3.8 Children Missing from Care, Home and Education: Procedure
- Key Principles
- Reporting a Child Missing to the Police
- Thames Valley Police
- The Local Authority
- Other Agencies
- Missing and Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Conference (M-SERAC)
- Specific Risks
- Response for Children Missing from Care and Care Leavers
- Response for Children Missing from Home
- Safe and Well Checks
- Return Home Interview
- Repeat Missing
- Missing Children who are Found but do not Wish to Return
- Children Missing Education
- Children Missing from Education
- Children Subject to Restriction / Foreign Nationals
- Related Policies, Procedures and Guidance
Evidence from research demonstrates that a significant proportion of children who go missing are at risk of serious harm. There are links between going missing and a number of different risk factors. For example, there are particular concerns about the links between children going missing and the risks of sexual exploitation, especially for looked after children (LAC) who go missing from their placements. Other risks and vulnerabilities include, but are not limited to, trafficking, forced marriage, radicalisation and involvement in gangs.
This guidance is relevant for all agencies working in Buckinghamshire in cases where children go missing from either home, care or education. It is designed to ensure that when a child goes missing there is an effective and coordinated safeguarding response from all agencies involved. In particular:
This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Department for Education’s statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care (2014).
The following safeguarding principles should be adhered to in relation to identifying and locating children who go missing:
All practitioners working with children at risk of going missing should discuss the dangers relating to this with the child and, if appropriate, their family. They should be told about support services and this should include information about helplines.
Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located and their well-being or otherwise confirmed.
All reports of missing people sit within a continuum of risk from ‘no apparent risk (absent)’ through to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action.
Thames Valley Police will not categorise the following as ‘no apparent risk’; they will always be the subject of a missing person investigation:
Professionals or others reporting a child missing to the police should not make a judgement about the level of risk. This decision will be made by the police on the basis of the information provided.
Children missing education are children of compulsory school age who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school. Children missing education are at significant risk of underachieving, being victims of harm, exploitation or radicalisation, and becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) later in life.
Children missing education should not be confused with children missing from. These are children who run away from school, or have missing episodes during the time they should be at school.
Reporting a Child Missing to the Police
Parents and those with parental responsibility are normally expected to have undertaken the following basic measures to try to locate the missing child, if considered safe to do so. Anyone else who has care of a child without parental responsibility should take all reasonable steps to locate the child and ascertain their safety. Professionals working with families should support parents and carers in taking the following necessary steps;
At the point where a parent / person with parental responsibility consider the child to be missing, they should inform the police without delay.
When reporting a child missing to the police any relevant information that might help find or support the child should be shared, including;
Anyone who has care of a child without parental knowledge or agreement should do what is reasonable to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. In these circumstances, they should inform the police, Children’s Social Care and the parents of their whereabouts and safety. If this is not complied with, the police should consider advice or warning under the Child Abduction Act (1984), if appropriate.
Thames Valley Police
The police are the lead agency for investigating and finding missing children. However, some missing children who have not been reported to the police may come to the attention of agencies. Agencies should work with families to help them recognise the risks associated with a child going missing and the importance of reporting this to the police.
When Thames Valley Police receives a report that a child is missing, they will determine the level of risk based on the answers to 10 standard risk assessment questions:
The person reporting a missing child to the police should provide the police with up-to-date information to inform decision making, as well as details of any action they have taken to trace the missing child.
When accepting a missing person report, the police will advise the caller that they will share information about the missing child and seek assistance from partner agencies to find the child. They will presume that all missing children are vulnerable unless a risk assessment determines otherwise. The police have the ultimate responsibility for determining the action that needs to be taken and when it needs to be escalated.
The continued response and classification of a child as missing is based on on-going risk assessment and undertaken in line with current police guidance.
Police Response - no apparent risk
If a child is risk assessed to be recorded as ‘no apparent risk’, their details will be added to the Police National Computer (PNC) and an appropriate call-back time agreed with the caller. This will be dependent upon the risk assessment, and will remain subject to constant review in light of new information and changing circumstances. When the call back time is reached, the police will call the reporting person and review the 10 questions. If at that time, or earlier, there is information to indicate a higher or increased level of risk, the police will change the status of the missing child and officers will be deployed to commence a missing person investigation.
Where the police have risk assessed a missing child to be ‘no apparent risk, it will be the responsibility of the reporting person to collect the child and establish the reasons behind their absence once they are located. The police will not conduct a safe and well check unless crimes or other safeguarding issues are suspected.
Police Response - risk identified
Where risk is identified, either to the missing child or to the public, as a result of responses to the standard risk assessment questions, the police response will be determined by the identified level of risk (see risk assessment table above). A police officer will visit the reporting person and commence a missing person investigation.
High risk missing children
A missing child would be prioritised as 'high risk' where:
All high risk cases will be led by a senior police officer.
Police officers will:
The police will undertake a secondary investigation to identify any incidents or issues which may inform the risk assessment or help locate the child more quickly, e.g. domestic violence, child protection reports, the child is in care, potentially at risk from child sexual exploitation or another crime, or particularly vulnerable for any reason. Police should consider contacting Children’s Social Care and the risk assessment must be continually reviewed.
In some cases, the police may feel it is necessary to publicise information relating to a missing chid via the media. They may also utilise the website facility of the Missing Persons Bureau.
The police may also utilise ‘Text Safe’ as this provides a way of proactively texting a missing person’s mobile phone with a message from Missing People about the service. This lets the missing person know that we care for their safety and want to help, and encourages them to get in touch.
The police are responsible for liaising with the family as well as with other agencies and force areas. If the child is in care, it may be more appropriate for Children’s Social Care to undertake enquiries with the family and other agencies, and report their findings back to the police. This approach should be decided on a case-by-case basis.
The local Police Missing Person Co-ordinator is the single point of contact for all agencies. Out of weekday office hours the local Duty Inspector is the contact. Both can be contacted via 101.
Medium risk missing children
A missing child would be prioritised as 'medium risk' where the risk of harm to the subject or the public is assessed as likely but not serious. This category requires an active and measured response by the police and other agencies in order to trace the missing person and support the person reporting. This will involve a proactive investigation and search in accordance with the circumstances to locate the missing child as soon as possible.
In cases where the report is initially made to Children’s Social Care the child of concern should still be referred to the police on 101. In cases where the report to Children's Social Care was from a third party, there should be agreement, informed by risk assessment, about who makes this report.
Timescales and Police Notification to Children's Social Care
All missing persons are reviewed by the Duty Shift Inspector during their tour of duty. Any child who is missing will be referred by the police to Children’s Social Care within 24 hours.
Children’s Social Care must be notified immediately in the case of any high risk missing children.
Where a child discloses a child protection issue, there are concerns about a child’s vulnerability or that the child may be at risk of significant harm, the police should make a referral to Children’s Social Care as soon as this becomes evident. Children’s Social Care will respond in line with BSCP's Neglect Guidance and internal Children’s Social Care procedures. A strategy meeting / discussion should take place as part of this response.
If the child has been missing for more than 24 hours, the case will be reviewed at the police daily management meeting.
In all high-risk cases, or once a child has been missing for over 24 hours, the police, in consultation with partner agencies, must consider a media strategy. Each case to be treated on its own merits. Such an approach is not routine but is usually a response to very serious concerns for the child’s safety. Either carers or the police may suggest such an approach. Normally, such decisions to publicise will be made jointly, and where appropriate, in consultation with parents and Children’s Social Care. However, for operational reasons primacy over such decisions must lie with the police.
When a child deemed to be medium risk has been missing for more than 48 hours, the case will be reviewed by a Detective Inspector.
All missing persons are notified to the Police National Missing Persons Bureau (National Crime Agency) after 48 hours, or earlier if the child is at high risk of harm.
When a child has been missing for over three days, Children’s Social Care will convene a strategy meeting. Children’s Social Care will call a strategy meeting sooner if they consider the child is likely to suffer significant harm. The meeting will review:
Further reviews will take place at least every five days thereafter or earlier, if deemed appropriate.
If the child has been missing for more than 10 weeks, the Missing Person Co-ordinator will ask for the PNC entry to remain in place for up to a year.
The Local Authority
Section 13 of the Children Act 2004 requires local authorities and other named statutory partners to make arrangements to ensure that their functions are discharged with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. This includes planning to prevent children from going missing and to do everything possible to ensure their safe return when they do go missing.
The Local Authority should have a named senior manager within Children’s Services who is responsible for monitoring policies and performance relating to children who go missing from home or care.
The Local Authority must ensure that all incidents where children go missing are appropriately risk assessed, and should record all incidents of looked after children who are missing or away from placement without authorisation.
Children who are looked after should have information about and easy access to help lines and support services including emergency accommodation. Support should also be made available to families to help them understand why the child has gone missing and how they can support them on their return.
Within Buckinghamshire Children’s Social Care there is a named Missing Lead within First Response who:
The local authority should consult with the police regarding what action should be taken to share information about a missing child who is looked after, subject to a child protection plan or a child in need. This should include an assessment of whether to release information to the media. The local authority should also notify other local authorities according to the degree of concern. Consideration should also be given to whether the child or their family has links to other areas either within the UK or abroad.
On receipt of a notification from another local authority, a flag should be added to the electronic record system for Children's Social Care and consideration should be given to notifying health and other relevant partners.
In all circumstances where a child goes missing, local safeguarding procedures should be followed. If there is concern that the child may be at risk of significant harm if returned home, a referral should be made to Children’s Social Care so that an assessment can be undertaken and where necessary arrangements made for accommodation.
Missing and Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Conference (M-SERAC)
M-SERAC is a monthly multi-agency risk management meeting that seeks to ensure that children living in Buckinghamshire are effectively safeguarded and protected from harm in cases where:
High risk means the risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the subject is in danger through their own vulnerability; or may have been the victim of a serious crime; or the risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the public is in danger.
Repeat missing person means someone who is reported missing three times or more in a 90 day period.
Patterns of running away should be discussed regularly with the Police Missing Persons’ Liaison Officer, Community Support Officers and other agencies at an M-SERAC as part of the wider strategy for keeping children safe.
Information is shared between agencies and actions set with the intention of reducing the risk to children, providing early intervention and considering how harmful activities can be disrupted.
M-SERAC does not replace the provisions of Section 17 (Child in Need) or 47 (Child in need of protection) of the Children Act. It compliments statutory processes by helping to ensure that the bigger picture is considered, that action to safeguard is being completed and the appropriate multi-agency response is in place.
Further information can be found in the M-SERAC Operating Protocol.
Homeless 16 and 17 year olds
When a 16 or 17 year old 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 or 17 year old presents as homeless, Children’s Social Care 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. Children aged 16 or 17 who have gone missing and are at risk of homelessness may be placed in supported accommodation, with the provision of relevant 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:
Professionals should be aware of the 'hidden missing'. These are children who have not been reported missing to the police, but have come to an agency's attention after accessing other services. There may also be trafficked children who have not previously come to the attention of children's services or the police. Research demonstrates that children from black and minority ethnic groups, and children that go missing from education are less likely to be reported as missing.
Some of the children looked after by the Local Authority may be unaccompanied asylum seeking children or other migrant children. Some children in this group may have been trafficked into the UK and may remain under the influence of their traffickers even while they are looked after. Trafficked children are at high risk of going missing, with most going missing within one week of becoming looked after and many within 48 hours. Unaccompanied migrant or asylum seeking children who go missing immediately after becoming looked after should be treated as children who may be victims of trafficking. Professionals should also refer to the BSCP Guidance on Migrant and Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children.
Children who have been trafficked may be exploited for sexual purposes and the possible link to sexual exploitation should be considered. Professionals should also refer to the BSCP Guidance on Child Sexual Exploitation.
The assessment of need to inform the care plan will be particularly critical in these circumstances and should be done immediately, as the window for intervention is very narrow. The assessment must seek to establish
In conducting this assessment, it will be necessary for the Local Authority to work in close co-operation with the UK Human Trafficking Centre and immigration staff who will be familiar with patterns of trafficking into the UK. Immigration staff should be able to provide advice on whether information about the individual child suggests that they fit the profile of a potentially trafficked child.
Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before any assessment takes place, and for the possibility that the child may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately. The location of the child should not be divulged to any enquirers until their identity and relationship with the child has been established, if necessary with the help of the police and immigration services. In these situations the roles and responsibilities of care providers must be fully understood and recorded in the placement plan. Proportionate safety measures that keep the child safe and take into account their best interests should also be put in place to safeguard the child from going missing from care or from being re-trafficked.
It will be essential that the local authority continues to share information with the police and immigration staff concerning potential crimes against the child, the risk to other children, or other relevant immigration matters.
'Safeguarding Children Who May Have Been Trafficked: Practice Guidance (2011)' contains practical guidance for agencies that are likely to encounter children who may have been trafficked.
The NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC) can provide advice and information to professionals who have concerns that a child may have been trafficked. CTAC can be contacted at free phone number: 0808 800 5000, Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm or email email@example.com.
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).
Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of abuse or exploitation. Children can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know - for example a family member, friend or professional. Groomers may be male or female. They could be any age. Many children don't understand that they have been groomed, or that what has happened is abuse.
Children can be groomed for the purpose of sexual abuse as well as other forms of exploitation including involvement in criminal and extremist activity. Children who are missing are more vulnerable to being groomed and may also go missing as a result of being groomed.
Protecting children at risk of radicalisation
Children can suffer harm when exposed to extremist ideology. This harm can range from a child adopting or complying with extreme views which limit their social interaction and full engagement with their education, to children being groomed for involvement in violent attacks.
Children can by exposed to harmful, extremist ideology in the immediate or extended family, or relatives/family friends who live outside the family home but have influence over the child's life. Older children might self-radicalise over the internet or through the influence of their peer network – in this instance their parents might not know about this or feel powerless to stop their child's radicalisation.
Going missing is a risk factor in relation to radicalisation:
Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)
CSE is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator.
The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. CSE does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.
Involvement in exploitative relationships is characterised by the limited availability of choice as a result of their social, economic or emotional vulnerability.
A common feature of CSE is that the child does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation.
Going missing is a significant risk factor in relation to CSE:
Because there is such a strong link between children going missing and risk of sexual exploitation, professionals should always assess whether a child who has gone missing is being sexually exploited or at risk of being sexually exploited.
Children at risk of being drawn into offending behaviour and gang activity
Children who go missing from care, home and education also need safeguarding against the risk of being drawn into offending behaviour. For example, some children have become involved in what has become known as the 'county lines' issue. This involves children being used by gangs to transport and distribute drugs outside of London and other major cities as drug sales operations are expanded into the home-counties and beyond.
Professionals should also refer to the BSCP Guidance on Gangs and Youth Violence.
Response for Children Missing from Care and Care Leavers
When a child in care goes missing it is the responsibility of the carer to undertake the basic measures as outlined to try and locate the missing child. When the child is established as missing and the carer contacts the police, it is important that they make it clear that they are reporting the child as missing. In addition to sharing all the relevant information, they should inform the police that the child is in care and under what legal orders. The carer should always ask for, and record, the Police Incident Number.
If a child goes missing out of office hours, the carer should inform the Buckinghamshire Out of Hours Emergency Social Work Team (tel: 0800 999 7677) and follow their agency’s policies and procedures.
It is important to note that local authorities have very similar duties and responsibilities towards 16 and 17 year old care leavers as they do to children in care and for the purposes of this guidance, the response to a missing care leaver age 16 and 17 year old should be the same.
Local authorities continue to have a range of responsibilities towards children leaving care until the young person's 21st birthday and in some instances their 25th birthday. It is good practice to follow the guidance set out below whilst a young person remains 'leaving care'.
Care leavers, particularly 16 and 17 year olds, are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and may go missing from their home or accommodation. Local authorities must ensure that care leavers live in "suitable accommodation" as defined in Section 23B (10) of the Children Act 1989 and Regulations 9(2) of the Care Leavers Regulations. In particular young people should feel safe in their accommodation and the areas where it is located. Local authorities should ensure that pathway plans set out where a young person may be vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking or going missing, and put in place support services to minimise this risk.
Out of Area Placements
When a child is placed out of their local authority area, the host Local Authority must be notified by the allocated social worker in advance of the placement. The responsible authority should seek to ensure that the child has access to the services they need. Any missing report whilst the child is out of county must still be recorded on LCS by the allocated social worker.
It is possible that during a missing episode the child will return to the area of the responsible authority. It is therefore essential that liaison between the police and professionals in both authorities is well managed and coordinated.
This procedure should be followed with additional reference to policies and procedures that apply in the host authority.
Looked after children who are away from placement without authorisation
Sometimes a looked after child may be away from their placement without authorisation. While they are not missing because their whereabouts is known, they may still be placing themselves at risk (e.g. they may be at the house of friends where there are concerns about risks of sexual exploitation). The carer or social worker should take reasonable steps to ascertain the wellbeing of the child including, when appropriate, visiting the location. However, if there is a concern the child may be at significant risk of harm to themselves or to others then the police should also be notified in order that appropriate safeguarding measures can be taken. This should not be confused with reporting a child missing. Where appropriate, the social worker should consider whether a strategy meeting is required.
Prevention and planning
Local authorities have a duty to place a looked after child in the most appropriate placement to safeguard the child and minimise the risk of the child going missing. The care plan and the placement plan should include details of the arrangements that will need to be in place to keep the child safe and minimise the risk of the child going missing from their placement.
Where a child already has an established pattern of going missing, the care plan should include a strategy to keep the child safe and minimising the likelihood of the child running away in the future. This should be discussed and agreed as far as possible with the child and with the child's carers and should include detailed information about the responsibilities of all services, the child's parents and other adults involved in the family network.
Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) should be informed about missing episodes and they should address these in statutory reviews.
Designated health professionals for Looked After Children (LAC) should be informed by the allocated social worker of children missing from care who are deemed to be 'high risk'. They should be included in any multiagency strategy meetings or activity to manage the child's retrieval and any subsequent health needs.
Actions when the whereabouts of a looked after child is not known
Whenever the whereabouts of a looked after child is not known, the foster carer or the manager on duty in the children's home is responsible for carrying out initial checks to see if the child can be found. For example, if a child was supposed to have returned home from school but has not arrived within the normal journey time, checks could include finding out if there are transport delays, phone calls to the child, phone calls to the school to see if the child has been delayed etc. If these initial checks do not succeed in locating the child or there are still concerns that, despite contact being made with the child they are at risk, the individuals and agencies listed below should be informed.
It is important that a deadline is set at the outset of initial checks so that they don't continue beyond a reasonable timeframe. What timeframe is reasonable should be based on an assessment of the risks relating to the individual child. In some cases, there might be particular reasons to be worried for the child's safety immediately and the agencies listed below should be contacted straight away alongside continued attempts to contact the child.
The following individuals and agencies should be contacted when a looked after child is missing:
The carer/s should take all reasonable steps, which a good parent would take, to secure the safe and speedy return of the child based on their own knowledge of the child and the information in the child's placement plan. If there is suspected risk of harm to the child the carer/s should liaise immediately with the police.
Initial discussions between the allocated children's social worker and the police should include agreement on an immediate strategy for locating the child. The strategy should incorporate a range of actions to locate and ensure the safe return of the child, and clarity around who will undertake these actions. Aspects to cover in the strategy include:
Within 3 days, a strategy meeting between relevant parties should take place. This should include the police, the child's social worker and the care provider and other relevant parties. The action plan and risk assessment should be reviewed and updated.
Regular multi-agency meetings should be held at least monthly to update the action plan and share information.
The Service Director for Children’s Services should be notified within 3 days of the child going missing. They will notify the Lead Member and Corporate Parenting Panel within 7 days of the child going missing.
Any publicity will be led by the police. The use of harbouring notices etc. will be agreed at the missing from care meeting. Recovery Orders may be used where the child is Looked After.
During the investigation to find the child, regular liaison and communication should take place between the police, Children's Social Care and any other agencies involved. In the case of a child placed out of area, both the responsible local authority and the host local authority should be involved.
The authority responsible for the child should ensure that plans are in place to respond promptly once the child is found and for determining if the placement remains appropriate.
Actions when a looked after child has been found
When a looked after child / care leaver has been located, care staff/ foster carers should promptly inform the child's social worker and the Independent Reviewing Officer. If the child was not located by the police, then they should also be informed. The police will then arrange a safe and well check and trigger a return home interview.
The attitude of all practitioners towards a child which has been missing can have a big impact on how they will engage with any subsequent investigations and planning. A supportive approach, actively listening and responding to a child’s needs will have a greater chance of preventing the child from going missing again and safeguarding them against any risks.
Response for Children Missing from Home
Children missing from home are subject to risks and vulnerabilities similar to those for children who are looked after.
If the whereabouts of the child are known or suspected, it is the responsibility of the parents or carers to arrange for the child’s return. In exceptional circumstances, in the interests of the safe and speedy return of the child, the police may agree to requests from parents or carers to assist. All agencies need to work together to agree the most appropriate and safe return for the child.
The police will respond to any notifications of children missing from home in line with this procedure and their own procedures.
The usual child protection procedures must be initiated whenever there are concerns that a child who is missing may be suffering or likely to suffer, significant harm. For example:
Where the child meets the criteria for referral to Children's Social Care, the Local Authority will ensure that an assessment takes place to determine the best course of action.
Where the child is already known to Children’s Social Care (for example they are subject of a child protection plan, or the subject of a Section47 enquiry) a strategy meeting should be arranged as soon as practicable and within no more than 3 days. Representatives from the Police Missing Persons Unit and the Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU) should attend the strategy meeting, as well as other practitioners involved with the child. If the child has returned prior to the date of the strategy meeting, it is not a requirement for the meeting to go ahead.
Safe and Well Checks
A safe and well check will be undertaken by the police as soon as possible and within 24 hours of a child returning from a missing episode. A safe and well check will not be conducted over the telephone. The purpose is to check for any indications that the child has suffered harm; where and with whom they have been; and to give them an opportunity to disclose any offending by, or against them.
Where a child goes missing frequently, it may not be practicable to see them every time they return. In these cases, a reasonable decision should be taken in agreement between the police and their child’s parent or carer, or their Social Worker with regard to the frequency of such checks. Consideration must be given to the link between frequent missing episodes and serious harm.
The assessment of whether a child might go missing again should be based on information about:
If further information comes to light as a result of the safe and well check, where relevant the police will share this information with Children’s Social Care.
If the child makes an allegation of crime that occurred whilst they were missing or that contributed to them going missing, the police will record this allegation and take appropriate action. If it is apparent, upon return, that a child has been the victim of a crime whilst missing, or that there is risk or a crime in relation to the circumstances involved in the missing episode, the police will instigate further enquiries.
In any situation which indicates that the child may have been subject to, or at risk of, significant harm, a referral must be made to Children’s Social Care in accordance with BSCP safeguarding procedures.
Consideration must be given to securing evidence by police including by forensic examination. For sexual offences, professionals should consider an urgent referral to the SARC.
Return Home Interview
When a child is found they must be offered a return home interview to talk about going missing. Providing children with an opportunity to talk is key to safeguarding them. Return home interviews are designed to support a child in exploring his or her feelings and concerns; it should be gentle and inquisitive, not adversarial or seeking to attribute blame.
Return interviews should be completed by someone independent of their parents or carers. In Buckinghamshire they are usually conducted by staff from R U Safe? but on some occasions may also be completed by other agencies. It is important to acknowledge that a returning child may well share different parts of their experience with different people. It is the responsibility of all agencies therefore, to attend to issues of immediate safety, future support and safeguarding needs, and to share relevant information in a way which respects and safeguards children.
The return home interview will be carried out within 72 hours of the child returning to their home or care setting, unless there are exceptional circumstances. The child should be seen on their own unless they specifically request to have someone with them. The child should be offered the option of speaking to an independent representative or advocate.
Where a child is placed out of area, the responsible local authority should ensure the return home review interview takes place, working closely with the host authority where appropriate.
The return home interview and actions that follow from it should:
Where appropriate the return home interview may also gather the views of the parents / carers. Parents and/or carers are sent a letter by R U Safe? following notification of their child going missing. This gives them the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence they may be aware of. This should help to prevent further instances of the child going missing and identify early the support needed for them.
The interview may result in a referral being made to other services that can provide support to meet the assessed needs of the child.
Following a missing episode, Children’s Social Care, the police and other relevant agencies should continue to work together to understand and meet the ongoing needs of the child.
There is a strong link between repeat missing episodes and a risk of significant harm. If a child continually runs away, the actions undertaken following earlier missing episodes need reviewing and alternative strategies considered. This will include a referral to the Missing and Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Conference (M-SERAC) for high risk missing children or those that go missing more than 3 times in 90 days (see above for further detail).
In the case of children looked after, children's homes staff and foster carers should be supported to offer a consistent approach to the care of children, including being proactive about strategies to prevent children from running away; and to understand the procedures that must be followed if a child goes missing. There is evidence to show that children in care do not respond to one off or reactive return home interviews as well as children who go missing from home. A more consistent, relationship based approach is often required.
Where a child is, or has been, persistently absent without permission from a children's home; or is at risk of harm, the children's home should ask the local authority that looks after the child to review that child's care plan.
Missing Children who are Found but do not Wish to Return
Difficulties can arise when missing children are found but do not want to return. Under the Children Act 1989, where there is reasonable cause to believe that the child could suffer significant harm the police can take the child into Police Protection, and remove to suitable accommodation which could include the home from which the child originally went missing. The police are not given the power to use force to take children into Police Protection. There will be occasions when a child is found in a location that may be considered unsuitable, but where there would not be legal grounds for taking them into Police Protection. In such cases, the police and the accountable manager from the responsible Children’s Social Care will need to liaise to discuss what steps may be necessary in order to safeguard the child’s welfare. Consideration may need to be given to location and recovery orders.
Children Missing Education
This section should be read in conjunction with the Government’s statutory guidance for children missing education.
Statutory guidance defines children missing education 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'. This should be distinguished from children who are missing from school or another form of education.
The Local Authority has a duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996 to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in our area who are of compulsory school age but who are not registered pupils at a school or receiving some other form of suitable education.
The Children’s Services Protocol for Children Missing Education sets out local arrangements for ensuring all children not receiving a suitable education are identified quickly and effective tracking systems and support arrangements are put in place.
In line with the above Protocol, the Children Missing Education Officer must be notified after 10 days of any children thought to be missing from education through the following routes:
Children Missing from Education
As a result of daily registration, schools are particularly well placed to notice when a child has gone missing. This section provides guidance for schools where they are concerned that a child has gone missing.
If a member of school/educational establishment/college staff becomes aware that a child may have run away or gone missing, they should try to establish with the parents/ carers, what has happened. If this is not possible, or the child is missing, the designated safeguarding teacher/advisor should, together with the class teacher, assess the child's vulnerability.
From the first day that a child does not attend school and there is no explanation or authorisation of the absence, the following steps should be taken:
In the following circumstances a referral to Children's Social Care and /or the police should always be made promptly:
The following questions may assist a judgement on whether or not to inform Children's Social Care and the police:
If the judgement reached on day one is that there is no reason to believe that the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, then the school may delay making a referral to Children’s Social Care. They should continue to make reasonable enquiries to establish what has happened, for example checking with all members of staff the child may have had contact with, checking with the pupil's friends and their parents, siblings and known relatives.
The length of time that a child remains out of school could, of itself, be an alerting factor of risk of harm to the child. Accordingly the assessment of risk should be ongoing and a referral to Children’s Social Care should be made at any point where there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. If there is no reasonable cause to believe that the threshold for significant harm has been met, the school should continue to take reasonable action to ascertain the whereabouts of the child, and in line with the Local Authority Protocol for Children Missing Education (CME), a referral should be made to the Children Missing Education Officer after 10 days.
Extended leave of absence can be authorised by the head teacher, at which point a return date is set. In these cases the time line for enquiries starts from when the child does not attend school on the expected return date, not from the day the extended leave started.
The CME team will make enquiries by visiting the child’s home. They should also check databases within the local authority, use agreed protocols to check other relevant local databases, check with agencies known to be involved with the family and with any other local authorities where the family has previously lived or to which the family may have moved.
The child's circumstances and vulnerability should be regularly and jointly reviewed and reassessed by the school's designated safeguarding lead and the local authority’s CME Officer. Other agencies should be involved in the discussions as appropriate.
Children Subject to Restriction / Foreign Nationals
This section applies to children who are 'subject to restriction' i.e. who have:
Where the whereabouts of a child subject to restrictions is not known, a missing person's referral must be made by Home Office staff to the police, the UK Missing Person Bureau and Children's Social Care in a number of circumstances including:
If it is believed by Home Office staff that a child is being coerced to abscond or go missing, this must be reported as a concern that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm to the local police and children's social care services.
Notifications will also be made where a missing child is found by Home Office staff. See Home Office Guidance: Missing Children and Vulnerable Adults Guidance.
The local authority and health are responsible for:
The police are responsible for:
The local authority will also notify the Home Office Evidence and Enquiry Unit when a child in their care goes missing or when a missing child returns or is found. The Home Office must maintain regular weekly contact with the local authority and the police until the child is found and record all contact with the police and local authority.
When a child subject to restrictions is found by Home Office Staff, the local police and local authority must be informed immediately. In consultation with the local police and Children's Social Care, a decision will be made as to where the child is to be taken, if they are not to be left at the address where they are encountered. The Home Office must follow up enquires with the local police and children/adult services in order to identify if there are any safeguarding issues.
When a child subject to restrictions is found by the police or local authority. The Home Office must be notified.
Related Policies, Procedures and Guidance
- Neglect Guidance
- Child Sexual Exploitation: Guidance
- Migrant and Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children: Guidance
- Forced Marriage: Guidance
- Gang Activity and Youth Violence: Guidance
 For example, The Children’s Society indicates that where assessments are undertaken, more than a third of children missing from home or care are at risk of significant harm (The Children’s Society, 2012, Make Runaways Safe: The Local Picture. Available at: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/tcs/make_runaways_safe_-_the_local_picture.pdf), Government Statutory Guidance estimates 25% are at risk of significant harm (Department for Education, 2014, Statutory Guidance on Children who Run Away or go Missing from Home or Care. Available at: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/307867/Statutory_Guidance_-_Missing_from_care__3_.pdf)
 For example, Ofsted, 2013, Missing Children. Available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/missing-children
 TVP Standard Operating Procedure, 2015 derived from ACPO Missing Persons Policy, 2013
 TVP Standard Operating Procedure, 2015 derived from ACPO Missing Persons Policy, 2013