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8.32.3 Reporting All Children who Go Missing

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This procedure supplements the more detailed guidance contained in the Joint Policy for Children Missing in Sussex, and is designed to outline the action to be taken when a child goes missing from any setting.

The Joint Policy should be referred to for further details of:

  • Risk assessment and planning before a child goes missing;
  • Planning to address incidents of specific concern;
  • How to respond to longer absences;
  • Police powers.



Where the procedure refers to 'child' or 'children' these terms include young people under the age of 18 years.

Missing Person

Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located, and their well-being confirmed.

All reports of missing children sit within a continuum of risk. The police use four ‘risk based’ categories of missing:

High: The risk of serious harm to the subject (child) or the public is assessed as very likely.

Medium: The risk of harm to the subject (child) or the public is as assessed as likely but not serious, or there is a low chance of serious harm

Low: The risk of harm to the subject (child) or the public is assessed as possible but minimal.

No Apparent Risk (absent): There is no apparent risk of harm to either the subject (child) or the public.

Missing Child

Where the child's location or reason for missing is unknown and/or there is cause for concern for the child because of their vulnerability or there is a potential danger to the public. A child in this category must be reported to the Police.


Children who become lost

Children who because of their age or due to a degree of intellectual impairment become separated from their carers, become temporarily disorientated and become missing as a result and would wish to be found. This is clearly very frightening and upsetting for all involved


The responsibility for responding to reports of children who go missing and undertaking enquires to locate them and ensure their return to a safe caring environment lies with the police.

Anyone may report a child as missing to the police; they do not have to be a parent, carer, or other relative. Any report of a missing child must be recorded by the police area receiving the report.

When a child or young person is missing from home or has become separated from their parents/carers, the priority must be to ensure the immediate safety of the child by finding them and returning them to their parents or carers, providing this does not place any child at greater risk of significant harm.

Where any professional becomes aware that a child is missing from home, and it appears that the child's parent or carer has not reported the matter to the police, they must themselves report the child as missing to the police.

In addition, professionals should always consider the potential safeguarding issues surrounding children who may either have been lost or missing, and whether these indicate a child has or is suffering abuse or neglect.  Where appropriate, a referral should be made to children's social care.

Details of all children who go missing should routinely be passed to children's social care by the police, in order that any safeguarding issues can be considered.

Information to be made Available

The police are entitled to expect that parents and care providers take reasonable steps to locate a missing person prior to making a report to the police.If there are genuine concerns as to the child’s immediate safety it will always be appropriate to report the matter to Sussex Police and this should be done without delay.

The following procedure should be carried out when reporting a missing child.

1. Before contacting Sussex Police consider sections 2) and 3) below

2. What is the specific concern regarding the circumstances? I.e. are there specific risk factors associated with the child OR are there no apparent risk factors and the child is likely to return home within a short period?

3. What action can be taken to resolve the situation prior to contacting the Police? 

  1. Is there a means of contacting the child (e.g. phone) – and has this been attempted?
  2. Is the child suspected to be at a known location? Can this be verified by phoning or visiting the location?
  3. If appropriate has the child’s social worker, key worker or EDT been contacted for assistance with the situation.
  4. Has all relevant information been gathered to provide to the Police if necessary?

4. Prior to contacting the Police, the following information should be collected in order to assist with

  1. Places the child is known to frequent?
  2. People the child is likely to be in company with?
  3. Current description: clothing worn, hair colour and style etc.
  4. Access to travel: student rail card, oyster card, bus pass etc.
  5. Whether the child has access to money
  6. Details of the child’s care plan relevant to the circumstances?
  7. Details of social worker or other significant key worker?
  8. Knowledge of any previous missing incidents?

5. If unable to resolve, or there is an identified risk, a report should be made to either the Police Contact Centre via 101 or if there is any immediate risk to life or serious harm call 999

6.  The Police call handler will then take the details of the missing child and complete a risk assessment. The outcome of the risk assessment will determine the Police response.

  1. If the missing child is deemed as High, medium or low risk the Police will attend, take further details and commence search activity. In the event the child is located and returned a safe and well check (prevention interview) will be completed by the Police.
  2. If the child is deemed as No Apparent Risk ‘absent’, the Police will not attend but instead a agree a time to review circumstances with the parent/carer. The parent/carer will be expected to continue activity to trace the child. If the missing child is located or returned no Police safe and well check will be carried out. If circumstances change which could indicate a child be reassessed as low/medium/high risk, the process outlined in section 6.a. will then be followed.

Informing the Media

The police are responsible for advising the media regarding children missing from home. Decisions to publicise will always be made in consultation with the parents or carers

The Return

The child should be given the opportunity to talk to someone independent of their family about their absence. In some instances this person could be a police officer. It may be however that the child would prefer to speak to a social worker or to an independent agency. When a child has been missing on more than one occasion, the return interview should always be conducted separately from the child's parents/carers.

Where an allegation of physical or sexual abuse is made or becomes evident, child protection procedures must be implemented and contact made immediately with the Safeguarding Investigations Unit or a referral made to children's social care.

If there is any suggestion that the child has been a victim or perpetrator of crime, consideration must be given to the securing evidence by police including by forensic examination. This should also include securing clothing and delaying washing/bathing in relevant cases. It must be remembered that all necessary permissions must be obtained from the child's parents and/or those with parental responsibility. It is essential to recognise that the welfare of the child is paramount and careful consideration must be given to the potential effects of such procedures on the child.

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This page is correct as printed on Friday 15th of January 2021 06:42:00 PM please refer back to this website ( for updates.