Skip to main content
Caption: floating buttons
 
spacer_valid
View East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership View East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership
spacer_valid 2
View Working Together View Working Together
Caption: main heading
 

1.5.1 Children and Young People who Runaway or Go Missing from Home and Care


Contents

Caption: contents list
   
1. Introduction
2. Definitions
3. The Designated Named Manager for Young Runaways
4. Determination of Risk    
5. Safeguarding Children
6. East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership
7. East Riding Local Authority Responsibilities
  7.1 General Requirements
  7.2 Children’s Social Care
  7.3 Residential Home Workers
  7.4 Foster Carers
  7.5 Education Services
  7.6 Youth Offending Team (YOT)
  7.7 Policy, Planning and Commissioning
  7.8 Emergency Duty Team (EDT)
  7.9 Missing From Trips Out of the Area
  7.10 Media Coverage
8. Responsibility of Humberside Police
9. Joint Responsibility and Reporting when a Child is Missing    
10. Joint Responsibility When a Child Returns, including the Independent Return Interview
  Appendix 1: LAC Missing from Care Risk Assessment - Part I
  Appendix 2: LAC Missing from Care Absence Report Part 2


1. Introduction

This practice guidance contains the overreaching principles, roles and responsibilities of all involved professionals and practitioners in responding to and managing episodes of children being missing from home or local authority care. Whether a child goes missing once or numerous times means they have done so for a particular reason. It is vital to treat each episode of running away as a fresh incident and explore the reasons for them going missing on each occasion.

This guidance should be followed with reference to the East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership Runaway and Missing from Home or Care Protocol.


2. Definitions

There are various terms which are used in relation to missing children:

Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away Or Go Missing From Home Or Care (January 2014)uses the following definitions:

Missing Child:
A child  reported as missing to the Police by their  family or carers.

Missing from Care:
A Looked After child who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be (e.g. school) and their whereabouts are not known.

Away from Placement Without Authorisation:
A Looked After child whose whereabouts are known but who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the Police.

Young Runaway:
A child who has run away from their home or care placement, or feels they have been forced or lured to leave.

For the College of Policing definition of missing please click here.

The Police will assess the risks to any missing person using a continuum of risk which ranges from ‘no apparent risk (absent)’ through to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action.

Police officers will not be sent to cases where children / young people are defined as being at no apparent risk (absent). Instead in these situations the onus will be on care providers to take steps to locate the child / young person, with monitoring by the Police and regular review of the initial risk assessment. It is expected that all reasonable steps should be taken by care providers to locate the child / young person prior to making a report to the Police.


3. The Designated Named Manager for Young Runaways

The local authority will:

  • Ensure that a dedicated named manager is appointed with responsibilities for managing it’s “missing from care” protocols and procedures;
  • Reporting information about patterns of absence among children who run away and are reported missing to the Director of Children, Families and Schools and to Councillors responsible for ‘corporate parenting’. This report will include an action plan with targets for minimising missing from care incidents and will also include:
    • Incidence of missing person’s episodes;
    • Location - are children more likely to go missing from some placements rather than others?
    • Where do they run?
    • Any safeguarding implications, e.g. children subject to a Child Protection Plan, Children in Care, Child Sexual Exploitation, Child Criminal Exploitation, likelihood of abduction, risk of Forced Marriage;
    • Actions when children return.
  • Monitoring policies, procedures and performance relating to children missing from home.

The named Police posts have responsibility for:

  • Improving links with local services for runaways;
  • Developing specialist skills and knowledge about running away;
  • Providing a more consistent and efficient response to runaways.


4. Determination of Risk

Determining risk is paramount when a child goes missing and is a major influence in establishing the actions within these guidelines. The overall aim is to manage missing episodes ensuring the most accurate and up to date information is passed to the relevant agencies.

The Police are often the first agency to be alerted that a child is missing, or has run away, but this information may be known first to any agency in contact with the child or their family, e.g. Education or the Health service. The child may inexplicably miss a health appointment, be absent from school or not attend other planned activities.

The reasons for the child’s going missing may not be initially apparent and may give rise for concern in circumstances other than when a child has run away from home, for example where a child has gone missing with their whole family or when they have not returned from a ‘holiday’ abroad. No assumptions should be made about the whereabouts of the child and unexplained absences should be followed up to establish the location of the child.

The action to be taken by any agency first becoming aware of the absence of a child from home will therefore be determined by the circumstances surrounding the absence and the degree of risk to the child.

Absences which cause concern are those where there is no indication that the child is likely to return within a short space of time or where there is an immediate concern for the child’s safety. The levels of concern will be dependant upon:

  • The age of the child;
  • The child having a disability which reduces their level of independence;
  • The child suffering a medical condition which requires ongoing monitoring or treatment;
  • The child’s behaviour, placing him/her or others at risk of injury or harm;
  • The number of occasions a child runs away, e.g. three or more times in a twelve month period;
  • Likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm, for example because of neglect and/or physical, and/or sexual, and/or emotional abuse;
  • Legal status of the child e.g. Child in Care;
  • Parenting issues, e.g. parents substance misuse, persistent school non-attendance with parents knowledge and/or collusion, domestic abuse;
  • Indicators of child sexual exploitation;
  • Indicators that the child may have been taken out of the country to be married.

Risk factors that can contribute to children running away include:

  • Poor parental supervision and discipline / neglect / parenting concerns;
  • Family conflict;
  • A family history of problem behaviour;
  • Parental attitudes / involvement condoning problem behaviour;
  • Low income and poor housing;
  • Domestic abuse / child abuse;
  • Parental substance / alcohol misuse;
  • Parental mental health / learning difficulty needs;
  • Home alone;
  • Other child in family with a disability (impacting on parental capacity);
  • Homelessness or unsuitable living environment;
  • Victims of crime / bullying / racism / emotional / homophobic abuse;
  • Mental health concerns;
  • Child Sexual Exploitation.

The immediate risks associated with running away include:

  • No means of support or legitimate income leading to high risk activities;
  • Involvement in criminal activities;
  • Victims of crime, e.g. through sexual assault and exploitation;
  • Alcohol / substance misuse;
  • Deterioration of physical and mental health;
  • Missing out on education;
  • Forced marriage.

Longer term risks include:

  • Long-tem drug / alcohol dependency;
  • Crime;
  • Homelessness and sleeping rough;
  • Increased risk of self-harm;
  • Isolation from peer group, siblings and own community;
  • Deterioration in academic achievement;
  • Deterioration in self care / personal hygiene;
  • Deterioration in future employment opportunities;
  • Social exclusion.


5. Safeguarding Children

It must always be borne in mind that a child may be running away from an abusive situation where they live. It is recognised that all those who work with young runaways may be presented with complex safeguarding situations. It is therefore vital that all staff and practitioners have an appropriate understanding of and access to safeguarding children procedures, have received appropriate training, are properly supervised and know where to access advice and support.

All agencies have a responsibility to work together to meet the needs of children in need of protection whether this be as a result of neglect, emotional harm, sexual or physical abuse and/or sexual exploitation. When responding to the needs of young runaways, the East Riding Runaway and Missing from Home or Care Protocol is there to inform and guide all staff as well as to protect young people and staff alike.

Professionals working with children where there are outstanding child protection concerns must always consider that unusual non-school attendance, missed appointments or abortive health appointments may indicate that the family has moved out of the area. This possibility must also be considered when there are concerns about an unborn child.


6. East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership

The East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures and Guidance will be implemented if a child in the following circumstances goes missing or cannot be traced:

  • A child who is the subject of a Section 47 Enquiry;
  • A child subject to a Child Protection Plan who goes missing or is removed from his/her address outside the terms of the Child Protection Plan;
  • A Child in Care who leaves or is removed from placement, without this being part of the Care Plan;
  • Any child known to a statutory agency who goes missing in suspicious circumstances or about whom there are concerns.

These procedures also apply to adults whose whereabouts become unknown in the following circumstances:

  • A pregnant woman when there are concerns about the child following birth;
  • A family where there are concerns about the welfare of the child because of the presence of a person posing a risk to children or other person previously suspected of harming a child.


7. East Riding Local Authority Responsibilities

7.1 General Requirements

The local authority will:

  • Ensure that carers understand the locally agreed procedures to be followed when children go missing from residential or foster care;
  • Ensure that appropriate multi agency protocols are in place covering the action to be taken when children in local authority care go missing from their placements and develop similar protocols (or a single protocol covering both instances) covering the circumstance where children go missing from home;
  • Audit the need for, and availability of, services for children in their area who are at risk of going missing from home or care;
  • Consider whether it is necessary to develop their services to respond to the needs of young people who go missing from care or run away from home;
  • Prepare a strategy for the delivery and development of services for children who go missing from home or care;
  • Collect and share relevant information;
  • The development of a coordinated response will require information relating to all incidents of young people going missing from home or local authority care to be centrally collated and shared between all partner agencies;
  • Monitor all absences from foster and residential homes centrally. This data is required to help local authorities identify placements and children with particular difficulties and to plan appropriate measures and responses;
  • Review services and protocol as appropriate. Local authorities and the Police to meet quarterly to undertake strategic reviews of patterns of children going missing from home and foster / residential placements;
  • In assessing and reviewing their services local authorities must involve schools, Integrated Care Boards and voluntary organisations working with this vulnerable group.

7.2 Children’s Social Care

Many children who run away from home are likely to be In Need and may be entitled to services provided by the local authority or by voluntary / independent agencies acting on its behalf. When considering the needs of young runaways reference must be made to the Effective Support for Children, Young People and Families in East Riding of Yorkshire - Guidance for all practitioners in Working Together to Support Families and Safeguard Children and Working Together to Safeguard Children (the statutory guidance) dependent on the level of need identified.

The following procedures apply when staff from the local authority section responsible for Children’s Social Care becomes aware that a missing child is:

  • Subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  • Subject to a Section 47 Enquiry;
  • Subject to a Private Fostering arrangement;
  • A Child in Care who leaves or is removed or is removed outside of a Care Plan;
  • Subject to an interim or a full Care Order;
  • Where professionals with responsibility for a child’s welfare agree that there are concerns for their safety and well being if they are not located.

For Children in Care who are placed in either in a residential unit or in a foster placement:

  • A risk assessment should be undertaken with all children who come in to the care system as part of the planning process on reception into care. This should relate to the likelihood of the child going missing or being abducted;
  • A second risk assessment should be undertaken if a child is actually missing for more than 8 hours (A formal risk assessment can be completed more than once and should be done whenever a child’s circumstance - particularly location, change;
  • The risk assessment needs to be shared with carers and the educational establishment;
  • All children should be informed about the process that is followed should they abscond or go missing.

See Appendix 1: LAC Missing from Care Risk Assessment - Part I.

In these circumstances and if a child goes missing Children’s Social Care must:

  • Social workers are required to take reasonable steps to identify the whereabouts of a child deemed to be missing;
  • Inform the Police;
  • Inform the manager of the East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership if a child is subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  • Inform all local agencies who may know the child to obtain any information that may help the Police Officer undertaking the missing person investigation to trace the child;
  • Inform all those with Parental Responsibility and extended family members as necessary and appropriate;
  • Legal services if a child is subject to court proceedings;
  • Social workers are responsible for ensuring the co-ordination of efforts to ascertain the child’s whereabouts;
  • Keep EDT informed of the ongoing status.

If following the above procedures the child has not been traced within 48 hours the Head of Service, Children’s Social Care is to be notified and he/she will make a decision as to whether to inform the Director, of Children, Families and Schools. A Strategy Meeting will be held within 7 days of senior officers and other appropriate staff from Children’s Social Care and the Police.

The relevant Head of Children’s Services and Senior Police Officers will therefore review episodes of absence lasting 11 weeks and thereafter at 12 weekly intervals until the child’s safety is ascertained.

All files will remain live until the person is traced or the Divisional Commander is satisfied that all lines of inquiry have been exhausted. The Assistant Chief Constable will take the decision to file or otherwise. If the decision is made to file, the Force Intelligence Bureau will bring the file forward for review by the Detective Superintendent 12 months after the file date. Cases where the missing person returns but the Police are unable to see and speak to the individual can only be closed on the authority of a superintendent. Cases where the person is not found remain indefinitely on the missing person’s data base and are subject to yearly reviews.

7.3 Residential Home Workers

  • Residential Workers on duty are required to take reasonable steps to identify the whereabouts of a child deemed to be missing;
  • Residential workers on duty should complete the risk assessment and if there are any concerns, report the child missing to the Police;
  • If they are in any doubt, the worker should consult with the Registered Manager, Emergency Duty Team (EDT) or on-call Head of Service when deciding whether or not to report a child missing;
  • Residential workers must also ensure that the Family Support / Children in Care Team and parent(s) / persons with Parental Responsibility are made aware of any child being reported missing and when they return as well as incidents of unauthorised absence;
  • The residential worker will also re-evaluate their assessment of risk with the EDT if a decision has been made not to report a child missing initially to the Police, at least once per shift or more frequently depending on the outcome of the risk assessment and/or change of circumstances;
  • If the child’s whereabouts are known but they refuse to return to the placement, the risk assessment will determine whether the child is in immediate danger and whether the Police should be informed;
  • The Police are required to ensure a thorough check of the residential unit has been undertaken to ensure that a child is not present in the home.

7.4 Foster Carers

  • Foster Carers are required to take reasonable steps to identify the whereabouts of a child deemed to be missing;
  • Foster carers should inform the Police if a child is missing, their whereabouts are unknown and they are deemed to be missing. If the child is missing and their whereabouts are known, carers should seek the views of the relevant Safeguarding Team;
  • Most incidents of a child going missing occur out of hours. Foster carers can see advice from EDT after 5 p.m. and at weekends and Bank Holidays;
  • Out of hours, the foster carer will inform EDT both of a child’s reported absence and their return;
  • Foster carers are not responsible for informing parents and schools, this responsibility sits with Children’s Social Care staff;
  • Foster carers will be required to inform the Police of any possible places the child might be, what they were wearing and any specific circumstances about their disappearance;
  • The Police are required to ensure a thorough check of the foster home has been undertaken to ensure that a child is not present in the home. The foster carer will need to allow access to the home if requested.

7.5 Education Services

  • School staff should inform the main care giver / social worker immediately if any child (particularly if subject to a Child Protection Plan) in not in school and the absence has not previously been notified;
  • Schools are expected to refer to the authority’s Children Missing from Education policy.

7.6 Youth Offending Team (YOT)

  • If a child goes missing whilst in the care of, or under the supervision of YOT, then the YOT should review the risk assessment and respond to recommended actions arrived at in the assessment;
  • Inform the person with Parental Responsibility / carer;
  • Inform the Police, if the risk assessment indicates such;
  • Further guidance can be found within YOT internal practice documents.

7.7 Policy, Planning and Commissioning

  • Details of expectations when a child goes missing from a particular placement are covered in the specific contract agreed with an Agency foster care placement, residential unit or residential school;
  • This may involve contact with other than local constabulary and will be guided by the procedures set in place by the Agency foster care placement, residential unit or residential school.

7.8 Emergency Duty Team (EDT)

  • Once identified as missing or away from placement without authorisation a child should be subject to the Risk Assessment, using information from an official referrer or the person with Parental Responsibility. This may result in EDT contacting the Police. If they are in any doubt, the worker should consult with their line manager or on-call Head of service when deciding whether or not to report a child missing. If the risk assessment results in a ‘missing’ status outside of office hours then EDT will contact the person with Parental Responsibility to confirm this status;
  • Information should be shared between the EDT and the appropriate Safeguarding Team immediately on the next working day after receiving information that a child is missing. The information and actions should be recorded on Azeus;
  • EDT will share known and relevant information with the Police if contacted as part of Police procedures to locate a missing child who may or may not be Looked After;
  • If a child is missing for over 24 hours the EDT worker will be required to comply with this procedure.

7.9 Missing From Trips Out of the Area

  • The same processes must be followed by the appropriate team although the specific circumstances and location will alter the assessed risk.

7.10 Media Coverage

  • A decision to contact the media will be made by the Police in consultation with Children’s Social Care and with prior warning to the child’s family. Children’s Social Care, with the Head of Service approval, will contact East Riding of Yorkshire Council Press Officer (Directorate of Children, Families and Schools); the Chief Executive will be informed immediately. The Police have the ultimate responsibility for the press release if there is a difference of opinion.


8. Responsibility of Humberside Police

  • Humberside Police will have their internal documentation and electronic management system to support the process within their workplace;
  • The Police will ensure that every case involving a child going missing is considered for referral to East Riding Children’s Social Care for a Single Assessment or, if necessary, for enquiries to be made under S17 if the Children Act 1989;
  • The Police have a responsibility for maintaining open and regular communication between Children’s Social Care staff and themselves until the child is found;
  • Police should not return a child to the place where she/he went missing without notification / consultation with the Social Worker or EDT if there are any child protection concerns. Child protection concerns would be taken through the same Child Protection route as for any other child, via a referral through the Customer Service Centre (or the EDT if out of hours). However, the added vulnerability of Children in Care will be recognised and concerns referred via the relevant Family Support / Children in Care Team;
  • In line with recommendations from the North Wales Enquiry, a log of all notifications of a child missing from children’s homes should be kept at Police Stations and made accessible, when required to Children’s Social Care staff;
  • There will be reviews concerning the viability of these guidelines with Senior Officers (Service Manager and above) and the Police, when required;
  • The Police will attend quarterly meetings to scrutinise records and ascertain whether there are patterns of children going missing from Care which raise concerns either for individual children or specific establishments;
  • Concerns for establishments should be brought to the attention of the Responsible Person for East Riding Children’s Homes, currently the Service Manager.

If following the above procedures the child has not been traced within 48 hours the Head of Service, of Children’s Social Care is to be notified and he/she will make a decision as to whether to inform the Director, of Children, Families and Schools. A Strategy Meeting will be held within 7 days of senior officers and other appropriate staff from Children’s Social Care and the Police.

The relevant Head of Children’s Services and Senior Police Officers will therefore review episodes of absence lasting 11 weeks and thereafter at 12 weekly intervals until the child’s safety is ascertained.

All files will remain live until the person is traced or the Divisional Commander is satisfied that all lines of inquiry have been exhausted. The Assistant Chief Constable will take the decision to file or otherwise. If the decision is made to file, the Force Intelligence Bureau will bring the file forward for review by the Detective Superintendent 12 months after the file date. Cases where the missing person returns but the Police are unable to see and speak to the individual can only be closed on the authority of a superintendent. Cases where the person is not found remain indefinitely on the missing person’s data base and are subject to yearly reviews.


9. Joint Responsibility and Reporting when a Child is Missing

Throughout the steps outlined in this guidance and within own Agency procedures a full record must be kept of all actions taken and all decision-making with the decision-makers being clearly identified. This includes the giving and receiving of messages. Both Children’s Social Care and the Police must keep these records.

Children’s Social Care will provide comprehensive information on any missing child known to them to enable all risk factors to be considered. This should include a photograph where possible. Photographs can be obtained from parents and schools if the child is Looked After. The Police may need to circulate the missing child’s description. In addition:

  • There will be a need for regular liaison and communication at least once every 24 hours between Children’s Social Care Staff and the Police until the child is found. Open and full communication is vital in ensuring the welfare of the child;
  • It is for the Police (at Divisional Commander level or his deputy) to advise the media of a child missing from the care of the local authority. A decision to involve the media will be made in consultation with Children’s Social Care (Head of Service or above) and with prior warning to the child’s family. The Police have ultimate responsibility for the decision to contact the media;
  • Police will report to Children’s Social Care when the child is found and will ascertain whether a child is to be returned to the home address. If the child refuses the Police will inform Children’s Social Care accordingly;
  • All files will remain live until the person is traced or the Divisional Commander is satisfied that all lines of inquiry have been exhausted. The Assistant Chief Constable will take the decision to file or otherwise. If the decision is made to file, the Force Intelligence Bureau will bring the file forward for review by the Detective Superintendent 12 months after the file date. Cases where the missing person returns but the Police are unable to see and speak to the individual can only be closed on the authority of a superintendent. Cases where the person is not found remain indefinitely on the missing person’s data base and are subject to yearly reviews.


10. Joint Responsibility When a Child Returns

If the child is not previously known to Children’s Social Care the Police will contact the local authority if there are concerns under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Children’s Social Care, in consultation with parents and the Police, should plan for what will happen next.

The discussion around planning for the return of the child may consider the powers of the Safeguarding Team and the Police to enforce a return if the child resists. This may include, in specific circumstances, the local authority applying for the use of a Recovery Order. The Council’s Legal services must be consulted if such a course is actively considered.

When a child is found or returns the following should be considered:

  • Will the child return to the previous accommodation (this may depend on what the child has to say about why he/she went missing)?
  • How will she/he be taken back?
  • Do the Police wish to speak to the child prior to the return to the accommodation?
  • Who will be an appropriate person to speak to the child when he/she is found?
    • For Children in Care, an Independent Return Interview should be offered;
    • A referral to either Children’s Social Care if under 13 or the Integrated Youth Support Service if over 13 should be offered to conduct the debrief session;
    • Other age appropriate relevant professionals, such as workers from Education Welfare Service, METAS, School Nurse should also be considered as part of the debrief process.
  • When the child is found, consideration should be given to medical issues and any medical assessment or treatment necessary should be given;
  • All relevant parties should be informed (depending on who found the child or if they returned of their own volition), including family, Children’s Social Care, Police, the residential home / Foster care, the school and others as appropriate;

    When found or returned the child should be encouraged to explain:
    • The reasons they were missing;
    • The location they went to;
    • Who they were with;
    • Whether they have been the victim of a crime;
    • Whether they have committed a crime;
    • If they have any concerns or worries.
  • When found the child will also be given the opportunity to make a complaint (if appropriate) and be provided with information regarding the local advocacy service provision;
  • Consultation may reveal child protection concerns. Such concerns would be taken through the same child protection route as for any other child via a referral through the Customer Service Centre or EDT if out of office hours. However, the added vulnerability of Children in Care will be recognised and referred through the relevant service;

Independent Return Interview for Children in Care

  • An Independent Return Interview should be carried out by an independent professional (e.g. a social worker, teacher, health professional or Police officer, who does not usually work with the child and is trained to carry out these interviews). Children sometimes need to build up trust with a person before they will discuss in depth the reasons why they ran away.
    • The person conducting the interview should usually be independent of the child’s placement and of the responsible local authority. An exception maybe where a child has a strong relationship with a carer or social worker and has expressed a preference to talk to them, rather than an independent person, about the reasons they went missing;
    • The responsible local authority should ensure the Return Interview takes place, working closely with the host authority where appropriate. Contact should be made with the child within 72 hours of them being located or returning from absence, to arrange an Independent Return Interview in a neutral place where they feel safe;
    • Where a Child in Care has run away they should have the opportunity to talk, before they return to their placement, to a person who is independent of their placement about the reasons they went missing. The child should be offered the option of speaking to an independent representative or advocate.

Issues around the inability to guarantee confidentiality will have been discussed with the child before the interview. Any concerns raised in the interview about possible abuse will be referred to Children’s Social Care and the Police in accordance with East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures and Guidance. The child will have been made aware of this as a possible course of action during the discussion around confidentiality.


Appendices

Risk Assessments

Appendix 1: LAC Missing from Care Risk Assessment - Part I

Appendix 2: LAC Missing from Care Absence Report Part 2

End