified immediately if the person is under 18.
Multi-agency meetings for missing children
If a child goes missing for a significant length of time or repeatedly, the risks increase and should be reviewed through a missing strategy or intervention meeting. In most cases this will be a local authority initiated strategy meeting as there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.
Local guidance will specify the trigger points, pathways and escalation processes for multi-agency meetings however as a minimum expectation any child missing for 24 hours (from home or care) should have a multi-agency meeting to review the risk and plan for their safe recovery.
Other criteria to call a multi-agency meeting might include:
- A child who has gone missing three times in a 90-day period.
- Any case where the risks involved in even a single future missing episode are very high.
- Cases where it has been identified that immediate action is necessary to ensure the wellbeing of the person.
- One individual having between four and six missing episodes in one year.
- Consideration should be given to alerting the Director of Children’s Services, especially in the event that the child is looked after.
If two or more children have gone missing together from their home or placement(s), the responsible social workers for all the children should liaise with the placement provider/s and consider whether to arrange a joint missing persons’ inter-agency meeting to address the needs of all the missing children. Unless there is a specific reason as to why this joint meeting should not or cannot take place, this should be considered as the most appropriate way to ensure a holistic picture is obtained, minimise duplication and ensure a plan of action is timely and co-ordinated. In so doing, careful consideration should be given to the issue of confidentiality, information should be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis and should be relevant to the missing incident(s). A separate individual record of the meeting and a separate action plan must be drawn up for each child. NB: where parents/ carers are involved in such meetings, arrangements will need to be made to manage confidentiality issues for each child.
This meeting should include all key agencies including the Local Authority, Police, School representative, heath rep etc. The meeting will try to identify any ‘push’ or ‘pull’ factors in the case and any other voluntary or statutory agency, which has an interest, or may take an interest, in the missing person’s welfare and circumstances. In the case of ‘pull’ factors it may be necessary to target those in the community who harbour the missing person or exploit them with regard to crime, sex or drugs. It should plan for their safe recovery and actions to be taken to safeguard them once they are located, including the appropriate placement.
Child is located
Plans for when a child is located should form part of the initial plan for their recovery. This will include consideration of whether the previous arrangements at home or in placement are safe and appropriate.
If a child returns to home or placement or is found by a parent/carer, it is the responsibility of the parent/carer to contact the police. If there are concerns that the child has been the victim of a crime or that they may be in danger or at risk from any person arising out of circumstances that have occurred whilst they were missing, this should be reported at this point.
Where previous care arrangements remain appropriate and the whereabouts of a child is suspected, or becomes known, it is the responsibility of the parent/carer to arrange for the child or young person's return. In exceptional circumstances, the police, in conjunction with children’s services, may assist in the return of the child where necessitated by specific concerns.
Where a child has been found but was not reported missing to the police by their parent/carer, they should be encouraged to report any future episodes. Children’s services should consider further assessment to identify early any safeguarding concerns or support needs.
Police will arrange to visit the child to carry out a ‘prevention interview’ as soon as is practicable; this was previously referred to as the ‘safe and well check’ and may continue to be referred to as such in some local procedures. The purpose is to ensure their safety and wellbeing. It should identify any ongoing risks or factors which may contribute to them going missing again. According to police guidance, all those who are assessed as ‘high risk’ should have a prevention interview but; no risk, low risk and medium cases should also be carefully considered. Local forces will determine their criteria for offering a ‘prevention interview’.
If it is identified that the child is likely to go missing again, plan should be created to inform future action.
Where a child or young person goes missing frequently it may not be practicable to see them following every occasion; for example if they go missing again prior to the prevention interview being conducted. The frequency should be determined with the police and those responsible for the care of the child. This should not be used as an ‘opt out’ and where it is reasonable and practical every missing episode that meets the locally agreed criteria should be responded with a prevention interview.
If the child has an allocated social worker they should arrange to see the child as soon as possible after the missing episode and consider whether they should arrange an early review of the child’s plan. Where the child is looked after, this should be done in consultation with the IRO and parents/ carer should be informed of the return.
Statutory guidance states that a Return Home Interview should be carried out by an independent person within 72 hours of return.
A Return Interview is an in-depth conversation led by a trained professional whom the young person can trust. They should be able to help identify the reasons for running away, such as neglect, or any form of abuse and highlight any exploitation that may have occurred whilst the young person was missing. They also allow professionals to take swift action to prevent further risks.
For looked after children placed out of area, it is the responsibility of the responsible (placing) authority to arrange an independent return interview and arrangements should be explicit within the placement and care plan for the child that reference relevant pathways. Once a local authority has received a notification that a child has been found they should follow local guidance for the criteria and pathway for access to a welfare return interview.
Where a child is known to services, the lead practitioner should be consulted prior to the Return Interview to ensure that the needs of the child are taken into account, particularly any mental health or learning needs to ensure that these are managed safely. It is important to complete the Return Interview process fully and to gather any appropriate information in such a way that this can be used as evidence in any other arena as required this includes making clear the distinction between fact, opinion, professional judgement and the sources of information and intelligence.
If during the Return Interview discussion information is disclosed concerning harm to or from the young person, the staff member needs to take the relevant steps to report this either to the police and/or to the local authority if safeguarding concerns are raised. This may lead to other assessment processes including early help, Social Work Assessment or Section 47 investigation.
The Return Interview should try to understand and address the reasons why a child went missing and help them feel safe to prevent a repeat. It should identify any actions that might be required to improve their health, wellbeing and safety as a result of events while they were missing, e.g. a sexual health appointment and provide them with information on their options and how to stay safe in future.
Parents and carers should be given the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence and identify any ongoing support needs from their perspective. This cannot be classified as a child return interview however.
Parent/carer obstruction of an interview should be discussed with the children’s services for consideration of further action to safeguard the child.
Intelligence from the interview should be submitted to the local police force for the responsible and host authority area via local procedures. Professional feedback must also be sent to relevant social worker or lead practitioner and the child’s school, detailing relevant information relating to the missing episode, along with recommendations for preventative action, local agreements will identify how this occurs.
In addition to the basic requirements in ‘Protection and Action to be Taken’, there are additional considerations for specific groups and situations that include additional statutory responsibilities and powers that are relevant in responding to missing children and additional actions that may be required dependent on the role of an agency/organisation.
Organised activity providers
What to do if a child goes missing from an organised activity should be written into any off-site risk assessment prior to undertaking.
There should be a sufficient staffing-to-child ratio that if a child goes missing a search of the immediate vicinity can be undertaken. If there is a known risk then this should be taken into account and sufficient support, 1:1 if necessary provided to the child throughout the duration of the activity.
If the child is not swiftly located through a search of the immediate vicinity then they should be reported as missing to the police force of the area in which they have gone missing as well as the home LA and parents/carers; internal procedures for notification to senior managers should be followed.
Foster carers and residential care providers
In addition to any local requirements, providers should alert the host local authority children’s services and the police about any child placed in their care (see Out of Area Children in Care Notifications England).
If there is an identified child exploitation (CE) risk, the host authority, police and local authority CE/ CSE co-ordinator should be informed.
In the event that a child cannot be located and has been reported missing to the police; the child’s social worker, within the responsible authority, should be informed, as should the host local authority (if the child is placed out of area) and the child’s parents/ carers when appropriate.
Out of hours, the Emergency Duty Team for the responsible and host local authority should be informed.
Responsible local authority
Prior to placement of a child ‘out of area’, away from their ‘family home’ or normal place of residence, the responsible local authority* (*the placing authority or where the child has come from) must liaise with the identified host local authority* (*the local authority where the child will be living in care) to determine the suitability and any known risks; including the impact of and on any children already in placement.
Prior to placement, the host authority must be notified of a child moving into their area or within 72 hours should the placement be made in an emergency.
Notifications should be made in line with the Out of Area Children in Care Notifications England.
Individual Placement Agreements (IPA) should reference the agreement of the responsible local authority to adhere to the missing protocol of the host local authority and arrangements for them to hold or be involved in a multi-agency meetings at the relevant trigger points.
When a child placed out of area goes missing, it is the responsibility of the responsible local authority* (that is the local authority where the child originally came from) to ensure the child receives a return interview. It is not the responsibility of the host local authority* (*that is the local authority where the child is in care) to carry out the return interview. Arrangements for these should be agreed as part of the child’s plan or IPA upon placement.
(*Note in some cases, the responsible authority (placing authority) may ask the hosting authority to carry out the return interview on behalf of the responsible authority. This would be a specific agreement, a pragmatic approach, but recognises that the ultimate accountability for the return interview, still sits with the responsible authority).
Host local authority
Should the child experience significant harm whilst missing, the host local authority should convene a strategy discussion in conjunction with the responsible authority and follow child protection procedures.
Where a host authority has information/intelligence that impacts on the safety or wellbeing of the child within the placement, this information should be shared with the responsible authority.
Where a host authority is notified of a placement and the child has any pre-identified risks for which there is a specialist panel, co-ordinator or team then they should be informed and provided with relevant details to ensure that this contributes to an overall picture of the local authority and that any relevant information/intelligence that may impact on the child within placement can be identified and acted on.
If the host local authority receives relevant information from return interviews, this should be stored securely for future planning and safeguarding purposes and used to inform local area assessments and planning where appropriate.
Police and local authority – legal powers
The police have significant powers of arrest, entry and protection to safeguard vulnerable children in certain circumstances in accordance with law. It is recognised that children or young people who have been the victim of a serious offence may not always see themselves as victims or be willing to assist in the investigation, particularly in the early stages. Likewise the perpetrator(s) of the crime may not be willing to assist the police. A complaint from a victim is not required to make an arrest.
Local authorities also have powers to apply to the Courts for a range of orders under public law that would allow them to accommodate or recover a child to a place of safety.
Anyone who is in the company of a child or young person without parental, or carer, knowledge or agreement should do what is reasonable to safeguard and promote the child’s or young person’s welfare. They should inform the police, children’s services and the parents/ or carers of the child/young person of their whereabouts and safety. If this is not complied with, and the child is under 16 or under 18 if subject of a Care Order, the police could consider advice or warning under the Child Abduction Act 1984 (Child Abduction Warning Notice).
Anyone who ‘takes or detains’ a run away under 16 or under 18 if subject of a Care Order, without lawful authority may be prosecuted under Section 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984 or Section 49 of the Children Act 1989.
A wide range of tactical, civil and criminal considerations for police and local authority to use their legal powers to safeguard victims and pursue and disrupt offenders and locations can be found in the West Midlands Metropolitan Region Disruption Toolkit. Departmental legal advice should be sought when appropriate to explore the options in more detail.
The local authority
Section 11 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, Ofsted will include an assessment of measures with regard to missing children as part of their key judgement on the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection.
The local authority should name a senior children’s service manager as responsible for monitoring policies and performance relating to children who go missing from home or care. The responsible manager should understand the risks and issues facing children missing from home or care and review best practice in responding.
A young run away, a child who has run away from their home or care placement, may have been forced or lured to leave their place of residence. In some circumstances a child may have left their home because they are at risk if they remain there. They could be abused at home. If potentially a child is at risk at home social services should assess the risk and make appropriate arrangements for alternative accommodation.
Children should have information about and easy access to; help lines and support services. Support should also be made available to families to help them understand why the child has run away and how they can support them on their return.
Local authorities should agree with local police and other partners a protocol for dealing with children who run away or go missing in their area. Where appropriate, they should also have agreed protocols with neighbouring authorities or administrations. The protocols should be agreed and reviewed regularly with all agencies and be scrutinised by the local safeguarding organisations. Police force operational areas often cover more than a single local authority area. Runaway and Missing from Home and Care (RMFHC) protocols should therefore be agreed by agencies on a regional or sub-regional basis to ensure a consistent approach.
Ofsted: Disclosure to police
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 a strategic and operational approach to safeguarding children particularly in relation to sexual exploitation and trafficking. This 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.
Schools and other Education Establishments
Schools have a key role in identifying and reporting children who may be missing from care, home and school. Schools have a safeguarding duty in respect of their pupils and as part of this should investigate any unexplained absences. The statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education 2023 provides further guidance for schools and colleges on their safeguarding.
Daily calls to the parents/carers of children not attending without a reason are important. Schools should endeavour to deal with the issue of a child missing from education by taking action to trace children whose whereabouts are not known, for example if they are truanting. Pupils who have truanted either at the start or part way through a school day, need to be accounted for.
Where a pupil is missing and schools are unable to account for that child, schools may have information regarding the missing episode that need to be reported directly to the Police. Especially where other outside agencies are involved.
Education professionals should have an understanding of the risks associated with children that go missing. All staff working in schools should be aware of their professional responsibilities and the responses undertaken by the multi-agency partnership. Risks include child sexual exploitation, trafficking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and radicalisation is also a risk factor for vulnerable pupils. Schools will work with Multi-agency forums and safeguarding organisations to support children who have gone missing.
Alongside professionals from other agencies, such as children’s social care, police, and education, health services should work effectively to prevent children from going missing and to act when they do go missing. Health providers support looked after children and can have exclusive engagement with young people that have been missing from home, care or education or at risk of going missing. There is a designated nurse and doctor for looked after children employed by the NHS Integrated Care Boards (ICB). School nurses, pharmacy, sexual health and genito-urinary departments may have contact with young people at risk of CE for example. Health care workers should be aware of human trafficking and modern slavery, FGM and forced marriage.
The Department for Education statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care states that:
"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. Data on these episodes should be analysed regularly in order to map problems and patterns. Regular reports on this data should be provided to council members and the LSCP [safeguarding partners].
Data for children missing or away from placement without authorisation should be reported to the Department for Education by the responsible authority (through their annual data returns on looked after children.)."
Local authorities should collect information about children missing from education and educational establishments and about children who access other local authority service and children who are looked after. Local Children Not Attending School guidance may stipulate that when a child is missing from education for a set number of days, the absence has to be reported to the Local Authority.
The Joint Targeted Area Inspections with a deep dive on CSE and missing noted that panels and forums (of slight variations) were good practice but only when they evidenced the following components; appropriate multi-agency attendance, information sharing that led to action to safeguard/disrupt, improved understanding of earlier identification of risk.
Local authorities should collect data and share intelligence on children reported missing and should regularly analyse this. Early and effective sharing of information and data between professionals and agencies is essential for the identification of patterns and themes. This may be used to identify; areas of concern for an individual child or local area, patterns of exploitation and provide intervention and disruption as early as possible.
Multi-agency forums may wish to consider collecting and analysing the following data to inform local strategy, action plans and service delivery including opportunities for commissioning. This information should be made available to the local safeguarding partners and Lead member(s) and the senior management team responsible for Children’s Services
The data set may include:
- demographics of all children who are missing, absent *(if used) or away without authorisation
- known associates of the above
- a child’s legal status
- number and length of episodes a child/ children go missing
- data from prevention interviews
- data from return interviews
- cross analysis of data with other risk factors such as information about gangs, CSE, children who are home educated and with those missing from education lists
- consideration should be given to analysing where the child is found as this information could help identify links between missing children and criminal groups
- analysis of geographical data including where the missing child is found to identify common themes/ and associated criminality.
Children who go missing may be at risk of harm from a number of different forms of exploitation and/or abuse; alternatively they may be going missing because they are already at risk of or experiencing such abuse or exploitation.
There are also concerns about children with mental health difficulties, particularly adolescents, going missing. Refer to the guidance on Self-harm and suicidal behaviour.
Professionals should ensure they have an understanding of the issues below and are alert to these risks when responding to and planning for the safety of a child who is or has been missing:
- Children affected by Exploitation and Trafficking (including Gangs)
- County lines
- Forced marriage
- Honour-based violence
- Female genital mutilation
Responding to 16 and 17 year olds
Whilst young people aged 16 and 17 have a greater degree of independence and self-determination than younger children, they are not adults and are subject to safeguarding procedures. It should be noted that for some children; particularly care experienced young people, the transition to adulthood may increase their level of vulnerability to risks such as trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse or gang activity, as it is a period of significant change and potential uncertainty.
Age should not be used as an indicator of lower risk when a 16 or 17 year old child cannot be located, protective action should be swift and decisive for vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds to determine their location and return them to a place of safety. This policy applies in its entirety to 16 and 17 year olds who go missing, run away or are made homeless.
Children and young people who go missing under the age of 16 are not legally considered as being able to live independently away from home. For children and young people over the age of 16, consideration should be given to their physical and emotional needs and the potential risk of harm when making a judgment as to whether they can live independently away from home.
Homeless 16 and 17 year olds
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. Each local authority should have a joint protocol with their relevant housing department on the care pathway for children 16 and 17 who present as homeless.
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. For example, a specialist service might be provided for those who have been sexually exploited, or at risk of sexual exploitation. Bed and Breakfast accommodation is never a suitable placement for a child under 18.
Looked after children and relevant/eligible care experienced young people aged 16+
Local authorities continue to have responsibilities for children leaving care until the young person turns 21 years or, in some cases 25. The responsibility includes protection of care experienced young people from any risks to the child from abuse or exploitation and missing episodes. Police continue to have a duty to investigate missing adults; particularly if they remain vulnerable or at risk.
Sixteen and 17 year olds who are S.20 Accommodated and have ‘capacity’ can withdraw their consent to be accommodated – refusal of permission to ‘stay out’ beyond agreed limits can be a trigger for this. It is in the best interests of care experienced young people to remain in suitable accommodation. Therefore in such circumstances a Looked-after child Review chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer should be held to explore this decision with the young person and their support network, with the aim of maintaining the living arrangement.
Semi-independent living arrangements are classed as ‘unregulated’ and not covered by the regulations that apply to fostering and residential placements. This is to enable semi-independent provision to realistically prepare young people for their transition to adulthood; for example, via the planned stepping down of monitoring and support.
In practice most semi-independent arrangements allow for care experienced young people to have periods of time, including overnights, away from their accommodation. This will be included in the placement plan, individual placement agreement (IPA) or the occupational licence; and a clear agreement reached between the provider, the care experienced young person and the 16+ social worker.
Children with disabilities
Many factors can make a child with a disability more vulnerable to abuse than a child without a disability of the same age. A disabled child can go missing and is at risk due to their additional vulnerability. Safeguarding children with disabilities demands a greater awareness of their vulnerability, individuality and particular needs. Children with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse than children without a disability due to a number of reasons, including:
- They may have fewer outside contacts than other children.
- They may receive intimate care from a considerable number of carers, which may increase the risk of exposure to abusive behaviour and make it more difficult to set and maintain physical boundaries.
- They may have an impaired capacity to resist or avoid abuse.
- They may have communication difficulties that may make it difficult to tell others what is happening.
- They may be inhibited about complaining for fear of losing services.
- They may be especially vulnerable to bullying and intimidation (see Bullying procedure);
- They may be more vulnerable than other children to abuse by their peers.
(*These may not apply to all disabled children)
Also refer to the Children from abroad procedures.
Unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC)
Significant numbers of children who are categorised as UASC have also been trafficked. Some of these children go missing before they are properly identified as victims of trafficking. Such cases should be urgently reported to the police. Local authorities should consider the risk that a trafficked child is likely to go missing, and take all appropriate measures to prevent and reduce this risk.
If the child goes missing, the following should be completed immediately:
- Comply with the requirements in this policy and local procedures in their entirety.
- Report to the police – identifying where the child is suspected to be a victim of trafficking.
- Notify the human trafficking centre, missing persons unit by following the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery.
Where a missing episode becomes extended after 28 days, the young person will continue to be reviewed including checks with the police/Home Office about whether there have been any developments with finding the young person. These checks and any developments should be recorded in the young person’s case notes. This activity on the case will continue until the young person would have become a Care Experienced young person or adult at 18.
Where a UASC child in care remains ‘missing’ up to and beyond the age of 18 years old, the local authority will retain responsibility to the young person as a Former Relevant Young Person/ Child and provide appropriate assistance should the young person be found or again present seeking support as a former child in care.
If a young person has not been found by their 18th birthday then a formal multi-agency meeting should be held to determine whether the case should be closed. The meeting should involve police, a representative from Visas and Immigration Department at HM Government and other appropriate agencies. The case should only be closed if there are no ongoing concerns about the vulnerability of the young person being expressed.
Any decision to close the case should on the basis that it is reopened if the young person is located and found to be in need of services as an eligible, relevant or former relevant young person/ child.
(Acknowledgement guidance on post 18 years old missing UASC courtesy of Portsmouth City Council – Local Procedures on line).
Children who are ‘subject to restriction’
Children who are subject to restriction have:
- proceeded through immigration control without obtaining leave to enter
- left the border control area Border Force accommodation without permission
- been granted temporary admission
- been granted temporary release or bail
- been released on a restriction order
- 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.
If a child that is ‘subject to restriction’ goes missing, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery is to be followed. The NRM link above explains the role of the NRM.
The police responsibilities
In both missing unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) and missing children that are ‘subject to restriction’ the police are responsible for investigating the missing children. The police should:
- conduct joint investigations with the Home Office where necessary
- circulate a missing child on the Police National Computer (PNC).
At the same time 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.
When the child ‘subject to restriction’ is found by Home Office staff, the local police and local authority will be informed.
Whilst considering safeguarding concerns a multiagency decision will be made as to where the child is to be taken once found
Home Office Command and Control Unit will be the single point of contact for the local police and the Evidence and Enquiry Unit will be the single point of contact for local authorities to notify the Home Office that a child has been found.