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Children who go Missing from Home

RELATED GUIDANCE

Revised Statutory Guidance concerning Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home or Care became effective on 27 January 2014.

AMENDMENT

This Norfolk authored chapter was added to this online manual in June 2017 and should be re-read in full.


Contents

  1. Context
  2. Definitions
  3. Reporting a Child Missing Episode
  4. Decision Making and Recording Where a Child Missing Episode is for a Child who is Not Active to Children’s Services
  5. Children Missing in Norfolk from Another Local Authority
  6. Decision Making and Recording Where a Child Missing Episode is for a Child who is Already Active to Children’s Services
  7. Working with a Child who has Returned Home


1. Context

This procedure is written in accordance with Statutory Guidance on children who run away and go missing from home.

For any child who goes missing there is a range of safeguarding risks depending upon their age and stage of development. Such children must be considered as vulnerable, and there is a duty to ensure that appropriate risk assessments are undertaken. Every “child missing episode” should trigger proper attention from professionals involved with the child. A strategy discussion/meeting should be considered and the decision making must be recorded. (If it is the third child missing episode in the last 42 day, the social worker must have dialogue with the Police to agree whether or not a strategy meeting is required.) It should be noted that there are strong links between child missing episodes and child sexual exploitation. If you believe a child you are working with might be a victim of child sexual exploitation, please refer to the guidance from the NSCB and procedures written about this specific issue for Norfolk County Council. (see Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board Manual, Safeguarding Children and Young People from Child Sexual Exploitation: Policy, Procedures and Guidance).

Risk assessment should be undertaken in partnership with other agencies, using the usual information gathering and sharing protocols. The Police have a key role to play in respect of missing children and there is guidance governing their actions.


2. Definitions

A child is anyone under the age of 18. Those over the age of 18 who have a learning disability or who are vulnerable will be considered to be vulnerable Adults at Risk, Missing Children’s procedures do not apply in this instance.

Home is defined as their ordinary place of residence with a parent, kinship carers, private foster carers or person with parental responsibility. This procedure does not refer to children who are missing from Local Authority care. If you wish to follow the procedures for a child missing from care please see Children who go Missing from Care Procedure.

The term ‘locality social work team’ for the purposes of this procedure means the relevant social work team for that child or Assessment team for the child’s area if they are not known to Children’s Services.

Children’s Services regard a child as missing when the person responsible for them does not know where they are.

Since November 2013, the Police categories are as follows:

  • Missing – A child is regarding as missing when their whereabouts cannot be established and the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another;
  • Absent – A child is absent if they are not at a place they are expected or required to be;
  • Absconder – This is when a child or young person who is wanted for an offence, or who is subject to an order or requirement resulting from the Criminal Justice Process (e.g. remands, curfews, tagging, conditions or residence or ASBO’s) or a secure order made in either civil or criminal proceedings. They will be considered as a ‘wanted person’, but there may also be the same risk factors for them as a missing child.

Please note the differences between the Police and Children’s Services definitions. It is important to note that regardless of definition, social work teams should continue to treat the child as missing and therefore vulnerable until they are identified as safe and well. They should continue to take any action necessary to safeguard the child active to them. Please see Section 6, Decision Making and Recording Where a Child Missing Episode is for a Child who is Already Active to Children’s Services for information about reviewing definitions.


3. Reporting a Child Missing Episode

Most children missing from home will be reported as such to the Police by parents or carers. Some are reported missing to Children’s Services within the MASH via the 0344 800 8020 number.

A parent or professional might make a member of social care staff outside of the MASH aware that a child not active to them is missing. If so, that individual should be encouraged to telephone the Police or the person with Parental Responsibility, as appropriate. However the worker informed of the incident should also ensure that the active team/social worker and/or Early Help team are aware of the concerns, if that child is active. The active team manager should notify their appropriate Head of Social Work. Advice should be sought from a manager as it may be necessary to make an internal referral about this child to MASH if they are not active.

If a parent or professional reports a child missing via the 0344 800 8020 number direct to the MASH or EDT, they will also be encouraged to report the information to the Police or the person with parental responsibility. In addition, if it is during office hours the case will be discussed with the Police in the MASH to make them aware and so that normal decision making and recording procedures can be followed (as below).

Consideration must be given to whether the missing child/young person is subject to any legal orders or restrictions e.g. MAPPA, Sex Offender Registration. Where such restrictions exist there may be an additional requirement for further information sharing which is proportionate to the identified risk. In these circumstances consideration must be given to an early Strategy Discussion and consultation with relevant professionals involved with the child/young person to ensure that full consideration is given to any risks that may be posed. If needed legal advice may need to be sought as to levels of information shared.


4. Decision Making and Recording Where a Child Missing Episode is for a Child who is Not Active to Children’s Services

In all cases where there has been a child missing episode which was reported to the Police, a Child Protection Investigation (CPI) will be received by Children’s Services within the MASH and triaged by a MASH Decision Maker, and a report will be received from the Missing Persons Coordinator for Norfolk Police. Significant factors that will influence the triaging process are the history of the case including any previous CPI reports. Looked After child episodes, child in need episodes and child protection plans, the length of time missing, circumstances under which the child went missing and whether or not the person reporting the child missing has behaved proportionately and protectively. Decisions are not based solely on timescales and they should be on a case by case basis. Consideration to specific issues e.g. missing from care of another authority, Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation.

Some child missing episodes will be dealt with by the Police as an isolated incident with no further cause for concern. In these cases the CPI will be triaged by a MASH Decision Maker but will still be recorded on CareFirst, with an explanation as to why no further action is necessary. Consideration needs to be given as to whether there might be a role for Early Help including the requirement for a Return Home Interview.

Some child missing episodes will be reported by professionals or members of the public to MASH or to EDT. In the case of these referrals, they will always be recorded using the Contact Form on CareFirst. The management oversight of a MASH Decision Maker/EDT Manager will be sought immediately to determine what happens next.

In cases where the child not previously active is still missing at the end of the working day, MASH will discuss their case with the EDT duty manager. Vice versa, if a child previously not active is still missing at the end of the night/weekend, the EDT duty manager will discuss this with a MASH Decision Maker.

Where a child missing episode does cause concern and indicates that the family require support from other agencies, permission will be sought to gather and share information, from the person with Parental Responsibility. A Contact Form will be opened on CareFirst and a Missing Child process will be initiated. When the child returns the Missing Child process, including consideration of a Return Home Interview must be updated on CareFirst and a further decision will be made as to whether the enquiry closes down at this point, or the concerns indicate that a referral to a locality social work team is necessary. Should the child be regarded initially as needing support by MASH but subsequently be missing this will be reviewed on an ongoing basis in MASH by the Decision Maker responsible for missing children. Consideration should be given to a referral to the locality social work team if the child is still missing after 24 hours. However, if the child remains missing for 72 hours, an automatic referral will be made to the relevant locality social work team for assessment. (Please follow the ‘need to know’ process in tandem with above.)

Where it is immediately clear that a child missing episode has given rise to concerns about safeguarding, the case will be processed by the MASH and passed to a locality social work team for assessment. Consideration will be given as to whether a Section 47 strategy discussion or an immediate referral to the locality social work team is required. In both of these instances, the information known from the episode will be recorded in a Contact Form and the missing child process followed.

If a child has been missing three times in a 42 day period, a strategy discussion will take place and an automatic referral will be made to the locality social work team for assessment.


5. Children Missing in Norfolk from Another Local Authority

Where the child is not active to Children’s Services in Norfolk but is active to another Local Authority, the child missing episode will be recorded in the same way as the information for a child from Norfolk. The active social worker from the Local Authority concerned will be informed immediately so that they can take appropriate action with Norfolk Police to safeguard the child for whom they are responsible. We have a duty to use our local knowledge to advise and assist where possible, for example signposting to resources who can support the child and their family and prevent further episodes.

MASH or EDT will complete a Contact Form and a Missing Child Notification Form.

If the child is still missing at the end of the working day, MASH will discuss the case with the EDT duty manager. If necessary the Missing Child Notification of Return will be reassigned to them. Vice versa, if a child not active to Norfolk remains missing at the end of the night/weekend, the EDT duty manager will discuss this with the MASH Decision Maker.

Consideration should be given as to whether a Missing Child strategy meeting should be held, inviting that local authority to participate. This may be particularly important if the child in question is placing themselves or others at increased risk of harm. This can be discussed with the Decision Maker within the MASH responsible for missing children.

In all cases where there has been a child missing episode which was reported to the Police, a CPI will be received by Children’s Services within the MASH and a report will be received from the Missing Persons Coordinator for Norfolk Police. The CPI will be emailed to the social work team inbox, the team manager and the social worker to whom the case is active.

The Missing Child Decision Maker in MASH will review whether processes have been followed and when this has not been actioned will alert the responsible social worker and manager.


6. Decision Making and Recording Where a Child Missing Episode is for a Child who is Already Active to Children’s Services

In all cases where there has been a child missing episode which was reported to the Police, they will notify Children’s Services within the MASH and forward the report to the allocated social worker, team manager and business support.

MASH will open a Missing Child Notification Form on CareFirst and re-assign this to the allocated worker for completion.

If a member of social care staff is informed that a child active to them has gone missing, they should immediately instigate the Missing Child process.

Early discussion should be sought with the Sergeant in the Police to establish any risks to the child and decide whether they will be viewed as missing or absent according to the definitions in Section 2, Definitions. The Police have the power to escalate a child from absent to missing or de-escalate a child from missing to absent, according to the information provided by the people involved with them. They cannot make an accurate assessment without communication from those involved with the child. Regardless of the definition used, Children’s Services staff must continue to communicate with everyone involved with the child including the Police and undertake all tasks necessary to safeguard a child active to them.

In cases considered to be high risk missing children due to the age and vulnerabilities of the child, the social worker in conjunction with their team manager and Head of Social Work may wish to discuss with the sergeant whether the Police and Children’s Services media teams need to make the missing episode public, in order to safeguard the child.

Where a decision has been made that a missing person’s strategy meeting is required, consideration should be given to invite:

  • The social work team manager (chair);
  • The social worker (minutes);
  • The person with parental responsibility (as appropriate);
  • The Police staff from the local Safer Neighbourhood team;
  • The Police Missing Person’s Coordinator; and
  • Any relevant professionals who can assist with the plan.

The Missing Person’s strategy meeting should look at the following factors:

  • The child missing episodes in question, including where they go, who with and any plans they make;
  • The child’s strengths and vulnerabilities;
  • The overall assessment of the family, parenting capacity, their relationships, their history;
  • Media involvement;
  • Whether there are any concerns about Child Sexual Exploitation and or Trafficking;
  • A multi-agency plan to prevent further episodes, including what is recorded on Compact (Police) and CareFirst, what is reported to the Police, home safety measures, whether photographs should be distributed and how to disrupt unhelpful relationships to prevent further missing episodes.

The social worker or someone nominated by them should distribute the minutes of the meeting and agreed actions. The social worker should however ensure that the plan is reviewed and closed down if all actions are undertaken. If actions have been undertaken but risks remain, social workers and team managers should consider a review of the Missing Persons Strategy Meeting.

Where a child has been missing from home for 7 days, the child’s case should be reviewed with the social worker on a daily basis. A decision should be made by the team manager in consultation with their Head of Social Work as to whether a strategy meeting should be held. This meeting should be attended by the appropriate Children’s Services team manager, the Norfolk Police Missing Persons Coordinator, the Local Policing Command (LPC) Inspector, or his/her nominee, together with appropriate staff from both agencies and other agencies in the community involved with the child and who can assist in safeguarding the child. Subsequent meetings should be held at least every 7 days while the child remains missing. A brief report should be prepared by the responsible Head of Social Work and sent to the Director of Children’s Services.


7. Working with a Child who has Returned Home

Whether active to Children’s Services or not, when a child who was categorised as missing returns home a Police safe and well check must take place.

Within 72 hours of the child returning, a return interview must take place. This can be undertaken by an appropriate professional from Early Help, a social worker or a staff member from a voluntary agency. If the child is active it is the social worker’s responsibility to coordinate this. If the child is not active, the Decision Maker responsible for missing children in MASH will coordinate this. Thought should be given as to who is best placed to undertake this interview, as it could provide valuable information for future risk assessment, safeguarding and care planning. Where interviews are conducted by professionals other than Children’s Services Staff the responsible social worker or if not active MASH should record the outcome.

If in the course of the safe and well check or return interview, information has been provided by the child that they have been trafficked or sexually exploited, the social worker and team manager should give consideration as to whether or not a strategy discussion or (MASE) Multi-Agency Sexual Exploitation meeting should be convened. Please refer to the guidance by NSCB and procedures relating to working with children who are being sexually exploited or have been trafficked. If they provide information that they have been harmed and that harm constitutes significant harm, the MASH Decision Maker or social work team manager will convene a Section 47 strategy discussion.

If a missing child strategy meeting has taken place, all attendees must be informed that the child has returned home. The social worker is responsible for ensuring this task is completed.

If an active child returns home after they have been categorised as absent, the social worker and their team manager should decide whether a return interview should be undertaken, depending upon the assessed risks for that child.

End