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Children who go Missing from Care


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


This Norfolk authored chapter was revised and updated in December 2017 and should be re-read in full.


  1. Context
  2. Definitions
  3. Reporting a Child Missing Episode
  4. Decision Making and Recording where a Child Missing Episode is for a Looked After Child, placed by Norfolk Children’s Services
  5. Children Missing from Care in Norfolk who are Looked After by Another Local Authority
  6. 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 care [1].

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 days, 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).

Children missing from care must be considered as a particularly vulnerable group by virtue of the life experiences they have had. Therefore if a child is missing from care, a multi-agency response is required at the earliest possible time to prevent significant harm and to prevent further episodes.

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].

2. Definitions

A child is anyone under the age of 18. Those over the age of 18 who have a learning disability, who are vulnerable or those who are over 18 and supported under Leaving Care legislation are no longer seen as children. They do come under the category of Adults at Risk and as such, safeguarding adult procedures should be followed as necessary. Missing Children’s procedures do not apply to this group.

Care is defined as the child’s ordinary place of residence with a parent/family member under the Care Planning, Placement and Review Regulations [3], with a foster carer or in residential care.

Children placed with the Local Authority under Section 20, Section 38 or Section 31 of the Children Act 1989 are also referred to as Looked After Children.

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 Anti-Social Behaviour Injunctions) 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 (including Looked After Children 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 4, Decision Making and Recording where a Child Missing Episode is for a Looked After Child, placed by Norfolk Children’s Services, for information about reviewing definitions.

3. Reporting a Child Missing Episode

Most children missing from care will be reported as such to the Police by parents/family members, carers, residential staff members or a setting such as a school or club.

A parent or professional might make a member of social care staff (other than the active social worker/team) aware that a Looked After child is missing. If so, that individual should be encouraged to telephone the Police or the social worker responsible for the case, as appropriate. However, the worker informed of the incident should also ensure that the active team/social worker are aware of the concerns. The active team manager should notify their appropriate Head of Social Work. Advice should be sought from a manager about which course action should be taken if the active team/worker are not contactable.

If a carer, 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. In addition, if it is during office hours the case will be discussed with the missing person’s coordinator in the MASH to make them aware and so that normal decision making and recording procedures can be followed (as below).

There are a number of steps a carer or parent should take before reporting a young person missing. They are as follows:

  • Contact all known associates including family they may have gone to see or friends they may be with. In order to do this, carers will need to think ahead and gather these details in case of a future emergency;
  • Have all the facts associated with the missing episode to hand;
  • Have key information about the young person to hand that might influence the Police risk assessment of them. For example, have they been missing before, do they misuse drugs and alcohol, do they have mental health issues or are they vulnerable to sexual exploitation;
  • Be able to supply a photograph as requested;
  • 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 Looked After Child, placed by Norfolk 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 a report will be received from the Missing Persons Coordinator for Norfolk Police. The CPI will be emailed to the relevant social work team inbox, the team manager and the social worker to whom the case is active.

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

Some child missing episodes will be reported by professionals or members of the public to MASH (during office hours) or to EDT (outside office hours). In the case of these referrals, they will always be recorded using the Contact Form on CareFirst and the team, team manager and social worker will be alerted to it. Any further actions arising from the child missing episode out of hours will be recorded on Observations by the EDT worker.

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.

A child missing episode for a Looked After Child should always be viewed as a cause for concern, regardless of how it is categorised by the Police. Therefore management overview should be sought to discuss forward planning. This should be recorded on CareFirst using the management overview in Observations.

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 Police and undertake all tasks necessary to safeguard a Looked After Child who is 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 it is immediately clear that a child missing episode has given rise to concerns about safeguarding, consideration must be given as to whether a Section 47 strategy discussion is required. The information known from the episode will be recorded in a Contact form, Missing Child Initial Notification form and a Missing Child Notification of Return Form before the strategy discussion takes place. If the child is still missing, only the Contact form will be completed and the Missing Child Notification of Return form will remain on the CareFirst record, ready for completion by the active worker.

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);
  • Residential staff/Foster Carer;
  • 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 current strengths and vulnerabilities of the placement;
  • 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 systems, 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.

Should a child remain missing by the end of office hours, that case should be referred to EDT and an EDT alert completed, detailing the steps that should be taken if the child is found.

Where a child has been missing from care for 7 days, the child’s case should be reviewed with the social worker and their manager 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. (Please follow the 'need to know' process in tandem with the above.)

5. Children Missing from Care in Norfolk who are Looked After by Another Local Authority

Where the child is not active to Children’s Services in Norfolk, but is in care in Norfolk placed by another Local Authority, the child missing episode will be recorded in the same way as the information for a non-active 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. If the missing episode is out of hours, EDT will be responsible for contacting the other Local Authority. If the missing episode is during work hours, MASH will be responsible for contacting the other Local Authority. 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.

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

Where professionals within Norfolk are concerned that the relevant local authority may not be acting in the best interests of the child placed in Norfolk it is essential that this concern is escalated up to team managers and Head of Social Work to progress.

6. Working with a Child who has Returned Home

Where they have been categorised as missing, a Police safe and well check must take place with the child.

Within 72 hours of the child returning, a return interview must take place. In Norfolk the Rose project currently offers this service to LAC children from out of county, It is the social worker’s responsibility to coordinate this. For children in care, 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 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 ensure the need for a strategy discussion is considered. 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 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 to care. The social worker must ensure that all attendees are informed when tasks are completed.

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

[1] Section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970; Young Runaways Action Plan 2008; Statutory Guidance on children who runaway or go missing from home 2009 and Working Together 2015.

[2] College of Policing Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons 2013.

[3] The Local Authority in this case shares parental responsibility with them.