Missing Children


  1. Definitions
  2. Culture
  3. Planning and Prevention
  4. Leaving the Home without Consent
  5. Initial Actions if a child goes Missing
  6. Risk Assessments, Monitoring and Notifications
  7. Going Missing for Prolonged Periods
  8. Bringing Children Back to the Home
  9. When a Child Returns
  10. Recording, Notifications and Review

    Appendix 1: Assessing Levels of Concern Guidance

1. Definitions

Various terms are used in relation to missing children:

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 Care:

    A Looked After child who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be (e.g. school) and their whereabouts are not known.
  • Away from Placement Without Authorisation:

    A Looked After child whose whereabouts are known but who is not at their placement 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 placement, or feels they have been forced or lured to leave.
  • Police Response:

    On receiving a missing person report the Police will assess the risks to the missing person using a continuum of risk which ranges from ‘no apparent risk (absent)’ through to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action. For more information see the College of Policing definition of missing and absent.

The Police will not send an officer to cases where children/young people are defined as being at no apparent risk (‘absent’). Instead the onus in this situation will be on the home to take steps to locate the child/young person, with on-going monitoring of risk and escalation if there is a change to the circumstances or an increase in the level of risk.

It is expected that all reasonable steps should be taken by the home to locate the child/young person prior to making a report to the Police. When making decisions about how to respond to a child or young person who appears to be missing, the welfare of the child should always be the primary consideration. When considering individual cases, professionals in all agencies should where necessary consult and seek advice from each other in order to support the process of shared risk assessment.

2. Culture

Children are less likely to go missing if they feel secure and safe, able to express their feelings, make appropriate choices and develop positive relationships with the staff and their peers, and are free from bullying.

Children should have a clear understanding of expectations upon them, the routines of the home and house rules; to this end, they should know whether it's acceptable, or not, to leave the home without permission or consent. The potential risks if they go missing should be explained. Children’s should be provided with contact details for the Children’s Commissioner or Childline.

While the reasons why young people run away or go missing from their residential care placement are complex, any missing episode should always be treated as a clear indicator that something is not right in the child’s life.

If homes are experiencing high levels of children going missing, managers should 'take stock' and undertake a formal review of the culture and strategies being used in the home and take steps to reduce the incidents.

3. Planning and Prevention

Residential care professionals can help reduce the likelihood of young people going missing (or reduce the likelihood of the child going missing again) by carrying out thorough assessments which feed into the care planning and review processes, by providing individualised support and by showing care and concern for the young people living in the home.

At the initial planning stage, local authorities have a duty to place a looked after child in the most appropriate placement to safeguard the child and minimise the risk of the child running away.

The Placement Plan should include strategies for preventing the child from going missing.

A risk assessment should be completed for all children for whom there is concern that they may run away. The distance of the residential unit from their home, family and friends should be considered as a risk factor. The risk assessment should be updated after any missing incident and should be regularly reviewed. The risk assessment should detail possible places or persons associated with episodes of going missing and should be referred to whenever a child goes missing or runs away.

Where there are child protection concerns relating to a child and/or where the child has gone missing from the placement or from any previous placement, the Placement Plan must include information agreed between the local authority and the placement provider about the day-to-day arrangements put in place to keep the child safe.

Children should be provided with contact details for an independent advocate.

Statutory reviews should consider any missing episodes and revise strategies to prevent repeat missing incidents and the care plan should be revised accordingly.

Key workers should ensure that children and young people are aware of the dangers they may face if they run away and should suggest where they may go for help if they feel like running away. It is important that staff show care and concern for the young people living in the home. Preventive work is vital, for example if you know that a young person is worried about something (such as a difficult meeting) take the time to talk to them specifically about this. Staff should help young people develop alternative responses to stressful situations in their levels other than running way.

At the request of the child, or where there are concerns about a child who frequently goes missing, the home's manager should consider raising concerns with the child's Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) or arranging a meeting between the child and the placing authority to consider the reasons for the child going missing and agree strategies to reduce the risk.

Where the child persistently goes missing from the placement their next Looked After Review should be brought forward.

4. Leaving the Home without Consent

If a child indicates that they propose to leave the home without consent, staff should in the first instance speak to them about this, and try to dissuade them.

It is crucial that staff always show care and concern, even if they are sure that a child is going to leave. Staff should take all reasonable steps to prevent children from leaving, especially if it will result in the child or others being placed at risk.

As a last resort, this can include the use of physical restrictions such as the locking or bolting of door to restrict the child's movement or Physical Intervention, if this is immediately necessary to prevent Significant Harm.

As a last resort, this can include the use of physical restrictions such as the locking or bolting of door to restrict the child's movement or Physical Intervention, if this is immediately necessary to Use of Restraint and Physical Interventions Procedure, Locking or Bolting Doors.

5. Initial Actions if a child goes Missing

In the absence of any agreed strategy in the child’s Placement Plan, the following should apply if it is apparent or suspected that a child is missing. In such circumstances, staff should take whatever actions are immediately necessary to recover the child, bearing in mind any risks posed to the child or others.

5.1 Initial Actions

It is the responsibility of ALL staff working in the home (not just the manager) to act whenever a child goes missing.

Initial Actions - Whenever the whereabouts of a looked after child are not known, the manager on duty is responsible in the first instance for carrying out preliminary checks to see if the child can be located. E.g. if a child was supposed to have returned home from school but has not arrived within the normal journey time, checks could include finding out if there are transport delays, phone calls to the child, phone calls to the school to see if the child has been delayed etc.

At the same time, residential care staff (who by nature of their relationship with the child or young person will often have the best idea where and/or who the child may be with) should also be active in going out and searching for the young person and contacting their friends, associates and family members.

A deadline should be agreed at the outset of these initial checks so that they do not continue beyond a reasonable timeframe. What constitutes a reasonable timeframe should be decided on a case by case basis following an assessment of the risks relating to the individual child. In some cases, there might be particular reasons to be worried for the child’s safety immediately; in this instance the Police and the placing authority should be contacted straight away.

If the initial checks do not succeed in locating the child or there are still concern that, despite contact being made with the child they, are at risk, the Police, the placing authority, the child’s parents and carers and the Independent Reviewing Officer should be informed.

5.2 Recovering the Child

Any actions taken to recover the child and return them to the home must focus on promoting the child's welfare and must take account of their legal status, age, understanding and the level of risk posed to the child or others. If children are found but refuse to return to the home, staff must consult the manager (who should consult the child's social worker) or, in an emergency/where the child or others are seriously at risk, call the Police. The use of physical interventions, such as restraint should only be used in a last resort where there is an immediate risk of significant harm, serious damage to property and staff are confident that such interventions will work/de escalate the situation and make the child safe. If this outcome is not likely, they should withdraw and immediately consult their manager or the Police.

6. Risk Assessments, Monitoring and Notifications

Once staff in the home establish that the child is missing the Police should be notified and a risk assessment completed. This risk assessment will guide the initial and ongoing Police response and resources deployed to investigate and find the missing child.

6.1 Information Sharing and Recording

When notifying/informing the Police (in the area where they have gone missing e.g. if on an activity away from the home), social worker and others e.g. Youth Offending Worker/Team, it is vital to provide information about the circumstances and risk factors that led to the child going missing. It is also important to discuss possible strategies for finding and recovering the child safely, and the actions the home have already taken to try and locate / contact the child. Agreement should also be reached about others who may need to know the child is missing e.g. the child's parents.

The Police will require the following information:

  1. A description of the child, possibly a photograph;
  2. When the child was last seen and with whom;
  3. Family addresses;
  4. Other addresses of people the child may make contact with;
  5. Any previous history of the child going missing.

The Police, social worker and others notified must then be updated as circumstances change including if the child returns.

Records must also be kept detailing all individual incidents when children go missing from the home, including any information relating to the child’s whereabouts during the missing episode.

The child's Placement Plan should be reviewed regularly, including after any missing episode.

7. Going Missing for Prolonged Periods

On the first working day after the child has been reported missing, the line manager for the home must be notified.

Also, the home should consult/update the Police and social worker every day for the first 7 days, or as new information is available, to review the strategies that can be adopted to find/return the child.

After 72 hours, the Police will notify the UK Missing Persons Bureau.

If the child is still missing after 7 days, the home's manager and child's Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) must be notified/consulted to decide what actions to take e.g.

  1. The convening of a Strategy Discussion;
  2. Use by the Police of their powers to recover the child, for example, placing a child in Police Protection;
  3. An application for a Recovery Order;
  4. An application for a Secure Accommodation Order;
  5. The use of publicity.

8. Bringing Children Back to the Home

If a child's whereabouts become known, staff should consult the social worker and Police about the most appropriate way to return the child to the home or care.

Any actions taken should preferably be with the co-operation or by negotiation with the child.

Where a looked after child has run away they should have the opportunity to talk, before they return to their placement, to a person who is independent of their placement about the reasons they went missing. The child should be offered the option of speaking to an independent representative or advocate. (see Independent Return Interviews below).

9. When a Child Returns

The way staff respond to young people when they return is key to preventing future missing episodes and to ascertaining any harm they may have experienced. When young people return they should be welcomed back into the unit, and asked if they want anything to eat or drink. The Police will conduct a Safe and Well interview to conclude their investigation.

The Police, social worker/YOT Worker and others notified that the child was missing must be informed when the child returns.

At the request of the child, or where there are concerns about a child who frequently goes missing, the home's manager should consider arranging a meeting between the child and the placing authority to look at their reasons for going missing.

Independent Return Interviews

An Independent Return Interview must be offered when the child returns. This interview should be carried out by an independent professional (e.g. a social worker, teacher, health professional worker from an organisation commissioned to undertake these interviews who does not usually work with the child and is trained to carry out these interviews). Children sometimes need to build up trust with a person before they will discuss in depth the reasons why they ran away.

While the person conducting the interview should usually be independent of the child’s placement and of the responsible local authority, an exception may be where a child has a strong relationship with a carer or social worker and has expressed a preference to talk to them, rather than an independent person, about the reasons they went missing.

The responsible local authority should ensure the Return Interview takes place, working closely with the host authority where appropriate. Contact should be made with the child within 72 hours of them being located or returning, to arrange an Independent Return Interview in a neutral place where they feel safe.

The purpose of the Independent Return Interview is to build up a picture of why the child went missing, what happened while they were missing and who they were with. Information from the Independent Return Interview should be used to develop strategies to reduce the likelihood of the young person going missing again. Children should be informed that the information from Independent Return Interviews will be used in this way.

In some cases feelings of unrest or unhappiness in the home may directly contribute to a child running away or going missing, and this should be explicitly considered when they return.

10. Recording, Notifications and Review

10.1 Recording

For details about recording the initial incident (when the child is reported as missing) see Section 6.1, Information Sharing/Recording.

Throughout, staff must update the following records:
  • Daily Log;
  • Child's Daily Record/File;
  • Missing Log.

10.2 Notifications

When the child returns, all those notified that the child was missing must be informed.

If the child was involved in sexual exploitation, Ofsted must be notified.

If there is a pattern of persistent incidents or the circumstances gave rise for serious concern, the home's manager must notify the child's Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO).

10.3 Review

When a child goes missing on a frequent basis or is at risk of harm, the children’s home should ask the placing authority to review that child’s placement plan. In addition, if there are concerns that a culture or cycle is developing in the home which seems to result in children going missing, both individually or in groups, this must be acted on and may result in a child being moved from the home into an alternative placement.

Appendix 1: Assessing Levels of Concern Guidance

Section 1: Indicators/Categories of Risk

A child should be considered High Risk in the following circumstances
These are risks/indicators that should be considered when assessing other Children, who do not automatically fall into the High Risk Category
  • If the child is Remanded or otherwise Lawfully Detained, they have absconded;
  • The child's death may occur;
  • The child may be at risk of serious injury or harm, e.g. from adverse weather conditions or the child's inability to stay safe;
  • The child requires essential medication/medical attention;
  • The child is likely to suffer Significant Harm;
  • The child may come into contact with a person who may pose them a risk. The child may be injured, including self injury, and require medical attention;
  • There is a warrant for the child's arrest;
  • The child may commit a violent or criminal offence;
  • The child may be abducted;
  • The child is subject to Police Protection;
  • The child is subject to an Emergency Protection Order or Recovery Order.
  • Any guidance agreed within the child's Care Plan or Placement Plan;
  • Vulnerability due to age;
  • Particularly vulnerable (e.g. Learning/Physical disability);
  • In need of regular medication (e.g. diabetic);
  • Previous history of being missing;
  • History of self harming;
  • Possible involvement in crime;
  • Health, including mental health;
  • Weather (e.g. severe cold or heat), or geography (e.g. remote area);
  • Dependency on drugs and/or alcohol;
  • Known vulnerability of the child, raising concern that they may have been led into danger, including sexual exploitation;
  • Known associates that give rise to heightened concerns over the missing child's safety (e.g. associates known to be involved in criminal activities);
  • Degree of risk to the public;
  • Recent significant events, contributory factors and the child's state of mind at the time they went missing;
  • Time of day/night;
  • Legal status.

Section 2: Other factors that should be considered

The following should be considered alongside Section 1: Indicators/Categories of Risk.

Age and level of understanding Age and level of understanding. Age is a factor, but not alone. Also consider level of understanding, ability to make informed decisions, the child's ability to operate in urban or rural environments, social and life skills, disability etc. The more able the child is, the less concern staff should have.
Number of Missing Episodes Consider the number of times the child has gone missing and from what situations.
Behaviour whilst missing

Consider what the child has done when previously missing. Also consider how recent such problems have been. Higher levels of concern should be attributed to those who are known, recently, to have placed themselves or others at risk of significant harm. The factors that may result in higher levels of concern are that the child has previously:

  • Made contact with people who pose a risk to the child;
  • Been abducted;
  • Self injured or attempted suicide;
  • Committed or been associated with a serious or criminal offence;
  • Been subject to sexual exploitation;
  • Or other serious risks/concerns.
Circumstances on the day

The following are examples of circumstances, which may be considered in deciding the level of concern on the day. The fact that they apply to a child does not automatically mean there is a high level of concern; the decision rests with the manager having considered all the circumstances.

  • Out of character/unusual behaviour prior to disappearance;
  • Going missing with no prior indication;
  • Possibility of sexual exploitation or being drawn into offending behaviour.