Legislation and Context
In January 2014, the Department for Education (DfE) published the ‘Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care’. The guidance states that agencies must “work together to risk assess cases of children missing from home or care, and to analyse data for patterns that indicate particular concerns and risks”.
Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing From Home or Care (January 2014) uses the following definitions:
- Missing Child:
A child reported as missing to the police by their family or carers;
- Missing from Home (Missing from Care):
A child who is not at their home or the place they are expected to be (e.g. school) and their whereabouts are not known;
- Away from Home Without Authorisation:
A child whose whereabouts are known but who is not at their home or the place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the police;
- Young Runaway:
A child who has run away from their home or care, or feels they have been forced or lured to leave
It is estimated that around 100,000 children under the age of 16 run away from home or care each year across the UK. Many stay with family or friends, but there are some who do not have access to these support systems, or who are forced to stay in environments that are harmful to their safety and wellbeing. This can mean that they end up engaging in activities that may put them at risk. This is detailed within the DfE Statutory guidance: Children who run away or go missing from home or care – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) However, children who are in the care of a Local Authority are much more likely to run away, with over 50% of this group having run away at some point. In many cases, a pattern of running away may have been established at an early age and may have been a factor in the child’s admission to care.
While the individual circumstance of each episode needs to be considered, children who run away are at a heightened risk of being victims of crime, being involved in crime, being involved in substance misuse, or being exploited. Additionally, research shows that the level of risk to the individual child escalates with each episode they go missing and repeat episodes have been identified as a significant indicator of high risk to the child.
The following safeguarding principles should be applied:
- The safety and welfare of the child is paramount
- Locating and returning the child to a safe environment is the main objective.
- The views of the child and parent/carer should always be taken into consideration.
- Understanding the circumstances of the child going missing and seeking to reduce the risk of further missing episodes is key.
Definitions of Missing
The definitions of missing are:
- Missing Person – Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located and their well-being or otherwise confirmed.
- Missing Child – A child reported as missing to the police. A missing child will be defined as one where the missing episode has been reported to the police and recorded on the Police database
- Missing from Care – A child in the care of the Local Authority who is not at their placement, or the place they are expected to be (e.g. school) and their whereabouts are unknown.
Police Risk Categories
When an individual is missing, they should be reported to the police. All reports of missing episodes are then graded within a continuum of risk as follows:
High Risk – the risk of serious harm to the missing person 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 if 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 MPB should be notified of the case without undue delay. Children’s Services must also be notified immediately if the person is under 18.
Medium Risk – the risk of harm to the missing person or the public is assessed as likely but not serious. This category requires an active and measured response by the police and other agencies to trace the missing person and support the person reporting.
Low Risk – The risk of harm to the missing person 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. This category is not to be used for initial reports, risk assessment or prior to the commencement of the missing person investigation.
Role and Responsibilities of Parents and Carers
This includes children living at home with parents or carers and children living away from home, such as those in residential care, in supported lodgings and supported accommodation. It also applies to those children and young people who go missing on an external activity.
If the parent/carer assesses that the child is missing and at risk, the child should be reported missing without delay and the anticipated risk communicated to the police.
Unless there is an immediate risk identified, parents/carers should undertake the following basic measures before reporting a missing child (If child is residing in a Residential Care Home setting, carers should implement the Philomena Protocol).
- Search bedroom/house/grounds/outbuildings/vehicles;
- Ascertain if any clothing, cash, mobile phones and/or medication etc. are missing;
- Speak to any other people at the house who may know where they are;
- Contact known friends and relatives where the child may be;
- Check social media sites
- Visit locations that the child is known to go, if safe to do so; and will not take too long before the child is reported missing.
When all reasonable steps have been exhausted, parents/carers and anyone who has legal care of a child should inform the police and if appropriate, Children’s Social Care through the MASH contact number: 020 8489 4470.
The police will need to know:
- The child’s name and date of birth
- Where, when, and with whom the child went missing
- A description of the child and what they were wearing
- Their medical history
- The time and location they were last seen
- The circumstances of going missing
- Details of any friends or associates
- If they are pregnant
- If there are any vulnerabilities, disabilities, or major health issues
- Their sexual orientation
- Their religion
Whenever a report is made to the police about a child who is missing, a risk assessment is completed by a police control room operator. The duty police inspector working within the control room then endorses or amends this assessment accordingly. This risk assessment helps to identify the level of risk that is posed to, or by the child and to determine the most appropriate police response. It is therefore important that as much information as possible is obtained during that first contact.
NB: The Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has a tool for reporting online abuse or inappropriate behaviour towards children. The charity ‘Missing People’ provides 24 hour, free and confidential, support and advice to missing children, adults and their families. The helpline also enables those who are missing to reconnect with their families, or to gain the assistance of the police. The helpline number is 116 000.
The following relate to children in the care of the Local Authority only.
If the carer is not concerned for the child, but they are away from home without permission, they should record these episodes in the child’s record and start a dated/timed record of their contacts, risk assessment and decisions throughout the episode. If the child’s whereabouts are unknown, then carers should implement the Philomena Protocol
If the child’s whereabouts are known, the carers will decide whether to allow the child to remain at that location, or to arrange for their return in consultation with MASH/Social Care as appropriate
Roles and Responsibilities for Social Workers and/or any Lead Professional for the Child
This includes but is not exclusive to Social Workers, where a child is open to Children’s Social Care, Youth Offending practitioners, Personal Advisors, and/or Early Help Teams.
Once the notification comes through for a missing episode, the nominated lead individual will liaise with the police, residential home, family, where there are wider risks and concerns evident within the episode.
It is the responsibility of the practitioners above to escalate concerns in relation to each child’s missing episode as necessary and to ensure that any risk is referenced within the child’s care plan, including any necessary actions to mitigate the risk and support the child and family.
When a practitioner is aware that a child has been found, this intelligence should be passed onto the police.
Roles and Responsibilities of Schools/Education Providers
Schools and other education providers have a responsibility to understand the links between truanting and missing episodes and the impact this has on the child’s education. They also have a key role in sharing information with the police and with the child’s lead practitioner when a child/ truants or goes missing and for providing (if required) an appropriate environment for a return interview.
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. Children who have truanted either at the start or part way through a school day, need to be accounted for.
Roles and Responsibilities of the Police
The Metropolitan Police in Haringey will respond to all reports of a missing person. Every report will be subject to regular review in accordance with the College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice (APP) to determine the appropriate level of risk and to ensure the investigation is being adequately progressed.
Whenever a report is made to the police regarding a missing child, the child’s social worker must be contacted to provide information to the police as part of their ongoing risk assessment.
Initial Report and Risk Assessment
The missing person report is then brought to the attention of the duty police inspector based within the control room and/or the control room manager (CRM) so they can either endorse or amend the decision relating to the level of risk and, in turn, determine the urgency of the enquiries to be made.
An initial risk assessment is undertaken by the police call-taker to determine the appropriate level of response.
The following set of questions, informed by the National Decision-Making Model (NDMM) are used to define the status of the missing episode:
- What is the specific concern in this instance?
- What has been done so far to trace the person?
- Is this significantly out of character?
- Are there any specific medical needs?
- Are they likely to be subjected to crime?
- Are they likely to be the victim of abuse?
- Are they currently at risk of sexual exploitation?
- Are they likely to attempt suicide?
- Do they pose a danger to other people?
- Is there any other information?
Children who have gone missing may come to the attention of the police in a variety of ways. Where the police locate a child who they believe may be missing, enquiries based on the child’s presenting circumstances will be made. These should include checks of police database systems i.e. PNC (Police National Computer)/COMPACT (Missing Persons Case Management System) Storm (Command and Control System) and Niche (Record Management System) and enquiries at the child’s home address.
The Police will regularly review the risk assessment of any person reported as missing but if any dispute arises over the level of risk posed to a child, the matter will first be referred to the police Missing Person Investigation Team Leader who will review the report, the current circumstances, and the most recent risk assessment.
The second line of escalation will be the police inspector based within the control room.
If a missing child has not been reported by parents/carers, this will trigger further enquiries and an assessment by the police and other relevant agencies, in accordance with local safeguarding procedures
The relevant local authority will be notified, and information and intelligence gathered from the Safe & Well Checks and debrief will be recorded onto COMPACT (Missing Persons’ Database).
When a Child is Found
When a practitioner is aware that a child has been found, this intelligence should be passed onto the police as soon as possible.
When the whereabouts of a child is suspected, or becomes known, it is the responsibility of the parent/carer to arrange for the child’s return where possible. In exceptional circumstances, the police, in conjunction with Children’s Services, may assist in the return of the child where necessitated by specific concerns.
Consideration should be given to whether a strategy meeting (Children Act 1989) is required with partner agencies/professionals, for example if a pattern of going missing is developing. Any partner agency can request a strategy meeting following consultation with their manager, if it appears that there is significant risk to a child, or if there are child protection concerns.
Safe & Well Checks – The purpose of the check is to establish whether the child has suffered any harm, to confirm where they have been and who they have been with and to provide the child with an opportunity to disclose any offences committed by them, or against them. As much information as possible should be gathered to help prevent further missing episodes, and to safeguard the child where necessary.
Independent Return Interviews
Statutory guidance on children who go missing (2014) states that when a child goes missing, they should be offered an independent return interview.
The purpose of the return interview is to:
- Identify factors which led to the missing episode
- Prevent further missing episodes and risk behaviours or needs escalating
- Inform any subsequent missing person investigation
- Share intelligence and information
- Provide independent, non-judgmental, confidential and child- centered return home support for all vulnerable children who go missing, in spaces where they feel safe and able to talk.
- Develop prevention and risk reduction strategies alongside children who regularly go missing including safety planning and addressing wider risk factors such as exploitation, drug and alcohol misuse and domestic abuse.
- Support and sign-post young people to access specialist support services in their areas that can help address their specific needs.
- Provide high quality engagement and follow-up intervention with children.
Particular attention should be paid if a child is suspected of being involved in or at risk of trafficking or exploitation as they may be fearful of giving information. This is particularly important if they have been missing before and/or if there are risk indicators suggesting potential exploitation, involvement in crime or if the child has been harmed.
Prior to any interview conducted with a child, the interviewer should inform the child who this information will be shared with, when and why and gain consent before sharing. If they are unwilling to speak to anyone for fear of confidentiality issues, arrangement may be made for the child to speak to an independent advocate or suitable voluntary agency who provide advocacy services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities; looked after children and children subject to a child protection plan and children with mental health and behavioural issues, all of which may include children missing from home/care.
For further information see-
Any review of a child’s plan should consider the adequacy of the plan in addressing why a child has gone missing and should ensure adequate strategies are in place to address any future potential episodes. The review should also consider push/pull factors e.g. exploitation, running away to spend contact time with family.
In addition, for children in the care of the Local Authority, a placement plan should be completed between the responsible local authority and the placement provider which should identify how the child’s needs will be met.
When a child is open to Children’s Social Care and has been missing for a period of 24 hours, the child’s social worker should inform their line manager. If there are any significant concerns, the relevant senior manager should be alerted immediately. All police missing person’s files will remain live until the person is traced.
Children missing when in the care of the Local Authority
Before a child comes into the care of the Local Authority, the child’s social worker will consider, within the care planning process, all potential risks to the child, including an assessment of the potential for them to go missing. The child and their parent/carer should be involved in the planning process as far as is feasibly appropriate and it should be related to the child’s individual needs, their previous history and their views. Missing episodes prior to the child being in the care of the Local Authority must also be considered.
The placement plan is an opportunity for the social worker and care provider to discuss with the child issues around going missing and to explain the roles and responsibilities of all involved. The placement plan should detail:
- Trigger points for missing episodes,
- Risks to themselves, the public and/or the carer before, during, or after a missing episode.
- What steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of the child going missing and coming to any harm or harming others.
- Friends and family details and contact numbers and addresses are commonly found at.
- Expectations of the child: for example, curfews and, when and how to make contact, and the consequences of lateness etc.
- Expectations of the care provider e.g. at which point the police will be notified; what processes will follow an incident; who will collect a child if they are missing; details of who conducts immediate assessments on their return, and arrangements for return interviews.
- Agreements around rules for staying overnight at friend’s houses or going on trips. NB: This is frequently raised as a major issue by young people and “decisions on overnight stays should normally be delegated to foster carers and residential care staff. Arrangements for such decisions should be written into the Placement Plan or equivalent.
Other Local Authority Placements
All independent providers providing residential care within Haringey should be informed of the relevant Haringey Safeguarding Children Partnership training. Providers have a responsibility to comply with any processes specified in the placing authority’s missing from home and care procedures.
Other local authorities placing children within Haringey are required to inform the host local authority of their placement. Upon receipt of this notification, a record of the child will be recorded within the appropriate case management system.
All missing episodes reported to the police are recorded and shared with Children’s Social Care for strategic monitoring and planning purposes.
If, upon the return of a child, it is established that they have 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 while they were missing, then the police must be informed. This is vital for the protection of the child and for the speedy recovery of evidence
Where missing children from one local authority present themselves in another local authority, it is important that the host authority works with the responsible local authority to ensure they get access to the help and support services they need.
The missing person’s clothing, mobile phone and trace evidence from their body, fingernails or hair may be crucial. In cases of sexual abuse, the child should be discouraged from washing and immediate advice should be sought from the police. If parents and/carers become aware of the location of the scene of any crime committed against the child, or of the location of any crucial evidence (i.e. a used condom) they must notify the police without delay. This will enable the police to take steps to secure and preserve evidence.
In cases where there is suspicion of sexual abuse, there are specially trained officers, doctors and facilities designed to care for the victim and obtain evidence. Additionally, in matters of child exploitation, or any other situation which indicates that the child may have been subject to, or at risk of, significant harm, a referral must be made in accordance with Haringey Safeguarding Children Partnership Policies and Procedures. childrensportalehm
In some circumstances, practitioners may feel it is appropriate to alert other local authorities or request a national alert. This alert is not intended for all children/young people who go missing but may be beneficial for those that have been missing for several days or weeks and are high risk with notable vulnerabilities such as being at risk of or involved in child exploitation, there are concerns of trafficking, deteriorating mental health concerns or physical health conditions or as an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child.
The missing alert is to notify all local authorities so that a flag should be placed on the other local authority’s data system, to advise that there is a child missing from Haringey and if found, to contact the Local Authority.
Anyone who is in the company of a child without parental, or carer, knowledge or agreement should do what is reasonable to safeguard and promote the child’s ’s welfare. They should inform the police, children’s services, and the parents/ or carers of the child if known 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). It may then be considered that they have been harboring a missing child.
Trafficking / Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC)
Children who go missing may be trafficked. This can happen on a very local basis, for example, from house to house, hotel to hotel, vehicle to vehicle. Children and young people can also be trafficked from between towns and cities within the UK and between the UK and other countries. The trafficking of children can be for the purpose of a multitude of reasons such as child exploitation or county lines, as well as several other reasons. Anyone who works with children should be aware of the warning signs and associated risks of various types of grooming and exploitation.
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 situations 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.