Children Missing from Care
1. Children Missing from Foster Placement
The safety and welfare of the child/young person is paramount and this guidance to be read in conjunction with the Northumbria Police Missing from Placement Protocol is aimed at ensuring the safe return of children who go missing.
This framework should be followed in all cases when a child or young person is missing from their foster placement.
Every “missing” episode should be considered carefully to ensure that the correct and safe response is given.
The guidance also aims to:
- Provide clear guidance for staff and foster carers on the steps to be taken when a young person is missing from placement;
- Provide guidance on the identification, assessment and management of risk. Clearly identify roles and responsibilities;
- Identify arrangements for appropriate management oversight.
2. Managing the Absence
When a young person is referred for admission to a foster placement a pre-admission risk assessment form must be completed. The allocated social worker to identify the associated risks including missing from placement. This risk assessment should also contain an agreement of how the young person is to return to placement once they have been found.
In all cases following a child/young person's accommodation a “Placement Planning Meeting” will be held. At this meeting, the “Risk Assessment” will be jointly completed by all of the Care Team. Subsequently this document will be reviewed at each Care Team Meeting and Looked After Review or more frequently if appropriate.
Other than in exceptional circumstances where a young person's safety may be compromised, it is essential that those with parental responsibility for a young person are informed as soon as possible, if a child is missing from placement.
The foster carer will contact the police in all cases where a child is missing, or to report an absence when the young person is subject to a curfew order, or is bailed to the care of the Local authority. The foster carer will ensure the police are made aware of any known risks or vulnerability, in line with the child's risk assessment completed at the Placement Planning Meeting. Every local arrangement should attempt to find out why a young person has gone, or goes, missing, so that appropriate action can be taken by Police and Local Authorities in respect of any child.
The Foster carer will then be available to provide information on the missing child to the police.
If the child/young person goes missing during office hours
The foster carer will contact by telephone the child's social worker, district office duty social worker, or the team manager at the district office and inform them that the child has gone missing, the date and time, the circumstances and confirm that they have informed the police. The district office must be informed immediately after the call to the police has been made.
After the foster carer has informed the district office, she/he will telephone the fostering duty worker, and advise of the situation.
If the child is reported missing outside of normal working hoursThe foster carer will contact the Emergency Duty Team after contacting the police. The foster carer will contact the social worker, or if not available the district office duty worker, or team manager and, immediately after that the fostering duty worker, to inform that the child is missing from placement at 9 am on the morning the offices reopen. If a child who has been reported missing returns to the placement, the foster carer will immediately inform the police and then Emergency Duty Team, or if the child is returned during office hours then the district social work team, followed by the fostering duty worker.
3. Foster Carers RecordsAll absences of a child or young person from the foster home and significant information relating to the absence from the placement must be recorded in detail in the foster carer's daily record.
4. Notification of other related Events
The fostering duty worker will complete a Notification of Events Form as set out in the Notifications of Significant Events Procedure if the circumstances as detailed in Schedule 7 Regulation 36 (1) of the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 require this - for example, if a missing child has committed a serious offence, has suffered a serious accident, or has been or is suspected of having been involved in prostitution.
The notification form will be placed on on ICS Copies will also be forwarded immediately to:
- The allocated supervising social worker;
- The Family Placement Manager;
- The Administration Support team to log the notification.
5. Return to the Foster Placement
If the child or young person is being held by the police and the foster carer is contacted with a view to arranging their return, (check missing from care protocol) the foster carer should ensure that the police have informed the Emergency Duty Team (EDT) (if out of hours) of the district social work team if during office hours. If the foster carer feels it is safe and appropriate to collect the child or young person themselves, they should arrange to do so with the police. The child or young person must be collected within the shortest possible time scale taking into account the geographical distance where the child or young person has been found.
If the foster carer cannot set off to collect the child or young person within one hour of the discussion with the police, they should notify the Emergency Duty Team or the district social work team, i.e. child's or young person's social worker, duty social worker, or team manager.
If the foster carer on discussing the matter with the police, the foster carer - because of risk or geographical distance - feels unable to collect the child or young person, they should request the police return them to placement. If the police are unable to transport the child or young person, the foster carer should immediately contact the Emergency Duty Team (EDT) or the district social work team to inform them of the difficulty. EDT will take the necessary action.
If the child or young person turns up at the district office, the child or young person's social worker or duty worker will inform the police of their return and contact the foster carer to arrange their return to placement. If possible, the child's or young person's social worker or duty social worker will transport them back to placement. If this presents practical difficulties, the social worker may request the foster carer collect the child or young person.
If the child contacts the foster carer from a given location and requests to be collected, the foster carer should record the telephone number and their whereabouts and ask them to remain until she/he is collected. If the foster carer is able to collect the child and feels it is safe to do so, she/he should inform the child or young person.
The foster carer in all cases must immediately and prior to collecting the child or young person, inform the police and the EDT or the district social work team (if during office hours) of the situation and the child's whereabouts. If the foster carer has agreed to collect the child, she/he must inform the police, the EDT, the district social work team of this arrangement. If the foster carer has not arranged to collect the child or young person, arrangements for their collection must be discussed and made with the police, and EDT, and the district social work team.
If the child or young person returns to the placement of their own volition, the foster carer will inform the police and EDT or district social work team immediately.
Whatever the circumstances of the child or young person's return, the foster carer must telephone the fostering duty social worker as soon as possible once the child or young person has been made welcome and comfortable and is settled back into placement. Once the foster carer has reassured themselves of the child or young person's welfare, they will telephone the fostering duty social worker.
The foster carer will inform the fostering duty worker of any significant information, incidents, or events they are aware of with regard to the child or young person's period of absence. The fostering duty social worker will record the information shared and forward to the child and young person's social worker and the district team duty worker.
Foster carers should welcome young people returning from an absence in a positive manner. The Police will also wish to discuss the absence with the young person as part of their procedures and responsibilities will conduct a formal 'Safe and Well Check'.
Where a child or young person has been reported missing, on return to placement in addition to a Police 'Safe and Well Check', a formal 'Return Interview' should be completed by the Social Worker for Missing Children. In all cases, on a child's return from a missing episode, the allocated Social Worker should liaise with the Social Worker for Missing Children to agree who is the most appropriate person to conduct a Return Interview. The Return Interview should follow a standard format, and should be conducted with the child within 72 hours of their return from a missing episode. After completing the Return Interview the interview content should be recorded, and shared with Police and Children's Services where necessary.
Following the child or young person's return to placement an assessment must be undertaken by the Care Team with a view to:
- Identifying and understanding the young person's individual's fears and anxieties;
- Understanding the reason behind the episode;
- Providing supportive measures, which may prevent further absences;
- Determining the views of the young person regarding their placement within the home;
- Assessing the young person's emotional state;
- Reviewing the individual Risk Assessment.
If it is suspected that a child protection issue is related to the absence or a criminal offence has been committed against the young person then safeguarding children and young people procedures must be followed.Where appropriate a plan to address absconding behaviour should be developed and suitable professional intervention initiated. The plan should identify appropriate support services including responsibility and timescales. A copy of the plan will be provided to all members of the Care Team. Consideration should be given to completing a Vulnerability check list and referral into the Risk Management group.