This chapter fully explores the issues around children who go missing or are absent and describes in some details the process and protocols across this essentially multi-agency area of concern. The chapter recognises that there will be situations when absence is a part of ‘testing boundaries’ and adolescent behaviour generally, but in others, it represents a serious concern. In some instances, children can be sexually abused or trafficked – including exposure to Modern Slavery. It is key, therefore, that the full circumstances are known and that evaluated and carefully balanced decisions are made in each circumstance.
The chapter contains relevant tools to support the practitioner in undertaking their safeguarding role and includes a return home interview template.RELEVANT GUIDANCE
Children running away and going missing from home is a key safeguarding issue for Lambeth Children’s Services. When a child goes missing from home or care, it is symptomatic of wider problems in their lives. Children who go missing or runaway are at risk of harm in the short term which can often have long term implications. Current research findings estimate that approximately 25% of children and young people who go missing are at risk of Significant Harm (Ofsted Missing Children 2013) – determining which children requires professional judgement and assessment. There are particular concerns about the links between children running away and the risks of Child Sexual Exploitation. Studies such as those by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC, If Only Someone Had Listened, 2013) found that Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is much more prevalent than previously thought.
This protocol is designed to support an effective collaborative safeguarding response from all agencies involved when a child goes missing. It aims to provide guidance for assessing both the risk of the child going missing and the risk to the child when they are missing. This guidance sets out the actions that should be taken by professionals to locate the child, to assist with their return and to identify the issues which caused, and may continue to cause, the child to go missing. This protocol should be used in conjunction with the London Child Protection Procedures specifically the practice guidance on ‘Children Missing from Care, Home and Education'. This protocol takes account of the DfE Statutory Guidance on ‘Children who run away or go missing from home or care’, January 2014. Where there are also concerns of child sexual exploitation (CSE) practitioners would also need to review the Lambeth Children’s Social Care Child Sexual Exploitation Protocol and the Pan London Safeguarding Children from Sexual Exploitation Procedures (2016).
The protocol covers all children (defined as under 18 years old) who run away or who are missing from home or care.
The following principles should be adopted by all agencies in relation to identifying and locating children who go missing:
For the purposes of this protocol, the following definitions apply:
This category is critical to the clarification of roles of the Police and Children’s Social Care. Some children absent themselves from home or care without permission but their whereabouts are known by parents or carers, or this is a pattern of repeated behaviour where the young person returns home after a few hours or whereabouts are unknown but the child is in contact and not considered at risk. Sometimes children stay out longer than agreed as a boundary testing activity which can be considered normal teenage behaviour. An example of this may be a teenager who stays out beyond a curfew but whose whereabouts remains known to their parent or carer and/or whom remain in touch during their absence.
These children are not classed as missing, and should not be reported to the police unless there are risk factors present that may make the child vulnerable whilst absent (see Section 3.3, Concerning Unauthorised Absences). However, if they continue to stay away from their home or placement, and/or their whereabouts are not able to be definitely confirmed, they need to be reported to the police. The police will make an assessment as to whether the child is missing, and if there is any doubt then the police should be called via 101. For children looked after, foster carers and residential workers will need to refer to the specific advice in the child’s Placement Plan.
If a child’s whereabouts are known then they cannot be technically be ‘missing’. However, if they are known to be staying somewhere where they are in danger and it is not possible for the carer/parent to remove the child or young person, then it may still be necessary to involve Police in safeguarding them.
Children who are absent without authorisation and whose whereabouts are known, but there are significant risk factors that increase their vulnerability, should be reported to police immediately. For example:
The police definitions of 'missing' and 'absent' are:Missing
Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located, and their well-being or otherwise confirmed.
A person is not at a place where they are expected or required to be (and there is no apparent risk).
The police classification of a person as 'missing' or 'absent' will be based on on-going risk assessment. A child whose whereabouts are known would not be treated as either 'missing' or 'absent' under the police definitions. When a parent/carer/professional reports to the police they will assess whether a child is missing or absent based on the information provided. Any child who is recorded as absent, will be categorised as missing by the police after 24 hours.
Where a child is recorded by police as being absent, they will agree review times and any on-going actions with the person reporting the absence. All persons recorded by police as absent are monitored on the police CAD system. Monitoring is ongoing and subject to regular reviews to ensure risk levels do not change. Where information comes to light which introduces any risk to that person, then the case may be re-categorised as 'missing' and a police investigation instigated.
One of the overriding principles of 'Absent' is that police are able to focus resources more effectively, in accordance with the police risk assessments of 'absent' and 'missing' incidents. From a social care perspective, we may be just as concerned about an ‘absent’ child as one who is formally ‘missing’, and the police distinction should not determine social care safeguarding actions or actions to seek to locate a child, particularly a Looked After Child.
The ‘absent’ category should comprise of cases of where the person is not where they are supposed to be and where there is no apparent risk. These are monitored over time by police and escalated to missing if there is a change in circumstances, or a child will be escalated to missing by police after 24 hours of being absent.
The police will prioritise all incidents of missing children as medium or high risk, the majority being medium. Where a child is recorded as being absent, the details will be recorded by the police, who will also agree review times and any on-going actions with the person reporting.
A missing child incident would be prioritised as below:
|Level of risk||Definition||Response|
|High Risk||The child is likely to be at risk or threat to themselves or others.||Immediate police response with a senior officer leading the investigation; agreed media strategy; high level of inter-agency working including notification to the Missing Persons Bureau and CEOP.|
|Medium Risk||The child is likely to be at risk or a threat to themselves or others.||Active investigation to locate the child and support for family whilst the search is carried out.|
|Absent||Where the child is away from home or placement where they are required or expected to be.||The child's absence will be recorded and agreement made as to how and when the risk assessment will be reviewed.|
The high risk category requires the immediate deployment of police resources. Police guidance makes clear that a member of the senior management team or similar command level must be involved in the examination of initial enquiry lines and approval of appropriate staffing levels. Such cases should lead to the appointment of an Investigating Officer and possibly a Senior Investigating Officer. There should be a media strategy and close contact with outside agencies. Family support should be put in place. The UK Missing Persons Bureau should be notified of the case immediately. CEOP and local authority children's services should also be notified. Being a high risk ‘misper’ allows the police more power in tracking the person with a quicker response, as these are very powerful tools over a person, police need clear evidence of the immediate risk and do not use this category lightly.
A missing child incident would be prioritised as medium risk where the risk posed is likely to place the subject in danger or they are a threat to themselves or others. The majority of missing children are under this category. This category requires an active and measured response by police and other agencies in order to trace the missing person and support the person reporting. This will involve a proactive investigation and search in accordance with the circumstances to locate the missing child as soon as possible.
The police will:
Where there are child protection concerns, the Police Child Abuse Investigation Team will be informed and involved in strategy discussions and enquiries as appropriate.Foster Carers and Residential Support Workers
Where the child is looked after by Lambeth or a Lambeth care leaver, their foster carer, residential worker or housing support worker will:
Residential units should have in place procedures to both prevent LAC going missing and to locate, return and support Looked After Children who have gone missing.Emergency Duty Team
Lambeth’s Emergency Team provides a social work service to cover emergency situations arising out of office hours and will:
Lambeth Safeguarding Children’s Board
The LSCB will:
Schools and colleges will:
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’.
Where a child fails to attend school or goes missing from the school roll for 10 days the school must notify the Monitoring and Inclusion Officer who will take action to ensure that the child is safe and well and to make arrangements for them to return to full time education.
If a child is removed from a school to be educated at home, schools must notify the Education Welfare Service so that the Home Education Officer can contact the family to ensure the home education offered is of a good enough standard and to ensure the child’s safety and welfare.
This section needs to be read in conjunction with the:
For queries relating to those children who are defined as CME due to not having a school place please contact email@example.com or 020 7926 6928.
It is important that children who are thinking of running away are able to speak to someone about their situation and get support to help them deal with issues that may cause them to run away. Professionals who are concerned that a child they work with is at risk of running away should work with the child to understand why they have run away or are thinking of running away, work with the child and family to address these issues, and if there are safeguarding concerns a referral to MASH be made. If the child is already open to Children’s Social Care and is at risk of running away, social workers and the professional network will also have an opportunity to work with the child to understand why they have run away or are thinking of running away, to reduce the risk and plan for any incidents. If there is a risk of missing/unauthorised absence then strategies need to be incorporated into the Child In Need / Child Protection / Looked After Child Plan for the child and family. It should also include strategies to reduce the duration and risk of missing episodes.
Some examples of the reasons children and young people may run away are:Push factors
As well as assessing the risks to include understanding the reasons why a Looked After Child is going missing as above, Local authorities have a duty to seek 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. Remember:
Statutory reviews should consider any absences and revise strategies to prevent repeat absences and/or missing incidents and the care plan should be revised accordingly.
Practitioners should use their professional judgement when carrying out the risk assessment and should take into consideration any factors, which might have a bearing on the level of risk to the child or to others. This risk assessment can be filled in by social workers or foster carers/residential workers.
The Risk Assessment is an aid to action, and to information sharing and recording. As an action tool the purpose of the Risk Assessment is to inform single and multi-agency agency decision-making and planning to locate a missing child. The assessment can also be used for when a child is likely to go missing. This information is crucial for police and saves time on their investigation once a child goes missing.
At the time that a child goes missing, or when a child is likely to go missing, the completed and where appropriate updated Risk Assessment should be shared with all agencies working with the child and kept on the child’s file in each agency. In cases where new information becomes available and/or the child remains absent for a protracted period, the risks should be re-assessed led by the agency which has current or most recent responsibility for the child, and shared with the agencies. The most recently completed Risk Assessment should remain on the child’s file in all agencies working with the child.
In responding to and managing a child’s absence from home/care, agencies should be alert to the potential significance of repeat missing episodes of a child. Often children who repeatedly go missing are viewed as ‘a problem’ and insufficient consideration is given to the reason why they keep absenting themselves.
The Information Sharing Form can also be used where there are concerns that a child may go missing. Residential workers, foster carers or parents must assess the risks of the child absenting him/herself. This form includes information that social workers may not know such as nicknames, social media accounts, up to date photograph. This is to be kept updated and shared with police once child is missing.
It is very important that all missing episodes are added to the missing register and closed once returned. All information regarding the missing episode and risk of the child needs to be filled in correctly by social work teams on the Mosaic work step. This information can then be used to inform any data analysis.
The Missing Coordinator will monitor the actions, plans and outcomes for children considered to be high risk missing by Children’s Social Care (CSC).
Where cases are deemed to be high risk due to factors such as Child Sexual Exploitation, gang affiliation, trafficking, etc, they can be referred to the Multi Agency Risk Panel if it is felt it would be beneficial for the case to be discussed and monitored at a strategic multi agency level.
The following information needs to be provided to the police when a child is being reported as missing:
The police will prioritise missing children reports and their response; please see table in Section 3.5, Understanding Police Risk Levels.
Timescales and procedures for strategy meetings must be followed as set out below. The meetings should involve representatives from all relevant agencies involved, including the Police Missing Persons Unit. If police cannot attend they may be able to take part via conference call, or by providing clear and detailed updates before and after the meeting. See Appendix 3: Strategy Meeting Guidance which includes a list of persons that need to be invited to the meeting or to contribute information, with email contacts.
Where a child is missing, i.e. whereabouts unknown, the first Strategy Meeting or discussion should be convened within the first working day of the child’s going missing, if possible, and a strategy meeting should be held at the latest, within 7 days if missing from home, or within 3 days if missing from care. If the child returns prior to the meeting, the meeting can be cancelled, however where there are repeat concerns or high risk to the child, it is recommended that a professionals meeting is still held.
Where a child is not in police terms missing, but is absent with whereabouts known, the Team Manager will need to consider if the circumstances still warrant a Section 47 investigation due to the level of risk to the child. Where this is the case, a strategy meeting should still be called, however it may be that CAIT police, CSE police, Trident, or other police team are more appropriate to attend, or where they either cannot attend or advise of a single agency investigation, they should be requested to attend via phone or send information.
Where a child is either identified by police as missing (whereabouts not known), or is subject to a Section 47 investigation, a strategy meeting should be held as above. If the police cannot attend, they should be requested to contribute via conference call, or else provide detailed information in advance of the meeting to enable effective information sharing and decision making. If the police do not attend and do not provide information to enable an effective meeting, the meeting should still progress as far as possible and should still be recorded as a Strategy Meeting; however the chair should note that the meeting was inquorate, and schedule a further strategy meeting or discussion as soon as possible in order to progress the actions.
If a child on an allocated case is ‘absent’ but whereabouts known is not considered at immediate risk to warrant a Section 47, but remains absent for 3-7 days, the Team Manager should decide if a professionals meeting is still appropriate to review plans and actions for the child. If a meeting is not required, the Team Manager should add a case note to record this decision and reason, and actions being undertaken to encourage the child’s return to home/placement.
Further strategy meetings to take place at least fortnightly, or weekly if required. Once a child has been missing for 1 month, meetings to happen at least every 28 days. The professional network can have these meetings more frequently if needed. Team managers are to chair meetings, however if a looked after child has been missing for 28 days then the IRO is to chair.
Additional strategy meetings can be called if necessary to progress actions, or where there are significant changes to the information known or the level of risk to the child.
The Strategy Meeting must consider the following (please see Appendix 3: Strategy Meeting Guidance) for further details and who to invite to the meeting):
The decisions of the strategy meeting and the timescales must be clearly recorded and minutes sent out to all professionals involved. Further Strategy meetings can be called whenever the professionals involved wish to hold one and must be within timescales set out below.
When a young person goes missing from home the police should be informed by the parents or those with a Parental Responsibility. It is expected that they should have made all appropriate enquiries to locate the child before reporting them to the police as long as it is safe to do so.
Failure to report their child missing is a safeguarding issue that would need to be addressed with them.
If a parent/carer has not reported them missing then any professional can report them via the 101 police telephone service. If the child has an allocated social worker, and the parents or carers are unwilling to report their child missing, the social worker or duty worker should report the child missing to police.
If the young person does not have an allocated social worker the MISPER report will still be recorded on the system as a contact which will be considered by the duty manager. Police Misper reports will also be passed by the duty manager to the Missing Coordinator to record the child’s missing episode on the Mosaic Missing Register (this is for unallocated cases only – all other episodes to be logged by relevant BSOs). These cases are screened by the First Response Team who consider current and historical factors. Actions may be a referral to Early Help services, allocation for a C and F Assessment or the circumstances may require Section 47 investigations to be initiated.
Where a Section 47 investigation is initiated on a new referral, a Missing Strategy Meeting must be held as soon as possible, and within 7 days.
If a child has been missing and whereabouts unknown for over 24 hours, without an immediate concern warranting a Section 47, a strategy discussion should still take place between police and CSC, and a strategy meeting should be booked to be held within 7 days if the child does not return home. If the child remains missing for over 5 days, but returns within 7 days, it is recommended that the professionals meeting still goes ahead, (the missing police may not attend as the child is no longer missing but should be requested to provide information). At the strategy/professionals meeting, information can be provided by all involved agencies and a decision taken as to whether there are sufficient concerns to undertake a C and F assessment.
If a child goes missing 2 or more times in 90 days the case will be allocated for a C and F assessment – it will be very important as part of this assessment that information is sought from all agencies. And it may be helpful to hold a missing strategy/professionals meeting as per Appendix 3: Strategy Meeting Guidance to ensure that all information is shared and risks assessed. When a report of a missing child is received from police, the missing register should be checked by the referrals manager to see if a child has previously been reported missing. This will also be monitored by the Missing Coordinator, and any repeat missing episodes or other concerning cases will be recommended for assessment.
If the child is returned within 24 hours but the police believe there are concerning issues, they should make a referral to CSC even after the child is returned home.
A missing strategy meeting should take place as soon as possible and within 7 days of going missing. The Missing Person’s Unit needs to be invited and all other relevant professionals – please see Section 11, Response to Children Missing from Home, and also Appendix 3: Strategy Meeting Guidance for clear details of persons to invite. If the police cannot attend they may be able to take part via conference call. If police are not in attendance then a missing professionals meeting needs to take place.
If the child returns the meeting can be cancelled. However, if there remain high risks to the child or it is likely that the child may go missing again, the meeting should still be held, for the purpose of information sharing, risk assessing, and planning to reduce further missing episodes. If the meeting is cancelled decisions for this are to be uploaded on Mosaic by the Team Manager.
Following the initial missing strategy meeting, if the child remains missing follow up meetings are to be within maximum of 14 days. This is risk dependent and the professional network may decide to have them more frequently. Once the child has been missing for 1 month strategy meetings to take place within maximum 28 days, although best practice would be to have them more frequently.
Strategy Meetings are to be chaired by the social work team manager who needs to record the minutes, risk assessment, and actions in the strategy discussion form on Mosaic.
Unless there are concerns that this would increase the risk, it is good practice and can in some cases be crucial for information sharing to invite the parent/carer of the child to the Missing Strategy Meeting.
If a child is on a child protection plan or subject to Section 47 enquiries, then the CP Chair, Quality Assurance Team and CP Designated Nurse needs to be notified. The child’s school should always be informed and invited to strategy meetings as they may hold valuable information. For a full list of persons to invite see Appendix 3: Strategy Meeting Guidance.
It is important also to remember to communicate with all professionals that a child has returned home, and brief updated information where known about why they were missing, where they were located, and any change to the safeguarding or support plan as a result.
Relevant agencies must provide sufficient information to the Police to enable all the risk factors to be considered. Following this a full investigation should be conducted by the Police. Completing Appendix 1: Pre and Current Missing Child Risk Assessment Record and Appendix 2: Information Sharing Form for children who are missing from care, or are at risk of going missing or unauthorised absence, in advance as far as possible will greatly assist this process. Where there are concerns that a child is at risk of going missing, social workers should ensure that these are completed, in collaboration with the parent. When a child is missing best practice would be for the social worker to ensure that these forms are shared with the police.
Until such time as a child is no longer missing, regular liaison and communication should take place between the Police and referring/involved agencies.
The Police will want to search the address at which the missing child was last seen, this should be negotiated so as to cause minimum disruption to the child’s family home.
If the Police or other referring agency additionally believe that the circumstances surrounding the child’s going missing put the child at risk of Significant Harm, then they should discuss these concerns with Children’s Social Care.
When publicity is appropriate/needed, the police will liaise with the child’s parents to get permission to seek publicity. Social worker to liaise with police regarding publicity and if granted social worker to help police identify areas where putting up publicity may be useful. Electronic publicity pictures can also be sent to relevant agencies.
For children subject to child protection plans, the decision to end a child protection plan can only be made by the chair, and it is very unlikely that a missing child subject to a child protection plan would not continue to remain at risk, with the case remaining open until the child is found.
For other children known to Children’s Social Care, whilst the child remains absent, his/her case should remain allocated with regular strategy meetings and actions to seek to find and safeguard the child for at least three months. If the child continues to remain missing, and there are no further actions that can realistically be undertaken by Children’s Social Care, a Service Manager should review the case before any decision for closure to satisfy him/herself on the actions taken to recover the child.
In such cases, the Missing Coordinator should be notified that the case has been closed to Children’s Social Care. The case will remain open to the police until the child or young person is found. The Missing Coordinator will continue to have regular liaison with the police on a minimum monthly basis, and can provide any requested information or attend any strategy meetings called by the police. When the child is found the case would be re-opened and allocated for assessment.
Research shows that children looked after by the Local Authority are over-represented in the cohort of children who go missing (Ofsted, Missing Children, 2013)
(See also Section 6, Missing Child Risk Assessment)
Where there are concerns that a child may go missing, social workers, in collaboration with residential workers, foster carers or parents must assess the risks of the child absenting him/herself. This form is to be kept updated and shared with police by foster carers or residential staff once child is missing. (See Appendix 1: Pre and Current Missing Child Risk Assessment Record) Social workers should also ensure that Appendix 2: Information Sharing Form for children who are missing from care, or are at risk of going missing or unauthorised absence is completed as far as possible in advance, and that both these forms have been updated if required when a child has been reported missing and promptly shared with police and all involved agencies.
The following children / young people should automatically be considered as at risk and reported immediately to the police by the foster carer / residential staff:
Where a child is absent without permission from a residential unit or foster home all reasonable and practical steps should be taken to secure the safe and speedy return of the child. The residential unit / foster carer should decide whether the child is missing or if it is an unauthorised absence. Foster carers may contact the child’s social worker, their supervising social worker or out of hours service for advice.
Before reporting a child, foster carers / residential staff must, (as far as is practicable and as staffing levels will allow), do all that a reasonable parent would do to locate and ensure the safe return of the child / young person. They should telephone the child, their friends or relatives to ascertain the child / young person’s location, collect the child / young person or negotiate some alternative arrangements.
If the carer believes the child / young person is at risk, or the carer feels that they are unable to make an informed judgment in relation to this, (for example if the child is new to the placement, or if the staff on duty do not know the child well enough), they must inform the child's social worker / group manager / EDT immediately.
The staff should also refer to their organisation’s procedures. The residential staff must then inform the child/young person’s social worker or EDT. In an emergency situation the residential staff must call the police.
If it is thought that there are specific issues of safety or public order difficulties involved in returning the child, then action should be agreed between the police, the residential unit staff / foster carer and the social worker/EDT. If the local authority knows, or believes it knows, the child’s location and there are difficulties or dangers involved in returning the child, a Recovery Order should be actively considered and sought. These circumstances would not necessarily mean the child would be categorised as ‘missing’ by the police. However that does not mean that protective action is not required. Team managers need to consider if it is a Section 47. If the child remains absent it may still warrant a professionals meeting or strategy meeting if Section 47.
Where a child is deemed ‘missing’ it is essential to act promptly so that professionals can work together in order to locate the child as quickly as possible.
The foster carer or residential unit should inform the local Police and report the child as missing. Appendix 2: Information Sharing Form for children who are missing from care, or are at risk of going missing or unauthorised absence should be shared with the Police. Where there is a high risk of a child going missing, it is good practice for residential unit staff/foster carers to prepare an Information Sharing Form containing the information the police and other agencies will need to locate the child if they do go missing. This form should always be provided to the Police at the time of reporting a Looked After Child missing.
The child’s social worker or EDT also needs to be informed. Foster Carers should inform their supervising social worker. The parents and any other person with parental responsibility should be contacted, unless it is not appropriate for the child’s welfare. The social worker will then inform the child’s Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) and their team manager, if they are not already aware via the contact process, and the IRO should also seek to make contact with the child.
If the child remains missing for 3 days the Assistant Director must be informed. If the child remains missing for 7 days, the Director and the lead member of the Corporate Parenting Board need to be informed.
A referral to Barnardos for an independent return home interview should be sent once the child goes missing so they are more likely to be seen in the 72 hour window. Once they return then a quick phone call or email can be made to Barnardos. See Section 14, Actions when Returned for further information.
Please see Section 10, Missing Child Strategy Meetings Guidance, and also Appendix 3: Strategy Meeting Guidance.
When a Looked After Child is reported missing it is expected that the social work team and police will have a strategy discussion over the telephone within at least 24 hours and this is recorded on Mosaic.
A missing strategy meeting should take place as soon as possible and within 3 days of going missing. The Missing Person’s Unit needs to be invited and all other relevant professionals – please see Appendix 3: Strategy Meeting Guidance for a full list of who to invite. If the police cannot attend it is crucial that they contribute via conference call where possible, or that a detailed update is obtained from them before hand and that they contribute to decision making, and a further meeting scheduled as soon as possible if required.
If the child remains missing, review strategy meetings need to take place at a minimum of fortnightly for the first month, then they can be held every 28 days following 1 month of being missing. It is important that the urgency of actions undertaken and the frequency of meetings is proportionate to risk, and the professional network may decide that the meetings need to be held more frequently.
Missing Strategy Meetings are to be chaired by the social work Team Manager. Following 1 month of being missing the strategy meetings/professionals meetings are to be chaired by the IRO.
The Police will want to search the address at which the missing child was last seen, this should be negotiated so as to cause minimum disruption to the residential unit / foster home.
Police are the lead agency for the investigation of missing children. However where the child is a Looked After Child then Children’s Social Care are responsible for children in their care at all times, and this responsibility is not absolved when a child is reported missing to the Police. Social workers, foster carers, and other professionals should do all that a good parent would do to find their child, including undertaking their own searches as far as is possible, safe and appropriate. Actions from strategy discussions and meetings need to be urgently progressed.
Children’s social care should provide relevant information about the missing child to the police to enable all the risk factors to be considered. Early completion of Appendix 1: Pre and Current Missing Child Risk Assessment Record and Appendix 2: Information Sharing Form for children who are missing from care, or are at risk of going missing or unauthorised absence will greatly aid this process. (See also Section 6, Missing Child Risk Assessment).
When publicity is appropriate/needed in order to safely locate and safeguard a missing child, the police will liaise with the local authority and the child’s parents to get permission to seek publicity. For Looked After Children the Director’s approval will need to be sought also. The Social worker will need to liaise with police regarding publicity and if this is appropriate and agreed the social worker may need to help police identify areas where putting up publicity may be useful. Electronic publicity pictures can also be sent to relevant agencies.
Unless there are concerns that this would increase the risk, it is good practice and can in some cases be crucial for information sharing to invite the parent/carer of the child to the Missing Strategy Meeting. Where this is not appropriate, parents must be kept updated.
For Looked After Children, the IRO should also be notified as soon as possible. If there are ongoing Care Proceedings, the Children’s Guardian should also be informed, and they may wish to attend meetings also. The child’s school should always be informed and invited to strategy meetings as they may hold valuable information. The Virtual School should also be notified - firstname.lastname@example.org. For a full list of persons to invite please see Appendix 3: Strategy Meeting Guidance.
It is important also to remember to communicate with all professionals that a child has returned to their placement, and also share brief updated information about why they were missing, where they were located, and any change to the safeguarding or support plan as a result.
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 child 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 often vulnerable to Child 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. In particular young people should feel safe in their accommodation and the areas where it is located. Local authorities should ensure that Pathway Plans clearly assess whether a young person may be vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking or going missing, and that they put in place a range of support services to work with the young person in relation to keeping safe, appropriate relationships, and positive activities, in order to minimise this risk.
It is also important to provide clear specific advice in individual young people’s placement plans as to the actions to be undertaken and urgency of response should a young person stay away from their placement as an ‘unauthorised absence’. For example, where a young person has regular staying contact with a relative and this is considered safe and appropriate, should they fail to return to placement, and it is confirmed that they are staying with this relative, it may be agreed as part of the Placement Plan that the young person does not need to be reported to the police, but could be offered a further time to return prior to being reported. Equally, young people may choose to stay with friends or partners, and while they may be reluctant to provide details of these friends, they may not necessarily be at risk of harm. However if a young person was staying/thought to be staying with an unsafe person, or otherwise at risk of harm, it may be that the young person should be immediately reported to police, even though their whereabouts are known and they are in communication with the carer.
Professional judgement, in combination with having good knowledge of the child, is key. However risk factors that might increase their vulnerability include:
Notification of the placement must be made to the host authority and other specified services – this is completed by the placements team. However, all children subject to a missing risk assessment (i.e. where there are existing concerns that they are likely to go missing, or at risk of CSE or youth crime), should be notified to the local police service and local missing coordinator and/or CSE coordinator. This will need to be completed via the social worker sharing Appendix 1: Pre and Current Missing Child Risk Assessment Record and Appendix 2: Information Sharing Form for children who are missing from care, or are at risk of going missing or unauthorised absence. If a young person has been presented to MARP or MASE, this should also be communicated so that the host authority can decide whether to share information at their own panels. If needed support for how to contact other authorities and police forces can be sought from the Missing Coordinator, and the CSE Coordinator will make any necessary referrals to the local MASE panel.
If children placed out of borough run away, this protocol should still be followed. It is very possible that the child will return to the Lambeth area, 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, and as above information about risks should be shared in advance where this is known.
It is also possible that the area of the placement may contain new or further risks to young people, particularly those already identified as at risk of CSE or youth crime. As far as possible, when considering placement options the social worker should seek information about the local area and local risks. If it is not possible to risk assess information in advance, this should still be sought once a placement has been made. This includes seeking information from the local CSE coordinator, and any other local resource such as a community safety officer for youth crime or youth violence panel. Support to find out information of persons to contact in other local authorities can be sought from the CSE coordinator.
Where a young person Looked After to another Local Authority has been reported missing from a Lambeth placement, notification is given to the responsible local authority via the police and/or referral officer in the First Response Team. Data in relation to this will also be monitored by the Missing Coordinator.
If a child is at risk of CSE or known to another borough’s MASE panel, once the child is moved to Lambeth then as above contact should be made by the host authority with Lambeth’s relevant coordinators, and where appropriate a referral to Lambeth’s MASE will be made so the case can be monitored locally. This is in line with the Pan London Safeguarding Children from Sexual Exploitation Protocol.
Where reports are received that a young person Looked After to another local authority has gone missing within Lambeth, but no information has previously been received from the responsible local authority, the Missing Coordinator will make contact with the local Missing Coordinator to request any relevant information in relation to risks to the young person, or towards others, including CSE and youth crime. This information will be used to best support local understanding of risk, and also to best consider risk to any other local young persons that may be in placement as appropriate.
If a child is missing the police and parents, social worker, residential unit/foster carer should also commence contingency planning for when the child is located. Plans should include:
There will be occasions when a child is found in a location that may be considered unsuitable, but where there would be no legal grounds for taking them into Police Protection or where to do so would be unsustainable because of the child unwillingness to co-operate. In these cases police and the accountable manager from Children’s Social Care will need to liaise to discuss what steps may be necessary in order to safeguard the child’s welfare. If orders will need to be sought to safeguard the child, Legal will need to be informed and consulted.
Once a child is found or returns home, the police will conduct a safe and well check to establish what has happened to the child whilst missing and check their general welfare. This is usually very brief and is not a Return Home Interview. The safe and well check will also look at whether the child:
If the child is returning home, the police should also establish whether there are any child protection issues and if it is safe for the child to return there. As a result of these checks, and any disclosures made, the police will decide what further action to take in terms of referring the child on for services.
A safe and well check will be carried out for all children returning home. However, for children who frequently go missing from care placements the police may decide on a case by case basis whether to conduct the check or whether this may be carried out by the allocated social worker.
All children who come under Lambeth local authority who are classed as missing by police will be offered an independent return home interview within 72 hours of their return. See Appendix 4: Return Home Interview (RHI) Template/Guidance.
The purpose of the interview is to give the child an opportunity to speak to someone about why they ran away, explore what help and support they need to address their reasons and provide them with information on how to stay safe. It is also an opportunity to gather information which can help assess the risk the child is at, can be used in the event of them going missing again and also helps the police and social care see patterns and trends emerging.
It is important that the interview is carried out by someone independent of the child’s care but also that the child has a good relationship with and feels comfortable talking to the interviewer about their experiences. Information from the return home interview can be used to inform case planning.
For children missing from home, the social worker or other identified person can carry out a Return Home Interview (RHI)with the child. If there is conflict between the child and social worker which is likely to lead to the child not engaging, then another suitable member of the professional network can be identified by the social worker. The person could be a social worker other than the child’s social worker, if they have one, or a teacher, school nurse, Connexions, Youth or YOT Worker, a voluntary sector practitioner or a police officer whom the child knows and trusts. It is good practice to ask the child who they wish to speak to. Appendix 5: Missing from Home Flow Chart should be shared with another trusted professional to be completed and returned to the social worker.
Where a young person refuses to engage in a return home interview, the social worker should obtain relevant information from the parents or carers.
For children missing from care, the Barnardos return home interview service should be notified by the social worker, or EDT if appropriate, of when a child who has been referred returns.
The Barnardos workers will contact the child, offer an interview and make arrangements to meet. If this is refused then the Barnardos worker must liaise with the social worker.
Where a child refuses, it should be explored if the child would prefer to talk to another trusted professional in the professional network. If the child still refused, or if the child were to specifically request to speak to the social worker, then the social worker should still carry out the interview as far as possible, and certainly will need to continue to discuss concerns for the child going missing and support to reduce missing episodes with the young person.
It is very important that RHI’s are read carefully by social workers. In many cases they will contain useful information, that should be shared with their parents or carers to help prevent them going missing again, or reduce the risks to them when they are missing. The information should also used to update their missing risk assessment and information sharing forms, and should inform longer term planning to safeguard and support the child.
Key relevant information from the RHIs that has immediate bearing on risk should also be shared quickly with police, and any other appropriate professionals, such as school YOS worker. Otherwise the information should be shared as part of updating risk assessments and information sharing forms, and in informing children’s plans.
Due to this information sharing it is crucial that the interviewer goes through confidentiality with the child before the interview commences.
If a child refuses a RHI then this needs to be recorded on Mosaic, and as above every effort should be made to seek to continue to explore the issues with the child.
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 in April 2010 issued 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.
There are complex issues facing Asylum Seeking children. Information about some children's whereabouts is not always maintained due to the transient nature of their accommodation arrangements. Agencies must however, be alert to the fact that some children are trafficked into, within and out of the UK for custom related reasons, to be abused and exploited for commercial gain, including through sex, for domestic servitude etc.
Some of the children who local authorities look after may be unaccompanied asylum seeking children or other migrant children, and some of 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 child who goes missing immediately after becoming looked after should be treated as children who could be victims of trafficking.
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. Advice should be sought from the Missing Coordinator to best support this. 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.
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).
Vulnerable children from the UK can also be at risk of trafficking around the country. Children from the UK are the 3rd highest number of referrals to the National Referral Mechanism (National Crime Agency National Referral Mechanism Statistics 2015).
Many children, who have been trafficked, will be exploited for sexual purposes and the link to sexual exploitation should be addressed in line with Lambeth Children’s Social Care Child Sexual Exploitation Protocol.
For further guidance of trafficked children see London Safeguarding Board’s Guidance, ‘Safeguarding Trafficked and Exploiting Children’.
Information and guidance can also be sought from the UK Human Trafficking Centre at Modern slavery and human trafficking (NCA).
EXPATS.ORG.UK has useful research/resources.
If it is suspected that a child has been or may be abducted by a parent and removed from the UK, normally due to disputes over residency or custody, parents should be advised to call the police and contact the Child Abduction Unit in the Official Solicitor’s Office for details on what action can be taken. See Official Solicitor and Public Trustee (GOV.UK).
Any concerns for abduction by a stranger, or unsafe known adult, would constitute a Section 47 investigation and responded to accordingly.
Any concerns for abduction of a child from Local Authority Care would also constitute a Section 47 investigation and responded to accordingly. Legal services should be immediately informed, as well as the Assistant Director.
Forced marriage involves the obtaining of consent to marry by duress, threats and violence. If there are concerns that a young person has gone missing because of a forced marriage, social workers and professionals should refer to the government guidance GOV.UK: Forced Marriage (2017) on what actions to take. For Looked After Children, Legal Services should also be consulted and orders sought to protect the child.
If it is feared that the child may be removed from the UK for the purposes of forced marriage, professionals should contact the Forced Marriage Unit based in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Victims of forced marriage.
If there are concerns that a young girl may be removed from the UK for the purposes of female genital mutilation (FGM) professionals should follow the guidance set out in Multi-agency statutory guidance on female genital mutilation (2016, GOV.UK).
Concerns for FGM must be reported to the police, and also they have a specialist team working on FGM: Project Azure Partnership Team.
The FGM Unit, based at the Home Office, co-ordinates work on FGM across government and offers outreach support to local areas. Please note the unit does not handle individual cases.
The NSPCC have an FGM helpline: 0800 028 3550
The harm children and young people can experience from radicalisation ranges from a child adopting or complying with extreme views which limits their social interaction and full engagement with their education, to young children being taken to war zones and older children being groomed for involvement in violence.
If there are concerns that a child who is missing has been radicalised, or a child is likely to go missing where there are concerns of radicalisation, then the London Child Protection Procedures need to be followed, see London Child Protection Procedures, Safeguarding Children Exposed to Extremist Ideology.
A referral should also be made to Lambeth’s Channel Panel, this can be discussed with Steve Tippel, Prevent Programme Manager STippell@lambeth.gov.uk.
As mentioned, going missing is a risk indicator of CSE, and where there are linked concerns to a child going missing and also being at risk of CSE it is very important that all possible actions are taken to safeguard and support the child, and that the risks are fully considered in all aspects of planning and support. In these cases Strategy Meetings and Professionals Meetings are particularly crucial to ensure that all relevant information is shared and acted upon and that actions to investigate crime, disrupt activity, and support the young person are being progressed. Please see Lambeth Children’s Social Care Child Sexual Exploitation Protocol for more information.
Information will also be shared between the Missing Coordinator and CSE Coordinator. ‘Mapping’ of young people’s family, friends, wider associates and the locations that they visit is also crucial to protecting young people. This should be completed, and updated regularly. Completed ecomaps should also be shared with the CSE Coordinator.
Where a young person who is identified as medium or high risk of CSE (or low risk and not engaging with services) continues to go missing, then the case should be referred for further information sharing and advice to MARP.
Tel: 116 000
Works with young runaways, missing people and their families. Advice and information for professionals working with young people who run away or go missing.Alone in London
Tel: 020 7278 4224
Services to engage and support young people aged 16-25 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.Safe@Last
www.safeatlast.org.uk – Project in Yorkshire which supports missing children however they run a webchat/text/phone service for any missing children.
www.safeatlast.co.uk – website for children
Tel: 0800 335 7723
Website/text/phone service for children thinking of running away or who are missing.
Missing Kids UK is a website run by the Missing Children Team, part of CEOP Command within the National Crime Agency. Has pictures of missing children.Children’s Society
Tel: 0300 303 7000Safe Choices – Leaving Care and Custody
Provide support for young women aged between 15 and 25 who are leaving custody or leaving care and are at risk of sexual exploitation.Rise
Support across London for boys and young men aged 11 to 25 who have been trafficked.Barnardos
Tel: 0208 550 8822 (London Office)
RHI Service for LAC - email@example.comRailway Children
Tel: 01270 757 596
Advice, support and outreach work for young people on the streets and advice for adults working with them, also fund projects abroad for missing children.Safer London Foundation
Tel: 020 7021 0301
Tel: 0800 1111NSPCC
24 Hour Child Protection National Helpline: 0808 800 5000
FGM Helpline: 0800 028 3550
NSPCC has a range of resources and research on their website. They also run a child trafficking advice centre which can be contacted on the helpline number.Reunite
Tel: 01162 556234
Advice and help for parents whose children have been removed from the UK.
The first strategy meeting or discussion should be convened within the first working day of the child’s going missing, if possible, and at the latest, within 7 days if missing from home, or within 3 days if missing from care. If the child returns prior to the meeting, the meeting can be cancelled, however where there are repeat concerns or high risk to the child, it is recommended that a professionals meeting is still held.
Where a child is not in police terms missing, but is absent with whereabouts known, the Team Manager will need to consider if the circumstances still warrant a Section 47 investigation due to the level of risk to the child. Where this is the case, a strategy meeting should still be called, however it may be that CAIT police, CSE police, Trident, or other police team are more appropriate to attend, or where they either cannot attend or advise of a single agency investigation, they should be requested to attend via phone or send information.
Where a child is either identified by police as missing (whereabouts not known), or is subject to a Section 47 investigation, a strategy meeting should be held as above. If the police cannot attend, they should be requested to contribute via conference call, or else provide detailed information in advance of the meeting to enable effective information sharing and decision making. If the police do not attend and do not provide information to enable an effective meeting, the meeting should still progress as far as possible and should still be recorded as a Strategy Meeting, however the chair should note that the meeting was inquorate, and schedule a further strategy meeting or discussion as soon as possible in order to progress the actions.
If a child who is ‘absent’ but whereabouts known is not considered at immediate risk to warrant a Section 47, but remains absent for 3/7 days, the Team Manager should decide if a professionals meeting is still appropriate to review plans and actions for the child. If a meeting is not required, the Team Manager should add a casenote to record this decision and reason, and actions being undertaken to encourage the child’s return the child to home/placement.
Where a Looked After Child has been missing for 3 days, the Assistant Director needs to be notified. They will notify the Director, Lead Member and Corporate Parenting Board if the child remains missing for 7 days.
Further strategy meetings to take place at least fortnightly, or weekly if required. Once a child has been missing for 1 month, meetings to happen at least every 28 days. The professional network can have these meetings more frequently if needed. Team managers are to chair meetings. If a looked after child has been missing for 28 days then the IRO is to chair.
Additional strategy meetings can be called if necessary to progress actions, or where there are significant changes to the information known or the level of risk to the child.Persons to invite to strategy meetings
As a general principle all persons who may hold significant information, or who can contribute to safeguarding the child, should be invited to attend, or else should contribute relevant information, and should be sent minutes of the meeting.
Specific persons to invite, and seek information from: