Children running away and going missing from care, home and education is a central issue for the Safeguarding Children Partnership. Current research findings estimate that 25 per cent of children and young people, who go missing are likely to suffer significant harm. There are specific concerns about the links between children running away and the risks of sexual exploitation. Many looked after children (LAC) missing from their placements are vulnerable to sexual and other exploitation, especially children in residential care.
This chapter is based on guidance issued under Section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 which requires local authorities in exercising their social services functions, 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.
This guidance complements Working Together to Safeguard Children and related statutory guidance and the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulation volumes in respect of Care planning and review.
Acknowledgement: This guidance has taken account of the DfE Statutory Guidance on 'Children who run away or go missing from home or care', January 2014.
Based on the 'Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care' ( DfE 2014) the definitions which should be used when working with children, young people and their families are set out as follows:
College of Policing – Missing Persons Authorised Professional Practice (APP) sets out the following regarding the police response:
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 (absent)' through to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action.
The following table should be used as a guide to an appropriate level of police response based on initial and on-going risk assessment in each case. Risk assessment should be guided by the College of Policing Risk principles, the National Decision Model and Police Code of Ethics.
No apparent risk (absent)
|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 MPB should be notified of the case without undue delay. Children's services must also be notified immediately if the person is under 18.
Risk of serious harm has been defined as (Home Office 2002 and OASys 2006):
'A risk which is life threatening and/or traumatic, and from which recovery, whether physical or psychological, can be expected to be difficult or impossible.'
Where the risk cannot be accurately assessed without active investigation, appropriate lines of enquiry should be set to gather the required information to inform the risk assessment.
The police are entitled to expect parents and carers, including staff acting in a parenting role in care homes, to accept normal parenting responsibilities and undertake reasonable actions to try and establish the whereabouts of the individual. 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. Once those enquiries have been completed, it may be appropriate to record the child as missing and take actions set out in this APP.
Parents or carers may need police support if they are very distressed, incapacitated or otherwise unable to undertake enquiries. In such circumstances, it may be appropriate to make a referral to the local authority so that the standard of care for the missing person can be reviewed.
Individuals whose whereabouts are known will not be considered as missing, but may require other police activity in order to ensure their welfare. Police should consult their local public protection procedures to ensure an appropriate safeguarding response is provided. This includes children in care who are deemed to be 'absent without authorisation' (as defined within the Department for Education (2014) Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care).
Minimum actions will be undertaken in all missing persons cases. Further activities should be identified and actioned as necessary in some cases, based upon the circumstances and assessed risk.
The minimum actions to be undertaken in all cases are:
All reports of missing people will be subject to review, either because of the passage of time or because new information comes to light. When a review takes place, the risk assessment will need to be reconsidered and should inform whether new or different actions are required. For children and adults in care, information from multi-agency safeguarding partners should be sought in order to inform the risk assessment and on-going activity.
The police can use the powers under Section 46(1) of the Children Act 1989 to remove a child into police protection if they are likely to suffer significant harm. Police Protection lasts up to 72 hours.
Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provides police with powers to enter and search a premises in certain circumstances, notably, with regard to this guidance, for the purposes of saving life and limb or to arrest without warrant a person who has committed an indictable offence or certain other listed offences under the section.
Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provides police the power of summary arrest for any offence subject to certain provisions notably, for the purposes of this guidance, under S.24(5)(d) to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person in question.
Should it be necessary to take the child into police protection, the child must be moved as soon as possible into local authority accommodation. The local authority should consider what type of accommodation is appropriate in each individual case. It is important that young people are not placed in accommodation that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation or trafficking.
The Local Authority may apply to the Court for a Recovery Order under Section 50 of the Children Act 1989. A Recovery Order can only be sought when the child is subject to an Interim or Full Care Order and it is clear that the child is in no immediate danger of significant harm. Children's Social Cares may need to obtain an Emergency Protection Order under Section 44 of the Children Act 1989, before expiration of the Police Protection.
Section 13 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 look beyond this guidance to understand the risks and issues facing children missing from home or care and to review best practice in dealing with the issue.
The Local Authority must ensure that all incidents where children go missing are appropriately risk assessed, and should record all incidents of looked after children who are missing or away from placement without authorisation.
Even with strong systems and services that minimise the likelihood of young people running away, some young people will still feel that they have to run away. In all circumstances local safeguarding procedures should be followed. If there is concern that the child may be at risk if returned home, the child should be referred to children's social care to assess their needs and make appropriate arrangements for their accommodation.
Children, who are looked after should have information about, and easy access to, help lines and support services including emergency accommodation. 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.
It is important that emergency accommodation can be accessed directly at any time of the day or night. Bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation is not an appropriate place for any child or young person under the age of 18 and should only be used in exceptional circumstances.
The local authority should consult with the police regarding what action should be taken to share information about a missing child who is looked after, subject to a child protection plan or a child in need. This should include an assessment of whether to release information to the media. The local authority should also notify other local authorities according to degree of concern. Consideration should also be given to whether the child or their family has links to other areas in the United Kingdom.
On receipt of a notification from another local authority, a flag should be added to the electronic record system for children's social care and consideration should be given to notifying health and other relevant partners.
The Department of Education Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care (January 2014) states the following:
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.
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 as part of the annual SSDA903 data collection).
Local authorities collect information about children missing from education and educational establishments and about children who access other local authority services, such as youth services and children who are looked after.
As the guidance says, early and effective sharing of information between professionals and local agencies is essential for the identification of patterns of risky behaviour. This may be used to identify areas of concern for an individual child, or to identify 'hotspots' of activity in a local area.
Local authorities should collect data on children reported missing from care including repeat episodes of missing from care, unauthorised absences from care placements, and other relevant data and should regularly analyse this in order to map problems and patterns. This should include identifying patterns of sexual and other exploitation.
Good practice suggests that the following data should be collected and analysed by a multi professional group:
Data about children and young people who go missing from home, education or care should be included in regular reports to Council members, especially to the Lead Member for Children's Services and in regular reports by the local authority to the LSCP.
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 the police in taking a strategic and operational approach to safeguarding children particularly in relation to sexual exploitation and trafficking.
It should be noted that disclosure of this information to police services 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 about the location of children's homes only for the purposes for which it was disclosed; and to share it onward only where this is compatible with safeguarding children and promoting their welfare.
Department for Education: Joint protocol: children's homes - procedure for disclosing names and addresses (2013).
Healthcare professionals have a key role in identifying and reporting children who may be missing from care, home and school.
Health professionals should have an understanding of the vulnerabilities and risks associated with children that go missing. Staff working in health settings should be aware of their professional responsibilities and the responses undertaken by the multi-agency partnership. Risks include sexual exploitation, trafficking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Radicalisation, also a risk factor for vulnerable young people, is managed via the national 'Prevent' strategy.
All health providers should provide a comprehensive service for Looked after Children (LAC). A Designated Nurse and Doctor for Looked after Children are located in each Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). They are statutory appointments and are responsible for the commissioning and delivery of appropriate healthcare, assessments and services. Designated health professionals for LAC should share relevant information and intelligence relating to high risk individuals or emerging themes and patterns indicative of organised and targeted abuse, to the NHS Patch Safeguarding Children Forum. They should also ensure that all health staff within their locality know how to identify, report and respond to a child who is missing from care.
When a 16 or 17 year old runs away or goes missing they are no less vulnerable than younger children and are equally at risk, particularly of sexual exploitation or involvement with gangs.
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.
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.
Local authorities should have regard to statutory guidance issued in April 2010 to children's services authorities and local housing authorities about their duties under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 and Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 to secure or provide accommodation for homeless 16 and 17 year olds.
Some of the children who local authorities look after may be unaccompanied asylum seeking children or other migrant children. Some children in this group may have been trafficked into the UK and may remain under the influence of their traffickers even while they are looked after. Trafficked children are at high risk of going missing, with most going missing within one week of becoming looked after and many within 48 hours. Unaccompanied migrant or asylum seeking children, who go missing immediately after becoming looked after, should be treated as children who may be victims of trafficking. Children, who have been trafficked, may be exploited for sexual purposes and the link to sexual exploitation should be addressed in conjunction with Child Sexual Exploitation Procedure.
The assessment of need to inform the care plan will be particularly critical in these circumstances and should be done immediately as the window for intervention is very narrow. The assessment must seek to establish:
In conducting this assessment it will be necessary for the local authority to work in close co-operation with the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) and immigration staff who will be familiar with patterns of trafficking into the UK. Immigration staff should be able to advice on whether information about the individual child suggests that they fit the profile of a potentially trafficked child.
Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before any assessment takes place and for the possibility that they may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately. The location of the child should not be divulged to any enquirers until their identity and relationship with the child has been established, if necessary with the help of police and immigration services. In these situations the roles and responsibilities of care providers must be fully understood and recorded in the placement plan. Proportionate safety measures that keep the child safe and take into account their best interests should also be put in place to safeguard the child from going missing from care or from being re-trafficked.
It will be essential that the local authority continues to share information with the police and immigration staff, concerning potential crimes against the child, the risk to other children, or other relevant immigration matters.
'Safeguarding Children Who May Have Been Trafficked: Practice Guidance (2011) contains practical guidance for agencies which are likely to encounter, or have referred to them, children and young people who may have been trafficked. Where it is suspected that a child has been trafficked, they should be referred by the local authority into the UK's victim identification framework, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
The Trafficked Children Toolkit, developed by the London Safeguarding Children Partnership, has been made available to all local authorities to help professionals assess the needs of these children and to refer them to the NRM.
The NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC) provides specialist advice and information to professionals who have concerns that a child or young person may have been trafficked. CTAC can be contacted at free phone number: 0808 800 5000, Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation. Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know - for example a family member, friend or professional. Groomers may be male or female. They could be any age. Many children and young people don't understand that they have been groomed, or that what has happened is abuse.
Children can be groomed for the purpose of sexual abuse as well as other forms of exploitation including involvement in criminal and extremist activity. Children who are missing are more vulnerable to being groomed and may also go missing as a result of being groomed.
Children and young people can suffer harm when exposed to extremist ideology. This harm can range from a child adopting or complying with extreme views which limit their social interaction and full engagement with their education, to children being groomed for involvement in violent attacks.
Children can by exposed to harmful, extremist ideology in the immediate or extended family, or relatives/family friends who live outside the family home but have influence over the child's life. Older children or young people might self-radicalise over the internet or through the influence of their peer network - in this instance their parents might not know about this or feel powerless to stop their child's radicalisation.
Going missing is a risk factor in relation to radicalisation:
Professionals should always assess whether a child who has gone missing is at risk of radicalisation.
The sexual exploitation of children involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where the young person (or third person/s) receive 'something' (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common.
Involvement in exploitative relationships is characterised by the child's or young person's limited availability of choice as a result of their social, economic or emotional vulnerability.
A common feature of CSE is that the child or young person does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation.
Going missing is a significant risk factor in relation to sexual exploitation:
Because there is such a strong link between children going missing and risk of sexual exploitation, professionals should always assess whether a child who has gone missing is being sexually exploited or at risk of being sexually exploited.
Children and young people who go missing from care, home and education also need safeguarding against the risk of being drawn into offending behaviour by gangs or criminal groups.
From the age of 16 young people in care are referred to as care leavers, however, it is important to note that local authorities have very similar duties and responsibilities towards 16 and 17 year old care leavers as they do to children in care and for the purposes of this guidance, the response to a missing care leaver age 16 and 17 year old should be the same.
Local authorities continue to have a range of responsibilities towards children leaving care until the young person's 21st and in some instances their 25th birthday. It is good practice to follow the guidance set out below whilst a young person remains 'leaving care'.
Care leavers, particularly 16 and 17 year olds, are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and may go missing from their home or accommodation. Local authorities must ensure that care leavers live in "suitable accommodation" as defined in Section 23B (10) of the Children Act 1989 and Regulations 9(2) of the Care Leavers Regulations, The Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010.
In particular young people should feel safe in their accommodation and the areas where it is located. Local authorities should ensure that pathway plans set out where a young person may be vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking or going missing, and put in place support services to minimise this risk.
When a child is placed out of their local authority area, the responsible authority must make sure that the child has access to the services they need in advance of placement. Notification of the placement must be made to the host authority and other specified services. All children subject of a London pre-incident risk assessment should be notified to the local police service.
If children placed out of their local authority run away, this protocol should be followed, in addition to complying with other processes that are specified in the policy of the host local authority. It is possible that the child will return to the area of the responsible authority so it is essential that liaison between the police and professionals in both authorities is well managed and coordinated. A notification process for missing/ absent episodes should be agreed between responsible and host local authorities as a part of the care plan and the placement plan.
Sometimes a looked after child may be away from their placement without authorisation. While they are not missing, they may still be placing themselves at risk (e.g. they may be at the house of friends where there are concerns about risks of sexual exploitation). The carer or social worker should take reasonable steps to ascertain the wellbeing of the child including, when appropriate, visiting the location. However, if there is a concern the child may be at significant risk of harm to themselves or to others then police should also be notified in order that appropriate safeguarding measures can be taken. This should not be confused with reporting a child missing.
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 care plan and the placement plan should include details of the arrangements that will need to be in place to keep the child safe and minimise the risk of the child going missing from their placement.
Where a child already has an established pattern of running away, the Care Plan should include a strategy to keep the child safe and minimising the likelihood of the child running away in the future. This should be discussed and agreed as far as possible with the child and with the child's carers and should include detailed information about the responsibilities of all services, the child's parents and other adults involved in the family network.
Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) should be informed about missing/ absent episodes and they should address these in statutory reviews. The pre incident risk assessment should be updated after missing incident and should be regularly reviewed.
Designated health professionals for Looked After Children (LAC) should be informed of children missing from care who are deemed to be 'high risk'. They should be included in any multiagency strategy meetings or activity to manage the child's retrieval and any subsequent health needs.
Designated education professionals should be informed and included in the review process.
Whenever the whereabouts of a looked after child is not known, the foster carer or the manager on duty in the children's home is responsible for carrying out preliminary checks to see if the child can be located. For example, 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. If these initial checks do not succeed in locating the child or there are still concerns that, despite contact being made with the child they are at risk, the individuals and agencies listed below should be informed.
It is clearly important that a deadline is set at the outset of these initial checks so that they don't continue beyond a reasonable timeframe. What timeframe is reasonable should be based on 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 and the individuals agencies detailed below should be contacted straight away - this in conjunction with on-going attempts to contact the child and find out why they aren't where they are supposed to be.
The individuals and agencies who should be contacted when a child is missing or they are away from placement without authorisation:
The local Looked After Child Information Sharing Form should be used when reporting the child missing to the police. As a minimum requirement, all reports should include the following information:
The carer/s should take all reasonable steps, which a good parent would take, to secure the safe and speedy return of the child based on their own knowledge of the child and the information in the child's placement plan. If there is suspected risk of harm to the child the carer/s should liaise immediately with the police.
Following initial discussions between the allocated children's social care worker and the police, they should agree an immediate strategy for locating the child and an action plan. This to include a range of actions to locate and ensure the safe return of the child, including:
Within 3 days, a missing from care meeting/ telephone discussion between relevant parties should take place and include the police, the child's social worker and the provider. The action plan and risk assessment should be reviewed and updated.
When the child has been located, care staff/ foster carers should promptly inform the child's social worker and the independent reviewing officer that the child has returned. Arrangements should have been made for Safe and Well checks and Independent Return Review interviews:
Safe and well checks are carried out by the police as soon as possible after the child has returned. Their purpose is to check for any indications that the child has suffered harm, where and with whom they have been, and to give them an opportunity to disclose any offending by or against them.
Where a child goes missing frequently, it may not be practicable for the police to see them every time they return. In these cases a reasonable decision should be taken in agreement between the police and the child's parent or carer with regard to the frequency of such checks bearing in mind the established link between frequent missing episodes and serious harm, which could include gang involvement, forced marriage, maltreatment or abuse at home, bullying or sexual exploitation. The assessment of whether a child might run away again should be based on information about:
The independent return review is an in-depth interview and should be carried out by an independent professional (e.g. a social worker, teacher, health professional or police officer, not involved in caring for the child and who is trained to carry out these interviews and is able). The child should be seen on their own unless they specifically request to have someone with them. The child should be offered the option of speaking to an independent representative or advocate. The IRO should be informed.
The responsible local authority should ensure the return review interview takes place, working closely with the host authority where appropriate. The independent return interview should be offered and provided within 72 hours of the child being located or returning from absence, it should preferably take place in a neutral place where they feel safe. Delays in return interviews may mean a loss of important information or evidence.
The interview and actions that follow from it should:
It is especially important that the independent Return Review interview takes place when a child:
The local authority children's social care services, police and other agencies involved with the child should work together to assess the child and:
Where children refuse to engage with the interviewer, parents and/or carers should be offered the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence they may be aware of. This should help to prevent further instances of the child running away and identify early the support needed for them.
If a child continually runs away actions following earlier incidents need reviewing and alternative strategies should be considered.
To reduce repeat running away and improve the longer-term safety of children and young people, the agencies involved may want to provide:
There may be local organisations in the area that can provide repeat runaways with an opportunity to talk about their reasons for running away, and can link runaways and their families with longer-term help if appropriate. Local authorities should work with organisations that provide these services in their area.
Children's homes staff and foster carers should be trained and supported to offer a consistent approach to the care of children, including being proactive about strategies to prevent children from running away; and to understand the procedures that must be followed if a child goes missing.
The competence and support needs of staff in children's homes and foster cares in responding to missing from care issues should be considered as part of their regular appraisal and supervision.
The Children's Home Regulations requires children's homes to have a Missing child policy. They also require that before implementing, or making substantive changes to an existing policy, children's homes shall consult with relevant partners and take into consideration any relevant local authority or police protocols on missing children. Finally, where a child is, or has been, persistently absent without permission from the children's home; or is at risk of harm, the children's home shall ask the local authority that looks after the child to review that child's care plan.
The National Minimum Standards (Standard 5.5) specifies that staff should actively search for children and work with the police where appropriate.
Please also refer to the Department of Education's,'Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care: Flowchart to accompany the statutory guidance'.
When the Local Authority and the Police Force analyse trends and patterns in relation to children, who run away or go missing from home, particular attention should be paid to repeat 'missing 'and 'absent' episodes. The Local Authority and LSCP needs to be alert to the risk of sexual exploitation or involvement in drugs, gangs or criminal activity such as trafficking and to be aware of local "hot spots" as well as concerns about any individuals, who children runaway to be with.
The Local authority and LSCP should also consider the 'hidden missing', who are children who have not been reported missing to the police, but have come to an agency's attention after accessing other services. There may also be trafficked children who have not previously come to the attention of children's services or the police. Research demonstrates that children from black and minority ethnic groups, and children that go missing from education are less likely to be reported as missing. Local authorities and the police should be proactive in places where they believe under reporting may be more likely because of the relationships some communities, or individuals, have with the statutory sector.
Children missing from home are subject to risks and vulnerabilities similar to those for children who are looked after. NHS designated and named professionals hold a statutory role with regards to safeguarding in the local health community, and must be included in the information sharing and management processes being put in place for children deemed to be at high risk.
The information required by the police to assist in locating and returning the child to a safe environment is as follows:
Child protection procedures must be initiated in collaboration with children's social care services whenever there are concerns that a child who is missing may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. See Referrals Procedure.
A risk assessment should be completed in line with this protocol and action by the police will include:
Where a child is living at home, and is the subject of a child protection plan, or, the subject of a s47 enquiry, additional action is required. This includes:
Where the child is known to children's social care services or meets the criteria for referral to children's social care services, the Local Authority will ensure that an assessment takes place and there are a range of service options available to address the child's needs following the safe and well check and independent return review interview.
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, for those who may have been sexually exploited.
Safe and well checks should be carried out by the police as soon as possible after the child has returned. Their purpose is to check for any indications that the child has suffered harm, where and with whom they have been, and to give the child an opportunity to disclose any offending against them.
Where a child goes missing frequently, it may not be practicable for the police to see them every time they return. In these cases a reasonable decision should be taken in agreement between the police and the child's parent with regard to the frequency of such checks bearing in mind the established link between frequent missing episodes and serious harm. In addition consideration should be given to a referral to children's social care services for an assessment to understand the reasons why the child is going missing and to further assess the risk of harm.
The assessment of whether a child might run away again should be based on information about:
The Independent Return Review is an in-depth interview and should be carried out by an independent professional (e.g. a social worker, teacher, health professional or police officer, 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.
The police should make a referral to the children's social care services to ensure that a return review interview takes place. Contact should be made with the child and an independent return interview should be offered and provided within 72 hours of the child being located or returning from absence, preferably in a neutral place where they feel safe. Delays in return interviews may mean a loss of important information or evidence.
The interview and actions that follow from it should:
It is especially important that the independent return review interview takes place when a child:
Following the safe and well check and independent return review, the local authority children's services, police and voluntary services should assess the child's needs and work together:
Where children refuse to engage with the interview, parents should be offered the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence they may be aware of. This should help to prevent further instances of the child running away and identify early the support needed for them.
Information about local help lines and agencies working with runaways should be provided to the child and family.
For the purpose of the Statutory Guidance on Children Missing Education (2015), children missing education are defined as those who are not on a school roll or receiving suitable education otherwise than at school. Those who are regularly absent or have missed 10 school days or more without permission may be at risk of becoming 'children missing education'.
Enquiries into the circumstances surrounding a child who is missing from school can be effectively supported by schools adopting an admissions procedure which requires a parent/carer to provide documentary evidence of their own and the child's identity and status in the UK, and the address that they are residing at. These checks should not become delaying factors in the admissions process.
If a member of school/educational establishment/college staff becomes aware that a child may have run away or gone missing, they should try to establish with the parents/ carers, what has happened. If this is not possible, or the child is missing, the designated safeguarding teacher/advisor should, together with the class teacher, assess the child's vulnerability.
From the first day that a child does not attend school and there is no explanation or authorisation of the absence, the following steps should be taken:
In the following circumstances a referral to children's social care and /or the police should always be made promptly:
The answers to further questions could assist a judgement whether or not to inform LA children's social care and the police:
The length of time that a child remains out of school could, of itself, be an alerting factor of risk of harm to the child. Accordingly if a situation is not resolved within 3 days the Education Welfare Service should be contacted, then referrals should be made to the police and LA children's social care, as appropriate over the next two weeks.
Extended leave of absence can be authorised by the head teacher, at which point a return date is set. In these cases the time line for enquiries starts from when the child does not attend school on the expected return date, not from the day the extended leave started.
If the answers to any of the points set out in the previous section indicates that there are concerns about the child's safety then a referral should be made to the police and children's social care on day one. The education welfare service should be informed and requested to assist in locating the child.
The school / educational establishment / college should work in collaboration with Children's social care and the police and a safeguarding education representative should participate in any strategy discussions, s47 enquiries and Child Protection Conferences which may arise.
If the judgement reached on day one is that there is no reason to believe that the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, then the school may delay making a referral. The process of 'reasonable enquiry' has not been identified in regulations, however this includes school staff checking with all members of staff whom the child may have had contact with, and with the pupil's friends and their parents, siblings and known relatives at this school and others.
School staff should also make telephone calls to any numbers held on record or identified, sending a letter to the last known address, home visits by some school based staff and consultation with local authority staff.
If the above response was unsuccessful, the school should contact their local authority CME Officer. The local authority should make enquiries by visiting the child's home and asking for information from the family's neighbours and their local community - as appropriate.
The LA CME team should also check databases within the local authority, use agreed protocols to check local databases, e.g. LA housing, health and the police; check with agencies known to be involved with the family, with the local authority the child moved from originally, and with any local authority to which the child may have moved.
The child's circumstances and vulnerability should be reviewed and reassessed regularly jointly by the school's nominated safeguarding advisor and the CME Officer in consultation with children's social care and the police as appropriate.
Where a pupil is absent from school without authorisation for twenty consecutive school days, the pupil can be removed from the admission register when the school and the local authority have failed, after jointly making reasonable enquiries, to establish the whereabouts of the child. This only applies if the school does not have reasonable grounds to believe that the pupil is unable to attend because of sickness or unavoidable cause.
The Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2000 (SI 2000/297) (as amended by SI 2001/1212 and SI 2002/1680) governs the transfer of information between schools.
If the CME team or any other agency becomes aware the child has moved to another school the service should ensure all relevant agencies are informed so that arrangements can be made to forward records from the previous school.
This section applies to children who are 'subject to restriction'. I.e. who have:
A missing person's referral must be made by Home Office staff to the police, the UK Missing Person Bureau and the local authority children's social care in a number of circumstances including:
A copy of the missing persons notification form must be faxed or emailed to the local authority duty desk and the UK MPB.
If it is believed by Home Office staff that a child is being coerced to abscond or go missing, this must be reported as a concern that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm to the local police and children's social care services.
Notifications will also be made where a missing child is found by Home Office staff. See Home Office Guidance: Missing Children and Vulnerable Adults Guidance.
The local authority and health are responsible for:
The police are responsible for:
The Police central point of contact is the PNC Team in Liverpool.
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. The Home Office must maintain regular weekly contact with the local authority and the police until the child is found and record all contact with the police and local authority.
The local police and local authority must be informed immediately.
In consultation with the local police and local authority children's social care, a decision will be made as to where the child is to be taken, if they are not to be left at the address where they are encountered. The Home Office must follow up enquires with the local police and children/adult services in order to identify if there are any safeguarding issues.
The Home Office Command and Control Unit will be the single point of contact for the local police and the Evidence and Enquiry Unit 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.
Only valid for 48hrs