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4.7 Children and Families Who Go Missing


ACPO Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2013)

Association of Chief Police Officers ACPO (2010) Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons

Home Office Guidance on Missing Foreign National who go Missing

Statutory Guidance on Children who Run away and Go Missing from Home or Care (2014)


This chapter was amended in March 2016 to reflect that Team managers will chair the Strategy Meetings (see Section 3.2, Children's Specialist Services Response) and to acknowledge the role of the IRO in ensuring that there are plans to reduce the risk of further missing episodes (see Section 21, Return of Children in Care). The contact details of Catch 21 have been updated. (See Appendix 1: Useful Contacts).


  1. Introduction
  2. Definition
  3. Responses
  4. Child with Additional Needs / Child in Need
  5. Children Missing From Education
  6. Guidance on how to consider whether it is appropriate to refer a case to Children's Specialist Services or to the police
  7. Children in Care
  8. Prevention Planning
  9. Risk Assessment
  10. Photographs
  11. Reporting
  12. Formal Notification of a Missing Episode
  13. Statutory Notifications to the Local Authority
  14. Child with a Child Protection Plan
  15. Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Trafficked Children
  16. Children Taken Overseas
  17. Forced Marriage
  18. Notifications from Other Local Authorities
  19. Longer or Significant Absences - All Children
  20. Management of Return
  21. Return of Children in Care
  22. Informing the Press
  23. Recording
  24. Reporting

    Appendix 1: Useful Contacts

    Appendix 2: Risk Assessment Guidelines

    Appendix 3: Personal descriptive forms - to follow

    Appendix 4: Merseyside Police Missing from Home/Care Form (Wirral)

    Appendix 5: The legal framework

    Appendix 6: Guidance for foster carers and residential care workers

    Appendix 7: Flow diagram Missing from Home Address

    Appendix 8: Flow diagram Missing from Care

    Appendix 9: Notification to Placing Authority

    Appendix 10: Schedule 7 Events And Notifications

1. Introduction

Children who are "missing" are a vulnerable group, and as such are a priority for Wirral Local Safeguarding Children's Board.

This procedure follows the Statutory Guidance on Children who Run Away and Go Missing from Home or Care, issued July 2009, the Merseyside Children & Young People who go missing or run away from home or care Protocol (Updated September 2009) and the Statutory guidance (revised) for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education.

Children who go 'missing' could fail to achieve their potential in terms of being healthy and enjoying and achieving, but are also at increased risk of Sexual Exploitation, developing problem drug and alcohol use and anti-social and criminal behaviour. Children who go 'missing' from professional contact because of a transient lifestyle could also have disrupted stability which affects their potential.

It is important that all services concerned with the care and protection of children and young people work together to ensure a clear plan is activated whenever a child or young person runs away or is missing.

Agencies have a duty to safeguard and promote the safety and welfare of these children. In particular agencies have the following responsibilities:

  • The Children and Young People's Department have a duty under the Children Act 1989 to assess if these children are Children in Need, and to investigate those at risk of Significant Harm and under the Education Act 2000 (s175) to record and track children who are missing from education;
  • The police will consider children and young people who are reported as missing from home or absent from care as being 'vulnerable - high risk' and will carry out proactive enquiries to locate, trace and collect the child or young person as soon as possible and return them home;
  • Parents, carers and other agencies have a duty to inform the authorities including the police. Failure to make appropriate notifications may reflect on the parent/carer's ability to protect and may raise child protection issues;
  • Appropriate agencies will disclose relevant information to safeguard vulnerable children and young people;
  • The Safeguarding Unit will co-ordinate the response to those children who are missing under the procedures for missing from care, children missing who have a child protection plan and children who are missing and at risk (including sexual exploitation and trafficking) and reporting on the national indicator 71 for children missing from home and care.

2. Definition

See also: ACPO Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2013)

Association of Chief Police Officers ACPO (2010) Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons

Note for information:

Updated NPCC definitions:

Missing – ‘Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be the subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another’.

Absent – ‘A person not at a place where they are expected or required to be’.

The `absent’ category should comprise cases in which children/young people are not presently where they are supposed to be but there is no apparent risk and they are not believed to be immediately at risk of harm.

Police will not be sent to cases where children/young people are defined as being ‘absent’. Instead the onus will be on care providers to take steps to locate the child/young person, with monitoring by the police and escalation to ‘missing’ if there is a change to the circumstances that has increased the level of risk. 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. Where they remain absent, and the care provider feels that they may be at risk of harm, then a report should be made to the police.

Police will attend reports of ‘missing’ children/young people’.

A missing person is anyone whose whereabouts are unknown, whatever the circumstances of disappearance. He or she will be considered missing until located and his/her wellbeing or otherwise established.

This procedure is to be followed for all children and young people under 18 years old who are missing.

Before formally defining a child is missing, certain questions must be asked:

  • How old is the child;
  • Is the child in care or do they have a Child Protection Plan;
  • Is this an isolated incident, or has the child/family gone missing before;
  • What is the pattern of absence - is it a teenager returning later than planned, is there a truancy issue, how long has the child been missing for, has this been overnight;
  • Can you contact the child - if not in school, has contact been made with the child's parent/carer, can you see and/or speak to the child directly, are they with family/friends, are there any specific concerns about the child - any evidence of risk-taking behaviour for example.

Some children and young people are absent rather than missing; for some young people, such behaviour is part of testing boundaries and attempting to assert control over their lives. An automatic assumption should not be made that a child is formally missing in each case. However each individual child should be subject to a risk assessment based on individual circumstances and vulnerability. 

An individual may be categorised as an unauthorised absence if the person has deliberately or carelessly absented themselves and:

  • Their behaviour is not out of character;
  • They are either expected to return or be found quickly, or are temporarily staying with a relative, friend or associate;
  • They are not expected to suffer or cause Significant Harm to others whilst absent.

This categorisation must not be used as a convenient way of avoiding the obligation to respond, record and investigate a missing person when there are genuine concerns for their welfare or the person is at imminent risk.

3. Responses

In all circumstances all agencies, parents and carers should notify the police if a child is missing.

There are a number of different categories that identify the responses from agencies to a child defined as 'missing'.

According to the Merseyside Protocol there are three categories of children and young people under 18 years considered 'missing' through:

  • Missing from home or run away with cause for concern;
  • Missing from care;
  • Missing families including children on a Child Protection Plan.

All such missing children or young people are considered to be a child at risk under Section 47 of the Children Act (1989) which gives powers to appropriate agencies to share relevant information to safeguard the child.

There may be circumstances where a child loses contact with agencies, and it is unclear why. Children who go missing from education are subject to recording and tracking (see below), but children under school age may or may not have contact with a health visitor, GP, childminder or nursery. In all situations efforts should be made to contact the family, (or extended family if details are known) to confirm where the child is. If this is unsuccessful, consult with your named or designated representative, or consult with the Safeguarding Unit to agree what further action you may take.

3.1 Police Response

The dedicated police officer for missing children will complete the Missing From Home/Care Form (see Appendix 4: Merseyside Police Missing from Home/Care Form (Wirral)) and undertake a risk assessment. Initially all are considered to be 'Vulnerable- High Risk'. The police will carry out proactive enquiries to locate, trace and make arrangements with the parents/carer/residential home, for them to collect the child or young person as soon as possible, and return them home. The police will inform Catch-22 Missing and Child Sexual Exploitation Service who will offer an independent interview (see Section 20, Management of Return)

Within 2 hours the Police National Computer will be updated with the subjects' details.

  • Regular contact with the person reporting (alerter) is to be established as soon as possible and maintained until the child or young person is returned;
  • Liaison with partner and other agencies to be established as soon as possible;
  • Continual review and risk assessment to be applied;
  • Inform Children's Specialist Services (IFD and Safeguarding Unit) immediately if it is considered that there is a high risk of harm to the child.

If Missing for 24 hours:

  • Children's Services (IFD and Safeguarding Unit) to be informed regardless of circumstances of child or young person going missing;
  • Continual review and risk assessment to be applied;
  • Education Welfare Officer/Services to be informed and the school notified.

If Missing up to 7 days:

  • Missing People charity to be informed - if not already notified;
  • Close contact with partner and other relevant agencies to be maintained.

If Missing over 7 days:

  • All missing Children and Young Persons to be classed as 'High Risk' if not already assessed at this level before this time lapse. (at this stage children will be dealt with under Safeguarding Children procedures);
  • Press/media strategy to be implemented - if not already in place.

If Missing over 14 days:

  • NPIA- Missing Persons Bureau to be informed - if not already notified.

If Missing for over 10 weeks:

  • Ensure the Police National Computer report on the subject is extended and reviewed periodically.

3.2 Children's Specialist Services Response

In all reported cases Children's Specialist Services will ensure that the police have been informed and a Social Work Assessment of Needs and Strengths carried out to identify if the child is in need and suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm. Children's Specialist Services will contact other relevant agencies for further information. Consideration will be given to carrying out a Section 47 Enquiry to address the identified risks.

Consideration will also be given to the need for a Strategy Meeting to be held and chaired by a Team Manager.

Where the missing child or young person is the subject of a Child Protection Plan, or is in care, see the Section 14, Child with a Child Protection Plan and Section 7, Children in Care procedures below.

A young person who goes missing may expose themselves to risk of sexual exploitation, problematic drug and alcohol use, and anti-social or criminal behaviour. Where there is evidence to support concerns in these areas, a referral must be made to Children's Specialist Services (IFD) for Section 47 investigation.

Where the Social Work Assessment of Needs and Strengths does not identify immediate risk of Significant Harm, it may be more appropriate for ongoing support to be provided as a Child in Need or through a multi-agency approach through the Common Assessment Framework and Team Around The Child. Where the case is to be dealt with through Team around the Child, the Area Team Leader must be informed and a lead professional appointed to co-ordinate a plan.

4. Child with Additional Needs / Child in Need

If a child or young person is going missing, agencies with ongoing contact should attempt to discuss with the young people their behaviour and offer advice and support. All young people who are reported missing to the police are referred to Catch-22 Missing and Child Sexual Exploitation Service and offered an interview on return to see if there is any additional support a child or young person may need - (see Section 20, Management of Return). Young people are entitled to decline this offer, and so no agency should expect that an interview will take place in each and every case.

Catch-22 Missing and Child Sexual Exploitation Service refer to the Children and Young People's Department in line with the agreed referral process when required.

If the behaviour is caused by events of stresses in the young person's life, and/or there is evidence of additional needs which may require a co-ordinated response, a lead professional under the Child Concern Model should undertake an assessment and convene a Child Concern Meeting.

A referral to the Children and Young People's Department to request an assessment as a Child in Need could also be considered.

5. Children Missing From Education

Children who do not access other services will usually be accessing Education. Schools and the Children and Young People's Department therefore have a key role in identifying and tracking any child who is absent from school. It is a statutory requirement for the Children and Young People's Department to identify those children who are missing from education, and wherever possible locate and track these children into alternative education provision within the Borough or elsewhere.

Children may miss school for a number of reasons; most parents notify the school and explanations are provided. However, where there may be children who have a more transient lifestyle, this may not be consistent. However, any child aged 16 and under who has missed four weeks of school without a satisfactory explanation must be reported by the school, to the Children and Young People's Department.

All agencies that work with children and young people should also make a referral to the Children and Young Peoples Department if: -

  • They believe that or become aware that a child is not registered at a school or in alternative provision;
  • The child appears to have been missing from education for a period of time (usually over 4 weeks) without good reason;
  • The child is not known to the Pupil Services school allocation team for the local authority area where the child is living.

The Children and Young People's Department Missing Pupil Officer will record the names of children who have been notified as missing education and/or have been removed from a Wirral school roll onto the Wirral virtual 'Out of School Register'. Each child shall remain on the Wirral OOSR indefinitely or until confirmed elsewhere in education. Agencies should actively co-operate with any request to assist with efforts to locate a child.

If a child cannot be located the Missing from Education Lead should share their evidence and concerns with the Safeguarding Unit to determine if a formal report to the Police should be issued, and the child be viewed as at risk of significant harm

The full procedure and Schools/Agency referral form is available from Education Social Work Service.

6. Guidance on how to consider whether it is appropriate to refer a case to Children's Specialist Services or to the police

When a child is absent from education, it is possible that this is due to other behaviour, associations or activity that puts them at risk of harm. This could be of their own choice or by the actions of another person or persons influencing their behaviour and choices. They could be the victims of abuse, neglect or crime, including sexual exploitation, forced marriage, trafficking, domestic servitude or abduction. It is important to recognise when young people are in situations where they are vulnerable and to take appropriate action. In any case where there is concern for a child's welfare this should be referred to Children's Specialist Services through IFD. If there is reason to suspect a crime has been committed, the police should also be involved, Where there is genuine concern that young person's safety and/or well-being is at risk, it is essential to take action quickly, as delays can see problems escalate, and also hamper an effective investigation of the circumstances in which the child is living. To ascertain whether it is appropriate to make a referral to Children's Specialist Services and/or the police, a number of issues should be considered, listed below.

  • Have there been suspicions in the past concerning this child and family members, which together with any sudden disappearance from education provision are worrying?
  • Have there been any past concerns about the child associating with significantly older young people or adults? For example, are they picked up from school by older males in cars who are not related to them?
  • Was there a significant incident prior to the child's unexplained absence from education provision?
  • Is the child/young person the subject of a Child Protection Plan or has there been past involvement with Children's Specialist Services about matters of child protection concern?
  • Is the child/young person Looked After by a local authority?
  • Is there current Children's Specialist Services involvement with this child or one of their siblings and their parents, fathers as well as mothers?
  • Is there a history of mobility without full explanations as to why?
  • Are there issues raised by the child or by their family's immigration or asylum status?
  • Has there been school or local authority intervention in relation to attendance, e.g. visits by Education Welfare Service, parenting contracts and fast-track to attendance?
  • Is there a good reason to believe that the child's absence may be the result of them being the victim of a crime? The following questions could assist a judgement:
    • Is the child's absence from school very sudden, out of character, and without any satisfactory explanation being provided by their family or carer?
    • Has the child/young person said something to give rise to concern?
    • Has the child/young person gone missing with their family?
    • Has the child/young person gone missing without their family?
    • Is there any reason related to the child's ethnicity or culture to believe that the child/young person is at risk of harm?

Getting answers to these questions could involve talking to the child's friends at school, or making enquiries of neighbours of the child's home.

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, then a referral to Children's Specialist Services and/or the police should be made.

7. Children in Care

Children in care depend on the local authority to act as their 'corporate parent'. Wirral Council will ensure that children in their care have their needs assessed to ensure that they receive appropriate services and support. They will have the same interest in the progress and attainments of children in care as a reasonable parent would have for their own children. It recognises that provision of the most suitable placement based on the needs of the individual child is likely to be the most effective way of minimising the likelihood that a child or young person would be motivated to run away. However, given the vulnerability of some individual children in care, it may be necessary to take additional measures to ensure that they are effectively safeguarded and protected from exploitation.

See also Section 21, Return of Children in Care.

8. Prevention Planning

Prior to each accommodation arrangement social workers must consider the following within the care planning process:

  • A clear placement plan which is accessible to the police if a young person goes missing;
  • A risk assessment of the potential for the young person to go missing or run away, and the level of risk faced by them if they do (see further information in Section 9, Risk Assessment below);
  • When young people are placed outside Wirral, and have frequent missing incidents, then this information should be passed to the host authority, along with specific details of the young persons arrangements.

9. Risk Assessment

  • Any child in care who has a history of missing episodes, or is beginning to go missing, should have a Risk Assessment completed (see Appendix 2: Risk Assessment Guidelines). The child's key worker has the responsibility for producing the Risk Assessment;
  • The key social worker must ensure that all carers and the child/young person are involved in completing the Risk Assessment;
  • This Risk Assessment should specify what the concerns are/may be and the proposed plan;
  • A copy of the Risk Assessment should be held by the carers and kept on the child's file;
  • This Risk Assessment should be regularly reviewed;
  • The Risk Assessment should specify when to notify a formal missing episode.

10. Photographs

Should a child/ young person go missing it is vital to the safe recovery of the child that a recent photograph of the child is made available. The photograph must be a good likeness of the child/young person, and the date the photograph was taken should be endorsed on the back of it to identify its relevance to the enquiry. The photograph will be used by the police to help them identify the child or young person whilst conducting enquiries. In very serious cases, where the child is believed to be at severe risk, the police and local authority may decide to use the photograph more widely, including publishing the photograph to national or local media, and circulation on the Police / ICMEC Missing Kids website.

On admission to care, the consent of a person with Parental Responsibility will be sought for a photograph to be used in any subsequent missing person investigation. If possible the consent of the child/ young person should be gained.

11. Reporting

There needs to be care in not reporting children in care as missing unnecessarily and all need to be aware of the following distinctions:

11.1 Unauthorised absence from placement

The child/young person has not returned at the agreed time. This must not be automatically reported as missing. The placement plan and Risk Assessment must identify what the risks are for the young person, and at what stage it would be necessary to report as missing. This must be done on an individual basis. Generally, if a young person is late but you know where he/she is which presents no significant risks, he/she should not be reported as missing from care.

11.2 Missing from Care

The child/young person is known to be at risk from clearly identified factors which have been outlined in the placement plan and Risk Assessment. It is therefore imperative that there is a quick and co-ordinated response when they are defined formally as missing.

When a child or young person appears to be missing from a residential unit, in addition to following their internal procedures and before notifying the police, staff should:

  • Ensure they have thoroughly searched the care establishment and its grounds to verify that the child is in fact absent;
  • Speak with other residents to obtain relevant information about the missing child;
  • Make all appropriate telephone enquiries about the whereabouts of the child. This will involve trying to contact the child themselves, friends, family, associates and appropriate locations. This should include pro-active efforts e.g. going out to search for the missing child at known locations/addresses;
  • Complete or obtain a copy of the missing persons Personal Descriptive Report Form and forward it to the police, together with the results of all the above enquiries;
  • If 'unauthorised absence' and reporting to the police state that is an 'unauthorised absence' and quote Altaris code 328.

12. Formal Notification of a Missing Episode

Where the Risk Assessment has identified that notification is required, the following action must then be taken by the foster carer/ residential establishment:

  • Report the person missing to the police. The police will collate all the information as detailed in the form in Appendix 3: Personal descriptive forms - to follow. Ensure that you have all the required information;
  • Notify the key Social Worker (or the Emergency Duty Team if out of hours).

The key social worker must notify the following:

  • The school;
  • Health via the LAC Nurses;
  • The Safeguarding Unit;
  • Notify the parent or person with Parental Responsibility (in some cases, it may be necessary to take a view as to whether this is in line with the child/young person's best interests).

13. Statutory Notifications to the Local Authority

For children in care, in addition to reporting to the police, where appropriate, there are requirements according to the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, Regulation 36(1) Schedule 7 and the Children's Homes Regulations 2001, as amended by the Children Homes Regulations 2011 Regulation 16(1) Schedule 5 to notify the placing authority for all missing children. In addition the placing authority must keep records of all missing children for reporting purposes to Ofsted and the local safeguarding board.

For staff in residential care, Part 1 of the 'Missing from Placement Notification' form (must be completed and where possible faxed to the child's social worker/EDT at the time of notification. For foster carers (and staff in residential homes that do not have access to a fax) the child's social worker/EDT will complete the information on a 'Missing from Placement Notification' form at the time of notification.

If the child's social worker has been informed about a missing child during the day and the child has not been located the 'Missing from Placement Notification' form must be FAXED to EDT at 5pm. In addition foster carers must complete the Schedule 7, Events and Notification form and return to the fostering service.

EDT and the child's social worker must fax all 'Missing from Placement Notification' forms and the fostering service Schedule 7, Events and Notification form to the Safeguarding Unit at the point of notification of an absence.

Notification when child is located

When the child is located the Part 1 and Part 2 of Missing from Placement Notification' form must be completed and faxed to EDT, the child's social worker, the fostering service and the Safeguarding Unit.

Recording of missing on ICS

When episodes are reported to social care for children missing they should be recorded as contacts on ICS as follows:

  • Reason for contact - 'missing';
  • Outcome - 'missing'.

When the child is located i.e. returned to placement, home or their whereabouts are known a contact must be recorded as follows:

  • Reason for contact - 'missing';
  • Outcome - 'located'.

For children in care include in the 'contact details' the name of the foster carer, or the name of the residential home

If the child/young person returns, all the above must also be formally notified.

If a child/young person is missing for 12 hours this must be reported to the Looked After Children Service Manager and the Safeguarding Unit if no reasonable contact can be made.

If a child/young person is missing for 2 days the Head of Children's Social Care and the Safeguarding Unit must be informed.

Children’s Social Care will liaise with the Police and other agencies to chair a Strategy Meeting to collate all information and agree further action. This must take place no later than three days after the missing episode began. All further action taken must be in line with the Merseyside Protocol.

14. Child with a Child Protection Plan

A child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan who is missing has already had a multi-agency meeting which agreed the child is at continuing risk of Significant Harm.

A Child Protection Plan has been agreed by the Child Protection Conference and developed by the Core Group members. This plan should state the expected level and nature of contact each agency should have with the child.

If any agency fails to make contact with a child as planned, attempts should be made to contact the child/family.

If no contact is achieved, the worker should seek advice from their named or designated Child Protection Lead or Team Manager as to what further attempts should be made.

The Lead Social Worker under the Child Protection Plan should be informed. The Lead Social Worker should then consult with the Quality Assurance Service Manager who will decide, based on the assessed risk and concerns about the lack of contact, whether the child should be classed as missing.

If classed as missing the Quality Assurance Service Manager will advise the Lead Social Worker to report to the Police and will issue a national alert to all Local Authorities, Health and Education. If there is a risk of flight out of the UK, the Police should also alert ports, airports and the passport office.

The Lead Social Worker must alert all members of the Core Group.

A Strategy Meeting should be held and chaired by a Team Manager within three days of the decision to class the child/young person as missing, this meeting should be used to collate the information and decide what action should be taken when the child/young person is found.

15. Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Trafficked Children

These children are a very vulnerable group. It is essential that once contacted by the police or immigration service and a child is to be accommodated, that efforts are made to determine the child/young person's language, and an interview arranged with an interpreter in a safe place:

For further information about how to respond see the Safeguarding Children from Abroad Including Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and Trafficked Children Procedure.

It may that a child in this group has been trafficked into the country, with risk of exposure to unsafe work and sexual exploitation and so could go missing shortly after being accommodated if he/she is located or has to meet others as part of the trafficking arrangement, and the child/young person believes that a failure to meet a person or group in this country places their family at risk at home.

It is essential that children and young people in this group are reported missing to the police immediately, and a missing from care Strategy Meeting held chaired by a Team Manager from Children’s Social Care to ensure that appropriate efforts are made to locate the child/young person.

16. Children Taken Overseas

If it is suspected that a child about whom there are outstanding concerns regarding his/her safety or welfare has been taken out of the United Kingdom in order to evade the involvement of agencies with safeguarding responsibilities, the Police Family Crime and Investigation Unit and the Safeguarding Unit will consult and agree actions to be taken and by which agency.

17. Forced Marriage

Some young people run away because they are at risk of abuse. Forced marriage in particular can lead to young women running away from home.

Further guidance and information can be found at: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

18. Notifications from Other Local Authorities

Where another Local Authority has issued a missing alert for either a child in care or a child with a Child Protection Plan, this alert is sent to the Quality Assurance Service Manager at the Safeguarding Unit.

The Safeguarding Unit will enter the information on the Liquidlogic system and will formally notify Health and Education. No agency is expected to pro-actively look for the child/young person unless there is information that the child/family may be in the Wirral area.

If a child is located in Wirral, the police must be notified and consultation should take place between the police, Wirral Safeguarding Unit and the home Local Authority as to action to ensure the immediate safety of the child/young person, and arrangements for return. Responsibility for making safeguarding enquiries rests with the local authority in which the child is found.

19. Longer or Significant Absences - All Children

Children’s Specialist Services (Children’s Social Care) will convene a 'Professionals (Strategy) Meeting' after a child has been missing for seven days, or earlier if following a discussion with a Group Manager the child is considered to be at high risk.

Further meetings to review the situation will be called as required.

The case will remain open and allocated to a social worker whilst the child/young person is missing.

The police area co-ordinator will pro-actively co-ordinate the management of the case and the PNC missing report will be renewed periodically. The police missing person's file will remain live until the person is traced.

20. Management of Return

When a child returns, it is important that they are responded to in a non-judgemental, supportive manner which aims to identify with them why the episode happened, and what support he/she may need to prevent a further episode happening. If a child is known to a number of agencies, it is important to agree who talks to the child, so they are not repeatedly spoken to.

If any information is gathered during the course of enquiries which indicates that a child or young person will be at risk on their return home, the police and Children's Specialist Services must be informed.

When a child or young person returns or is located, the police will attend as soon as possible or within 24 hours. The police  will establish that the child is safe and well, and ensure as far as possible that it is safe for them to return home. The police will notify other agencies as appropriate and the missing person report will be cancelled within  two hours.

The WSCB commissions Catch-22 to deliver the Missing from Home/ Care contract. The catch-22 service works with young people 10 to 18-years-old across the Wirral who are missing from home or care.

The service works alongside young people, their families and the police to find out what has caused them to run away and prevent them from running away again in the future.

Help is provided for young people who have run away who are at risk of:

  • Becoming involved in crime to survive, from stealing to criminal gang involvement;
  • Sexual exploitation and abuse;
  • Drug and alcohol misuse;
  • Mental and sexual health issues;
  • Exclusion from school and failure to meet educational milestones.

After each missing episode, a face-to-face interview with the young person is conducted after 48 hours, during which a needs-assessment is conducted.

Specific additional support is also provided for those children and young people who are at risk of sexual exploitation.

When a child or young person is reported as missing to the Police, the Police will make a referral to Catch-22 if the child or young person is missing for 24 hours or overnight.

Catch-22 offer an independent interview to the young person within 72 hours of their return, and short term support will be provided for one month. Catch-22 will make an assessment of the risk and the circumstances that lead to the young person running away. Information will be shared with Children's Specialist Services and outcomes will be agreed. The young person may decline the offer of an interview.

Catch-22 also offer interviews to young people who are in care and/or have a Child Protection Plan. In these cases, consultation should take place with the child's social worker as to who is most appropriate to undertake the interview.

21. Return of Children in Care

Where a child in care has gone missing from their placements, the Care Plan must be amended at the statutory review to address the reasons why the child was absent and include a strategy to prevent re-occurrence should the child go missing in future. The police and other relevant agencies should be given the opportunity to contribute to the review, in particular to indicate whether they have any concerns about the quality of care provided to the child and whether this could have influenced the child's decision to run away. As with all other statutory reviews, the child's parents should usually be included in this meeting.

Guidance: for example, where a child goes missing from their placement to have more contact with their family, then the review provides an opportunity to consider the child's views about how contact might be managed in future. Similarly, where there is evidence that a child is vulnerable to sexual exploitation, it may be necessary to convene a review to consider whether the placement is able to put in place a strategy to minimise any risk to the child, or whether it may be necessary to look for an alternative placement in order to keep the child safe.

A full account of the circumstances that led to a child in care running from their placement must be considered to avoid the child being returned to an abusive environment.

Where a young person in care runs away persistently and/or engage in other risky behaviour, such as frequently leaving their placement to associate with unfamiliar or inappropriate adults, the care provider, in consultation with the authority responsible for them, should convene a multi-agency risk management meeting, according to the locally agreed protocol. The purpose of this will be to develop a strategy with all relevant agencies for managing the identified risks to young people.

This strategy should be recorded in detail in the child's Care Plan.

The care provider must ensure that risk-management meetings take place regularly to review the strategy until the agencies concerned reach agreement that it has been effective in tackling the targeted concerns.

Where a child goes missing from a placement, a statutory review of their Care Plan can provide an opportunity to check that it addresses the reasons for an absence. The child’s Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) should convene a Review Meeting which will develop a strategy to minimise the repeat of a missing episode and identify any issues relating to the vulnerability of the child to Sexual Exploitation, trafficking or criminal or gang involvement.

22. Informing the Press

Any decision to inform the press or media will, unless urgent, be made in consultation with the Head of Branch and Strategic Service Managers in Children's Specialist Services and Senior Managers from other appropriate agencies, allowing for collaboration with parents/carers in appropriate circumstances

It is the responsibility of the Police to advise the media regarding a child or young person, missing from local authority accommodation, with close co-operation from the key agencies who have safety and welfare concerns. Unless considered urgent, this will be arranged at local level, by direction of the Area Commander (or nominee).

23. Recording

Throughout the process identified within this protocol a full report must be kept of all actions taken and messages received/given. In the case of a child absent without authority from a residential establishment, this will be made in their log book. In the case of a child missing from a foster placement the carer should record in their incident/events notepad.

24. Reporting

The Safeguarding Unit will collate data about children who go missing from their care placements and provide quarterly reports to select committee, the Lead.

Member for children's services and to Local Safeguarding Children's Board. These reports should also be made available to Ofsted during inspection or on request.

These reports will include:

  • The numbers of children who were missing from their care placements for more than 24 hours with details as to the child's needs and the circumstances in which they went missing;
  • Information about the measures being taken by the authority to safeguard children in care and reduce missing-from-care incidents.

Appendix 1: Useful Contacts

Wirral Safeguarding Unit 0151 666 4442
Children's Specialist Services - Integrated Front Door 0151 606 2008
Education Social Welfare Service 0151 637 6060
Lead Police Officer for Missing Children 0151 777 2995
Police Family Crime and Investigation Unit 0151 777 2683
Job Centre Plus 0845 600 8196
Child Benefit Office 08453 021 444
Foreign and Commonwealth Office 020 7008 1500
National Missing Persons Helpline 0500 700 700
UK Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) 0114 252 3891
Catch-22 Missing and Child Sexual Exploitation Service 0151 604 3617
0808 168 9698 (helpline)
Emergency Duty Team (EDT) 0151 677 6557

Appendix 2: Risk Assessment Guidelines

This is a guide to help carers and EDT determine whether a child should be viewed as missing from care or absent from placement. It is not prescriptive nor definitive, and if unclear, then the approach should be to report as missing from care.

All children and young people who are Looked After are vulnerable; these factors must be considered when assessing the level of risk for a child or young person who goes missing:

AGE - children 12 and under are particularly vulnerable

PATTERN OF BEHAVIOUR - is this a one-off or isolated incident, or is it a pattern of behaviour

PATTERN OF ABSENCE - is the child returning late from a planned return, or has the child left the placement; how long does the missing episode last; any overnight absences are of concern

FAMILY AND FRIENDS LINKS - is the child going to see family and friends without agreement; is there anything in these relationships which may compromise the child's safety

RISK BEHAVIOURS - does the carer know where the child has gone; are there grounds to believe that this places the child at risk of criminal or anti-social behaviour, alcohol or drug use, or sexual exploitation

CONTACT - can you contact the child e.g. by mobile phone; do they ring and let the carer know that they are OK but not returning

For children and young people for whom a missing pattern is evident, the attached risk assessment form must be completed, and reviewed on a regular basis. This must be shared with the child or young person.

All children in care should have summarised in their Placement Plans any clear degree of risk if they were to go missing, and what action should be taken. This should be shared with the child or young person.

Click here to view the Missing From Care Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan.

Appendix 3: Personal descriptive forms

Appendix 3: Personal descriptive forms - to follow.

Appendix 4: Merseyside Police Missing from Home/Care Form (Wirral)

Click here to view Appendix 4: Merseyside Police Missing from Home/Care Form (Wirral).

Appendix 5: The legal framework

  • The law does not generally regard young people under the age of 16 as being able to live independently away from home;
  • Where a child/young person under 16 (or 18 if disabled) stays with a person (other than a person with Parental Responsibility or a close relative), for 28 days or more, the person caring for them is acting as a 'private foster carer' within the meaning of s66 of the Children Act 1989 and therefore they must notify the local authority that they are privately fostering the child/young person. 'Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005' SI 2005/1533. Failure to notify the local authority may be an offence;
  • Anyone who has care of a child without Parental Responsibility may do what is reasonable in all the circumstances to safeguard and promote the child's welfare (Children Act 1989 s3 (5)). It is likely to be 'reasonable' to inform the police, or children's services departments, and, if appropriate, their parents, of the child/young person's safety and whereabouts;
  • Anyone who 'takes or detains' a runaway under 16 without lawful authority may be prosecuted under s2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984. The enforcement of this provision might be problematic, however, if the young person has chosen to stay with another adult of his or her own free will;
  • Where a young person who has run away is likely to be a Child in Need within the meaning of s17 of the Children Act 1989, the local authority should consider whether it should provide any services for the child, and in particular, whether the child meets the criteria in s20(1) of the 1989 for accommodation. This will almost always entail undertaking at least an Social Work Assessment of Needs and Strengths in accordance with the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families and, in most cases, a full Social Work Assessment of Needs and Strengths will be required;
  • If the local authority has reasonable cause to suspect the child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, they should also undertake appropriate enquiries to enable them to decide what, if any, action they should take to safeguard or promote the child's welfare. Those enquiries must be started as soon as possible and in any event within 48 hours;
  • A court may make a Recovery Order concerning a child who is the subject of a Care Order or an Emergency Protection Order; or who is the subject of the exercise of powers of Police Protection under s46 of the Children Act 1989 if there are grounds to believe that he has been unlawfully taken away from the person responsible for his care, or if he has run away or has been missing from care (s50 of the Children Act 1989). The Order acts as a direction for the child to be produced or for disclosure of his whereabouts. It also has the effect of permitting a police officer to enter named premises to search for the child using reasonable force if necessary;
  • A person who unlawfully removes, keeps away, assists or otherwise encourages a child to run away or stay away from their care placement may be guilty of an offence and liable to prosecution (s49 of the Children Act 1989.)

Appendix 6: Guidance for foster carers and residential care workers

For children in care within residential homes and with foster carers, the child / young person may have an agreed time of return. There may be a number of reasons why a child/young person fails to return. For example, they may be pushing existing boundaries. As such, the child/young person is not officially missing at that time and it is expected that time will be given for them to return.

When considering whether to report a child/young person missing or whether this as an unauthorised absence, it is expected that the response will be that of a normal parent.

Such a parent thinks about what to do having regard to a number of factors. Some of these factors would be:

  • Knowledge of the young person;
  • Health issues, e.g. asthma, diabetes, disability, self-harm;
  • Age and understanding of the young person;
  • Whereabouts (known or suspected);
  • Previous history / patterns;
  • Whether the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  • Whether the child is alone or with others;
  • Knowledge of the other children / young people the individual is with;
  • What checks and enquiries have been and can be made;
  • Pro active efforts made to locate the child at known addresses/locations.

Taking such factors into consideration a decision can be made as to a reasonable time to report a young person as missing, or to consider the absence as unauthorised. Most parents wait a while before doing anything,' they wait and see'. Then, they normally search for the child/young person, either by phoning various people or actually going out to look. Clearly, for some children/young persons in care there may be overarching reasons why such a normal process should not be entered into. There may be something in the Care Plan, which advises an alternative course of action, for example when a child/young person is in breach of bail conditions and the Police wish to be informed immediately. However, these should be the exception. These actions should be taken if at all possible by whoever is caring for the child/young person.

Basic information should be completed on the notification form then be provided to the Police. Consideration should be given to the locality of the Police station to the home address, and a decision may be made to personally hand in the form. At this point, a discussion should take place between the Police and the carer regarding any action to be undertaken and agreed (e.g. whether or not it is feasible / safe / reasonable for the carer or to conduct further searches, or who takes on this responsibility).

In relation to children / young people who are consistently going missing or absence is unauthorised, it is expected that a strategy / planning meeting should be set up to address any issues specifically relating to that young person and be attended by the carer.

This is also true when there are specific concerns regarding a young person where there are concerns relating to their absence. Issues such as sexual exploitation should be considered and the protocol followed where appropriate.

The carer should carefully log the episode in the manor prescribed within procedures detailing actions taken by the carer throughout the period in question and following the child/young person's return.

The carer must also notify the following people:

  • EDT;
  • An agreed named person identified with Parental Responsibility (this may be undertaken either by the carer or by the Social Worker/ EDT) as agreed with the parent / carer with Parental Responsibility at the admission meeting;
  • The allocated Social Worker (within office hours) - the Social Worker will be notified by EDT, from their record of notification and any involvement. It is however, good practice for the carer to contact the allocated worker on the next working day, and in their absence, should speak to their line manager.

Other issues for consideration are as follows:

  • If a child/ young person in a Residential Home goes missing, or it is suspected that s/he may go missing during the daytime, (revert to the above checklist) or as part of a previously agreed plan, it may be necessary for staff on the morning shift to make a record of what the young person was wearing when s/he left the home to enable the afternoon staff to give best quality information to the Police, should this become necessary;
  • The Police should see the young person on each and every occasion a young person returns from being missing;
  • All efforts must be made to find out the reason why the young person failed to return at the agreed time. This may be an issue for the young person's Social Worker as the young person may well be running away from problems at the home;
  • During the course of the placement, ordinary photographs should be taken with the expectation that these may be used to supply to the Police in the event of a child going missing (see Section 10, Photographs);
  • Carers should have a copy of the Risk Assessment completed by the child/young person' social worker upon placement which will assist in the overall issue of information gathering;
  • A personal descriptive form should be completed when a child/young person is placed into care which can be used in the reporting process to the Police.

Appendix 7: Flow diagram Missing from Home Address

Click here to view Appendix 7: Flow diagram Missing from Home Address.

Appendix 8: Flow diagram Missing from Care

Appendix 8: Flow diagram Missing from Care.

Appendix 9: Notification to Placing Authority

Click here to view Appendix 9: Notification to Placing Authority.

Appendix 10: Schedule 7 Events And Notifications

Click here to view Appendix 10: Schedule 7 Events And Notifications.