Missing from Home and Care Protocol

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

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

DfE Statutory Guidance on 'Children who run away or go missing from home or care

DfE, Care of Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children (2014)

DfE, Children missing education: statutory guidance (2016)

DfE, Child sexual exploitation: definition and guide for practitioners (2017)

London Child Protection Procedures: Children Missing from Care, Home and Education

RELEVANT CHAPTERS

Lambeth Children's Social Care Child Sexual Exploitation

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed in October 2021 and should be reread in its entirety.

1. Introduction

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 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' and ‘Child Exploitation PAN London Operating Protocol’. 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.

2. Principles

The following principles should be adopted by all agencies in relation to identifying and locating children who go missing:

  • The safety and welfare of the child is paramount;
  • Locating and returning the child to a safe environment is the main objective;
  • Child Protection Procedures will be initiated whenever there are concerns that a child who is missing may be at risk of significant harm;
  • This protocol should be read as guidance as it cannot anticipate every situation. Anyone working with children in a professional capacity should use their judgment to take whatever action is deemed necessary to protect and safeguard the child;
  • Interventions are important in attempting to address repeat missing episodes and must be reflected in any care plan. The child's view will be a crucial consideration in determining the best method of engagement and intervention.

3. Multi Agency Working

3.1 Definitions

For the purposes of this protocol, the following definitions apply:

  • Child: For the purposes of this document a child is anyone under 18;
  • Missing Child: A child reported as missing to the police by their family or carers. Any child who is away from their home or placement, their whereabouts is unknown or cannot be established and the behaviour is out of character, and/or the circumstances of the child's disappearance or the child's age and vulnerability means that there is cause to be concerned for their welfare or safety;
  • Responsible Local Authority: The local authority that is responsible for a looked after child's care and care planning;
  • Host Local Authority: The local authority in which a looked after child is placed when placed out of the responsible local authority's area;
  • Unauthorised Absence: A Looked After Child whose whereabouts is known but who is not at their placement or place they are expected to be, and the carer has concerns, or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the police. (See Section 3.1, Unauthorised Absences);
  • Abduction: Where a child or young person has been abducted or forcibly removed from their place of residence, you should immediately contact the Police via 999. This includes children and young people who have been taken from their place of residence by unknown adults, even if the child or young person appears to have gone willingly. It also includes any child who is removed from placement by parents or others contrary to the care plan. Where the child is subject to a care order, emergency protection order or in police protection, social workers may consider seeking legal advice on obtaining a Recovery Order.

3.2 Unauthorised Absences

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.

3.3 Concerning Unauthorised Absences

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:

  • Their age; the younger the child the more concerning the absence;
  • Where they are and who they are with; is the child in danger of being abused or exploited or in contact with a person who poses a risk to children? Are they at risk from involvement in gangs, criminal activity, CSE?
  • Their state of mind; are they vulnerable due to emotional or mental health difficulties or substance misuse?
  • The presence of factors that may increase their level of vulnerability, for example learning difficulties, medical conditions, gang affiliation, CSE marker;
  • A history of prolonged or frequent absences/missing episodes that may increase risk of harm.

3.4 Police Definitions

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.

and

Absent

A person is not at a place where they are expected or required to be (and there is no apparent risk).

College of Policing (November 2016)

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.

3.5 Understanding Police Risk Levels

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.

3.6 Agency Roles and Responsibilities

Police

The police will:

  • Collect and collate missing persons reports via the National Police Computer;
  • Carry out investigations of missing children;
  • Notify other agencies of missing children reports via MERLIN;
  • Use police powers under the Children Act 1989 as required to safeguard missing children who are located;
  • Carry out safe and well checks as soon as possible when the child returns.

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:

  • Contribute to any plans designed to reduce the risk of running away within the care or pathway planning forum;
  • Respond to missing incidents in line with this protocol;
  • When child goes missing notify the Police, CSC and parents where appropriate;
  • Work with the police and CSC to ensure the child's safe return to placement;
  • Provide accurate records of incidents to inform data gathering on individual and group patterns of running away.

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:

  • Respond to notifications from foster carers, residential workers and housing support workers on behalf of CSC where a looked after child is reported as missing or where there are concerns for the safety of a child who is absent without authorisation;
  • Provide a response for any missing child who is located by either ensuring their safe return home or to their placement or where necessary arranging for emergency overnight accommodation;
  • Pass on all relevant information to CSC or other services for further action.

Lambeth Safeguarding Children's Partnership

The LSCP will:

  • Co-ordinate the development of a multi-agency strategy on missing children in Lambeth;
  • Scrutinise the multi-agency response to children who run away or go missing;
  • Support agencies to examine the links between CSE and exploitation.
Schools/Educational Provisions

Schools and colleges will:

  • Notify the specific and relevant team, as set out below, of children who are missing from the school roll under the "Missing from Education" policy;
  • Make referrals for children whom it is thought are at risk of going missing;
  • Notify Lambeth of any child who is removed from the school roll to be educated at home;
  • Help children returning from a missing episode to settle back into education.

4. Children Missing Education

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 Education Welfare Service 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 Lambeth's Inclusion Team 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 inclusion@lambeth.gov.uk or 020 7926 6928.

5. Prevention

5.1 Preventing and Understanding why Children go Missing

It is important that children who are at risk of going missing are able to speak to someone about their situation and get support to help them deal with issues that may cause them to go missing. Professionals who are concerned that a child they work with is at risk of going missing should work with the child to understand why they have gone missing or are thinking of going missing, 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 going missing, social workers and the professional network will also have an opportunity to work with the child to understand why they have gone missing or are thinking of going missing, 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
  • Problems at home – ranging from arguments with parents to long-term abuse / maltreatment to bereavement;
  • Family break-up – young people drawn into their parents' conflicts are less likely to do well at school and more likely to truant or to run away from home;
  • Mental health problems – a disproportionate number of young people who run away from home have mental health problem;
  • Bullying – children who are being severely bullied are more likely to run away from school and home or care;
  • Personal Problems – running away to escape a relationship, teenage pregnancy – some young women run away or are forced to leave home because they become pregnant, or fear that they may be pregnant. Those working with them will need to ensure they have access to sexual health services.
Pull factors
  • Children may run to be near friends or family – especially when a young person is in care and there are problems in contact arrangements with family and friends;
  • Grooming for potential sexual exploitation or child Trafficking – young people may run away or go missing following grooming by adults or peers who seek to exploit them;
  • County Line involvement – gangs and/or older organised criminals recruit vulnerable young people to act as couriers and sell drugs. There are various 'lines' out of London. This deliberate movement of a child can be seen as a form of child trafficking;
  • Being gang associated – involved in criminal activity, potential drug running and exploitation.

5.2 Preventing Missing from Care and Unauthorised Absences

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:

  • The Care Plan – should include strategies to avoid unauthorised absences and/or a child going missing, where this is an identified risk. It should also include strategies to reduce the duration and risks associated if the child does have unauthorised absences/go missing;
  • The Placement Plan – should include strategies for preventing the child from taking unauthorised absences/going missing; and clear advice to the carers as to the steps to take and persons to be contacted if a child is absent or missing from placement;
  • A pre-incident risk assessment should be completed by the allocated social worker for all children for whom there is concern that they may run away, and this document should be shared in advance with the foster carer, fostering agency, police, school, EDT, and other local authorities as appropriate. Distance from home, family and friends should be considered as a risk factor;
  • Provide the child with advice about an independent advocate and take the child's views in to account.

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.

6. Missing Grab Packs/Risk Assessment

Met police Grab Packs/Missing Risk Assessments are now inbuilt into Mosaic under documents. The social worker will receive an email if the child is flagged as going missing. One will need to be completed by social workers if their child goes missing and updated at least every 3 months or when new information is known such as a change in associations/locations/oyster card, for example. This form helps police to make a decision about risk and enables them to start their missing investigation promptly.

Care placements are also expected to complete these for the young people in their care who go missing. The placements should already know about these via the police and complete as part of their routine paperwork.

7. Data Collection and Monitoring

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).

8. Information Sharing with Other Local Authorities

  • Where it is known that a Lambeth child has run away to another local authority area, the police will contact the police in that area;
  • Where families go missing, Lambeth CSC will send out notifications to all other local authorities giving details of the family, via the CPC team in Quality Assurance;
  • If a child from another area is found in Lambeth, the police will notify the home local authority;
  • If a child is placed out of borough and has a Missing Grab Pack then this is to be shared with local authority police;
  • Please see Section 12.9, Out of Area Placements, and Section 12.10, Children Placed in Lambeth from Other Local Authorities, for further information on children placed out of borough and children from other local authorities placed in Lambeth.

9. Reporting a Child as Missing

The following information needs to be provided to the police when a child is being reported as missing:

  • Details about the child's family or care placement, including names of parents/carers, address and any contact details for the child, and the child's legal status;
  • A physical description of the child;
  • Information on friends and family and/or other possible locations;
  • Details of the circumstances of the child going missing, including the time and whom they were last seen with:
    • A recent photograph of the child to be sourced;
    • Details of any mobile phone numbers/email addresses/social media accounts;
    • A copy of any missing grab pack that has been undertaken.

The police will prioritise missing children reports and their response; please see table in Section 3.5, Understanding Police Risk Levels.

10. Missing Child Strategy Meetings Guidance

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.

Where a child is missing, i.e. whereabouts unknown, the first Strategy Meeting should be requested immediately 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.

If a child 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 for further details and who to invite to the meeting):

  • Involvement of parents if appropriate to the child's welfare, and all relevant professionals;
  • Making further attempts to contact the child/young person's known relatives, friends, regular places of visit etc. Consideration should be given to writing to relatives and friends regarding the local authority's concerns and the expectation that the relatives/friends will inform the local authority should they obtain any relevant information;
  • Writing to other local authorities and local agencies with the information about the missing child/young person. Partner agencies should receive information from each other on the basis of their need to know and in order to take action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  • Use of publicity. This is done through the police Missing Person Unit. The child's parents must be informed prior to a press release being made and consent should be received from them and/or those with parental responsibility. For a Looked After Child, the Director's approval will need to be sought also. Legal Services should be consulted with if there are any issues regarding obtaining consent. Social workers should be aware that it is an offence for a person to publish material which is intended to, or is likely to identify a child as being involved in court proceedings under the Children Act 1989. However, the court can give leave for this restriction to be waived if the child/young person's welfare requires it;
  • Seeking a Recovery Order and deciding how the order should be exercised i.e. should there be a joint visit with police and Social Care staff. Legal Services will need to be consulted if the Local Authority need to obtain an order to safeguard a Looked After Child;
  • Notifying national authorities and agencies, such as Department for Work and Pensions and Child Benefit agencies;
  • Appropriate legal interventions if there is any suspicion that the child may have been removed from UK jurisdiction;
  • Whether a further strategy meeting should be called before the child / young person has been missing for 7 days;
  • Planning for the child's return.

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.

11. Response to Children Missing from Home

11.1 Reporting to the Police

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.

11.2 Children not Open to Children's Social Care

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. These cases are screened by the Integrated Referral Hub who consider current and historical factors. Actions may be a referral to Early Help services, allocation for a Child and Family 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 the 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.

11.3 Communication with Parents and Professionals

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.

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.

11.4 Publicity

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.

11.5 Longer Absences

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.

12. Response to Children Missing from Care

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)

12.1 Missing Grab Packs/Risk Assessment

Met police Grab Packs/Missing Risk Assessments are now inbuilt into Mosaic under documents. The social worker will receive an email if the child is flagged as going missing. One will need to be completed by social workers if their child goes missing and updated at least every 3 months or when new information is known such as a change in associations/locations/oyster card, for example. This form helps police to make a decision about risk and enables them to start their missing investigation promptly.

Care placements are also expected to complete these for the young people in their care who go missing. The placements should already know about these via the police and complete as part of their routine paperwork.

12.2 Responding to Unauthorised Absences

The following children / young people should automatically be considered as at risk and reported immediately to the police by the foster carer / residential staff:

  • Any child / young person who presents an immediate risk to themselves or to other people;
  • Any child who is 12 years old or younger;
  • Any child / young person who has a CSE marker;
  • Presence of factors that may increase their vulnerability, such as learning difficulties, gang affiliation, medical conditions;
  • Any child / young person who is abducted from care;
  • Any young person who is subject to a curfew and goes missing beyond the end of their curfew and there are contextual harm risks.

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.

12.3 Responding to Missing from Care

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. Missing Grab Pack/Risk assessment should be shared with police.

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.

12.4 Working with the Police

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: Missing Grab Pack/Child Risk Assessment. (See also Section 6, Missing Child Risk Assessment).

12.5 Publicity

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.

12.6 Communication with Parents and Professionals

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 - lambethvirtualschool@lambeth.gov.uk.

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.

12.7 Out of Area Placements

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 Child Exploitation RIsk Matrix (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. 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 MACE 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.

12.8 Children Placed in Lambeth by another Local Authority

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 Contextual Harm or known to another borough's MACE 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 MACE will be made so the case can be monitored locally.

13. Planning for when the Child is Located and their Return

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:

  • Will the child return to the placement/home address or are they safe in the location where they are found?
  • If the child is to return, how will s/he be conveyed to their placement/home address?
  • Do the police wish to interview the child where they are located or after they have returned their placement/home address?
  • For a child missing from home, or who refuses a RHI worker, who will be an appropriate 'independent person' to talk to the child when s/he is located/returned?

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.

14. Actions when Returned

14.1 Police Safe and Well Checks

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:

  • Has suffered any harm;
  • Has been the victim of any offence;
  • Has committed any offence.

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.

14.2 Return Home Interview

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.

The purpose of the interview is to give the child an opportunity to speak to someone about why they were missing, explore what help and support they require and discuss safety planning. 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.

Where a young person refuses to engage in a return home interview, the social worker should obtain relevant information from the parents or carers.

Where a child declines, it should be explored if the child would prefer to talk to another trusted professional in the professional network. If the child still declines, 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.

14.3 Return Home Interview – Review and Information Sharing

It is very important that RHIs 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 declines 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.

15. Children Missing In Specific Circumstances

15.1 Trafficking/Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children

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:

  • Relevant details about the child's background before they came to the UK;
  • An understanding of the reasons why the child came to the UK; and
  • An analysis of the child's vulnerability to remaining under the influence of traffickers.

In conducting this assessment it will be necessary for the local authority to work in close co-operation with the Modern Slavery Human trafficking Unit (MSHTU) 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, may have been exploited and this 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).

15.2 Abduction

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.

15.3 Forced Marriage

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.

15.4 Female Genital Mutilation

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.

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

15.5 Radicalisation

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.

15.6 Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

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.

16. Resources and Support

Missing people

www.missingpeople.org.uk
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

uk.depaulcharity.org
Tel: 020 7278 4224

Services to engage and support young people aged 16-25 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Missing People

www.missingpeople.org.uk

Missing People is a website run by staff and volunteers dedicated to providing around the clock support to anyone affected by missing, alongside our partners and supporters accross the UK.

Children's Society

www.childrenssociety.org.uk
Tel: 0300 303 7000

Safe 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

www.barnardos.org.uk
Tel: 0208 550 8822 (London Office)

Railway Children

www.railwaychildren.org.uk
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

www.saferlondon.org.uk
Tel: 020 7021 0301

  • Empower
    Worker based in Lambeth, 1:1 support and advocacy for girls aged 11 - 19 experiencing CSE
  • London Gang Exit Programme
    Anyone aged 16-24 who is gang-involved or gang-affiliated can get support to exit, no matter which borough of London they live in.
Childline

www.childline.org.uk
Tel: 0800 1111

NSPCC

www.nspcc.org.uk
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

www.reunite.org
Tel: 01162 556234

Advice and help for parents whose children have been removed from the UK.

Appendix 1: Missing Grab Pack/Risk Assessment

Click here to view Appendix 1: Missing Grab Pack/Risk Assessment

Appendix 2: Missing Flow Chart

Click here to view Appendix 2: Missing Flow Chart