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Children who go Missing from Home or Care


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


This chapter was amended locally in September 2022. This chapter was updated in order to reflect guidance for children who go missing from home or care.


  1. Context
  2. Definitions
  3. Reporting a Child Missing Episode
  4. Decision Making and Recording Child Missing Episodes
  5. Strategy Discussions
  6. Children Missing in Norfolk from Another Local Authority
  7. Working with a Child who has Returned Home
  8. Children and Young People who go Missing from Care
  9. Leaving Care Children
  10. Norfolk Children Missing from Care in Another Local Authority

1. Context

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

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 and information gathered during return home interviews should be analysed to inform planning for the child. It should be noted that there are strong links between child missing episodes and child sexual exploitation (criminal and sexual). This procedure should be read in conjunction with the multi-agency child exploitation (MACE) procedures and further information regarding child sexual exploitation can be found on the Norfolk Safeguarding Children’s Partnership (NSCP) web pages (see Norfolk Safeguarding Children Partnership 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.

For children receiving a Leaving Care service the Missing Children’s procedures apply beyond age 18.

Home is defined as their ordinary place of residence with a parent, kinship carers, private foster carers or person with parental responsibility. 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.

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;
  • Children’s Services regard a child as missing when the person responsible for them does not know where they are and at this point should contact Norfolk Police to begin the reporting procedure for missing children.

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. 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.

3. Reporting a Child Missing Episode

Most children missing from home or care will be reported as such to the Police by parents or carers. Sometimes Children’s Advice & Duty Service (CADS) or Emergency Duty Team (EDT) may be alerted to missing children, all callers will be advised to report the child missing to the Police and CADS and EDT will consider all the risks and process as required.

A missing episode will not be added until Police confirm the missing episode, instead this will be recorded as a contact/case note initially. If Police do not record the episode as a missing child, CADS will offer advice through the consultation.

A parent or professional might make a member of social care staff outside of CADS 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. Advice should be sought from a manager as it may be necessary to have a consultation about this child with CADS if they are not active. If they are active the member of social care staff should inform the allocated children’s services worker, the active team/social worker or Family Support team so they are aware of the concerns.

If a parent or professional reports a child missing via the 0344 800 8020/8021 numbers direct to CADS or EDT, they will also be encouraged to report the information to the Police and the person with parental responsibility. Normal decision making and recording procedures can be followed. CADS can confirm with the MAST team in MASH whether the missing episode is then reported. Police staff will access COMPACT where all missing episodes are recorded.

If a member of social care staff is informed that a child active to them has gone missing, they should inform Norfolk Police. CADS will raise the missing episode once alerted by Norfolk Police, social care staff can record that the child is missing on case notes, however CADS add all ‘missing episodes’ from the information supplied by Norfolk Police via the daily missing document and COMPACT reports received. The daily missing list is distributed to the detached youth work team to support locating children and young people.

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 Child Missing Episodes

Norfolk Police make the decision around recording a child missing on COMPACT. Where a child is not recorded as missing but there is still cause for concern, Norfolk Police will record this and send to CADS in the form of a CPI. These cases will be triaged by CADS to identify the most appropriate response.

In all cases where there has been a child missing episode which was reported to the Police, the missing people morning document and a COMPACT report will be received by Children’s Services within CADS and triaged by a consultant social worker. Significant factors that will influence the triaging process are the history of the case including any previous CPI reports. Looked After Child episodes, YOT involvement, family support, child in need 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. CADS consultant social workers will also consider to specific vulnerabilities and risk factors for example, e.g. missing from care of another authority, trafficking, Child Exploitation. Decisions should be made on a case by case basis and not based solely on timescales.

In cases where a child is missing over a 24 hour period, CADS will inform senior management at the end of each working day and missing episodes will be recorded on Liquidlogic (LCS). All cases whereby a child has been missing over 24 hours are to be reviewed to determine the next steps. For active cases to social care the social worker should review the information with their manager to discuss the next steps. For non-active cases, CADS will review the missing episode over 24 hours and will determine the next steps with management oversight. CADS will consider the requirement for strategy discussion and/or referral for social work assessment.

5. Strategy Discussions

In cases where a child has been missing three times in a 42 day period, this will be clearly recorded on Liquidlogic. For all missing cases CADS will make a decision as to whether a strategy discussion is required and advise the allocated team manager to convene. For non-active cases, the consultant social worker in CADS will put a referral on Liquidlogic to the locality social work team for a strategy discussion.

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 team 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 Children’s Services children and young people’s team manager;
  • Children’s Services Missing practitioner;
  • Any relevant professionals who can assist with the plan (e.g. CCE/family support team).

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, Child Criminal Exploitation and/or Trafficking;
  • A multi-agency plan to prevent further episodes, including what is recorded on COMPACT (Police) and Liquidlogic, 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 person’s 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, the CS 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 Executive Director of Children’s Services.

6. 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. This can include the offer of an Return Home Interview (RHI) by the Targeted Youth Support Service (TYSS) missing children’s practitioners.

CADS will complete a missing child episode on Liquidlogic, EDT will alert CADS to this missing episode through a case note as CADS will access the daily missing document to upload the missing episode. The relevant COMPACTs will be sent to the other local authority.

Consideration should be given as to whether a Missing Child strategy meeting should be held with the MAST team in Norfolk Police and the other local authority. This may be particularly important if the child in question is placing themselves or others at increased risk of harm.

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.

CADS will add the found information once received from COMPACT. 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.

Within 72 hours of the notification of a child returning, a return home interview (RHI) should take place. The RHI will be offered from the missing practitioner and the child will be given the offer of choice of who completes their RHI. The missing practitioner will complete the RHI on Liquidlogic and send to the Targeted youth support team manager who will quality assure the RHI against the practice standards. The RHI will then be sent to the relevant locality team manager for that child or young person. If the child is not active to a locality team, Targeted youth support team manager will authorise the RHI. Social workers and Family Support staff can complete the RHI’s on Liquidlogic and it is the responsibility of the locality team to authorise the RHI and ensure practice standards are met. When authorising RHI’s the authoriser needs to ensure information gathered should always be triangulated against any other existing case information and should clearly inform ongoing risk management and planning for the child.

For professionals who do not have access to Liquidlogic, the missing practitioner can liaise with them to collate the information for the RHI and complete this. CADS will allocate the RHI task to a missing practitioner, it is then the responsibility of the task holder to discuss with the child and relevant professionals around completion of the RHI. Thought should be given as to who is best placed to undertake the interview, as it could provide valuable information for future risk assessment, safeguarding and care planning. The child/young person must always be offered the opportunity to speak to someone independent of their day to day care.

Family group conference can be requested for children where they are experiencing repeat missing episodes. Family networking will be explored as part of the RHI when considering the action plan to reduce further missing episodes.

Practice standards relating to return home interviews can be found here.

If in the course of the safe and well check or return home interview, information has been provided by the child that they have been trafficked or sexually/criminally exploited, the social worker and team manager should give consideration as to whether or not a strategy discussion or exploitation screening is required, additionally the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) process will also need to be considered. The consultant social worker in CADS will review the information in the missing episode and can complete the exploitation screen, however, if this information emerges from the RHI, it is the expectation that this information is shared with CADS for the purpose of an exploitation screen. (Please refer to MACE procedures relating to working with children who are being sexually/criminally exploited or have been trafficked). Where a young person provides information that requires submission for police intelligence, Police MACE representatives in MASH should be informed. Targeted Youth Support team manager will quality assure RHIs completed by missing practitioners and share relevant intelligence and information with the MAST team and consultant social worker in CADS responsible for missing and exploitation.

If they provide information that the child has been harmed and that harm constitutes significant harm, the CADS consultant social worker for non-active cases or social work team manager for active cases, will request a Section 47 strategy discussion. In cases relating to trafficking the NRM guidance should be referred to.

Where it is immediately clear that a child missing has given rise to concerns about safeguarding, the case will be processed by the missing practitioner and passed to a locality social work team for assessment.

For those cases whereby a family support need is identified, the missing practitioner will be tasked with completing the RHI and will be able to seek consent from the young person and person with parental responsibility to gather further information to identify the right agencies to provide any ongoing support.

The information known from the episode will be recorded in a Contact form and the missing child process followed. All recording of missing episodes and related contacts to the missing episode are recorded on Liquidlogic.

8. Children and Young People who go Missing from Care

Care is defined as the child’s ordinary place of residence with a parent/family member under the Care Planning, Placement and Review Regulations, 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.

The above procedures apply to children who go missing from care in respect of children active to a locality team. The difference is the IRO will be alerted to any missing episode and included in any strategy discussions and a representative from the child’s placement. The child’s placement will also be included within any planning and their views will be sought during the process.

9. Leaving Care Children

The above procedures relating to children active to the authority apply to children who are over 18 and supported under Leaving Care legislation. These children will be offered an RHI.

10. Norfolk Children Missing from Care in Another Local Authority

For Norfolk children placed outside of Norfolk in care provision, when they are reported missing the OLA will sometimes contact CADS to inform them of the missing episode, and CADS will input the missing episode and assign an RHI to the TYSS missing children’s team. The team will then liaise with the child’s social worker and OLA to arrange an RHI. Where the social worker is notified first, they should ensure CADS are updated in order that a missing episode is added.