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8.32.4 Reporting Children who Go Missing from Care

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This policy is currently under review - May 2020

Note that the police have adopted a revised definition of 'missing' with effect from 2013 - seeInterim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (ACPO, 2013), which should be read in conjunction with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2010).


Revised Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing From Home or Care


In September 2014 a link to the Revised Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing From Home or Care was added.



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 care.

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

  • Risk assessment and planning before a child in care goes missing;
  • Planning to address incidents of specific concern;
  • How to respond to longer absences;
  • Children in care who go missing during an external activity of a residential home;
  • 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 absence 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

Looked After Children

The term "looked after children" has a specific legal meaning deriving from Children Act 1989. Under the Children Act 1989 a child is "looked after" if he or she is:

  1. Provided with accommodation for a continuous period of more than 24 hours ( Children Act 1989, Section 20 and 21 ); or
  2. Is subject to a Care Order ( Children Act 1989, Part 1V ).

No Apparent Risk (Absent)

There is no apparent risk of harm to either the subject (child) or the public.

Clearly some children absent themselves for a short period and then return and their whereabouts are known. Sometimes children stay out longer than agreed, either on purpose or accidentally, and may be testing boundaries. Children who make telephone contact and agree a time to return, but subsequently fail to do could also fall within this definition.

This kind of boundary testing is within the range of normal teenage behaviour and not necessarily considered a risk, although a more general response such as additional parenting support and advice may be helpful as behaviour of this nature may fall within the wider safeguarding remit for services.


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 no 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.

Children's Social Care staff will be expected to help the police in finding the child and to work cooperatively with police during any enquiry.

Even after reporting a child missing, staff should recognise that Children's Social Care are responsible for children in their care at all times, and this responsibility remains after they have reported a child missing to the police.

When a child or young person is missing from home or has become detached from their social care staff/foster carers, the priority must be ensuring the immediate safety of the child by finding them and returning them to social care staff/foster carers, providing this does not place any child at greater risk of Significant Harm.

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.

Notification of Absence for a Child in Care

When a member of children's home staff or a foster carer realise that a child is missing from their care they should consider which definition the absence falls within. Support and advice in making this decision will be available from the LA Children's Social Care Department responsible for the child or from the responsible out-of-hours service.

If the absence is considered to fall with the definition of missing, foster carers or residential staff must without delay inform:

  • The police;
  • The parents and those who have Parental Responsibility (the decision of when to inform parents/those with Parental Responsibility must be made in consultation with a team manager);
  • The social worker or the accountable team manager;
  • The emergency duty service if out of hours and the social worker and accountable team manager the next working day.

If the child is considered to fall within the definition of absent, the decision to record the child as such, together with the evidence supporting that decision must be recorded.

Details of children who are no apparent risk should still be notified to the Police in order that a record of the child's missing can be made, and agreement reached on what needs to be done, and who will do what. Although there is an expectation that residential staff and foster carers should continue to make reasonable enquiries to locate the child, it may also be appropriate for the Police to initiate some enquiries as well.

Residential staff and foster carers should continue to regularly review the circumstances in the light of any enquiries made or information received, and inform the Police of any developments. If the period of no apparent risk continues for six hours, consideration should be given as to whether the child should still be regarded as no apparent risk, or whether they should now be escalated to a higher level of risk. Six hours should be regarded as the maximum period before reconsideration, and in many cases a shorter period would be more appropriate.

Any case of an absent child which causes significant concern, or gives rise to the suspicion of harm, should be brought to the attention of the accountable team manager from the authority responsible for the child's care.

Informing the Media

The Police are responsible for advising the media regarding children missing from local authority care, however decisions to publicise will always be made in consultation with Children's Social Care who will consult the parents and/or foster carers.

The Return

The child should be given the opportunity to talk to someone independent of their family or of their placement 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

The accountable manager in the authority responsible for the child's care should ensure that an independent return interview is arranged. If there are concerns that the child ran away as a result of circumstances relating to their family or to their placement then this interview would need to take place prior to the child's return. Otherwise this should take place within 72 hours of his/her return from absence.

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 and the child protection service at the authority where the child is living if the child is in care and placed in another authority.

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.

Carers, police, social workers and any other persons informed of the child's absence, should be advised of the child's return without delay.

For a child in care, the social worker and line manager should decide in consultation with residential staff/foster carer, the Independent Reviewing Officer and the child, whether they should convene a statutory review of the child's care plan

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This page is correct as printed on Wednesday 27th of January 2021 09:09:33 AM please refer back to this website ( for updates.