15.6.7 Children and families who go missing

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Last reviewed in Feb 2023

Date of next review Feb 2025



These procedures apply if a child in the following circumstances goes missing or cannot be traced:

  • A child who has a child protection referral or Section 47 Enquiry;
  • A child who has a Child Protection Plan who goes missing or is removed from their address outside the terms of the Child Protection Plan;
  • Any child known to a statutory agency who goes missing in suspicious circumstances or about whom there are concerns - e.g. one who is subject to an Assessment where there are developing concerns about their safety.

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

  • An expectant person
  •  when there are concerns about the welfare of the child following birth;
  • A family where there are concerns about the welfare of the child because of the presence of an individual who poses a risk to children or other person suspected of previously harming a child.

Recognition and Referral

Professionals in local agencies should be alert to the possibility that an expectant person/family missing appointments or repeatedly being unavailable for home visits may indicate that a child or unborn child is at risk of, or is experiencing, Significant Harm.

Professionals should take reasonable steps to reassure themselves as soon as possible that an expectant person/family is not missing or their whereabouts are unknown.

Professionals should involve all the agencies with current or recent contact with the expectant person/family to assess the child's or unborn child's vulnerability.

Professionals should consider questions such as:

  • Is the expectant person under 18, do they have a Child Protection Plan and/or a Looked After Child (child in care)?
  • Is there good reason to believe that the expectant person/family may be the victim of a crime?
  • Has there been a Pre-birth Conference for the child and is the unborn child subject to a pre-birth child protection assessment?
  • Are any of the children the subject of Child Protection Plans?
  • Is the family currently subject to a Section 47 Enquiry?
  • Is there a person present in the household or visiting the expectant person with previous convictions for an offence against children, or other people who pose a risk of harm to children?

Is it clear that the expectant person/family is missing/whereabouts unknown?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, or an agency reaches the judgement that a child or unborn child is at risk of Significant Harm in line with, a referral should be made to Children's Social Care in line with the Making a Referral Procedure and, in the case of missing person's whose whereabouts are unknown, the Police Missing Person's Unit.

If the expectant person is a child, then the Joint Policy for Children Missing should be followed.

Immediate Action

The Head of Children's Safeguarding must be informed if a child subject of a Child Protection Plan or an unborn child subject of a pre-birth Child Protection Plan goes missing.

Children's Social Care, the Safeguarding Investigations Unit and Police MASH and Missing Person's Unit and Health should exchange information and work together.

Children's Social Care must complete the assessment of risk to the child / unborn child, and of their needs. The assessment will require Children's Social Care to engage with all the agencies that have current or recent involvement with the child or expectant person/family. Existing records in these agencies must be checked to obtain any information which may help to trace the expectant person/family (e.g. details of friends and relatives), and this information should be passed to the police officer undertaking enquiries to trace the expectant person.

Children's Social Care should consider whether to notify members of the missing expectant person/family's extended family and if so, how.

Strategy Discussion

If following the above steps, the expectant person/family has not been traced, a Strategy Discussion should be convened at the earliest opportunity, within a maximum of three working days

The Strategy Discussion should consider whether the details of the expectant person/family should be circulated to other local authorities and local Safeguarding Partnership Boards.

The Strategy Discussion should also consider whether other agencies could be notified (e.g. designated nurses in Integrated Care Boards) can be notified in writing, and they may circulate details to neighbouring maternity units and health visiting teams).

When the Expectant Person/Family is Found

When an expectant person/family is found, the Police must be informed so that they can cancel the missing person report.

When an expectant person/family is found, there should, if practicable, be a Strategy Discussion between previously involved agencies within one working day, to consider:

  • Immediate safety issues;
  • Whether to instigate a Section 47 Enquiry and any police investigation;
  • Who will interview the expectant person/family;
  • Who needs to be informed of the expectant person/family being found (locally and nationally).

Any expectant child who is found following a missing episode should, regardless of whether they are believed to have suffered Significant Harm, be interviewed by a social worker, alternative trusted professional, and/or the Police. This interview should provide a safe opportunity for the child to discuss any concerns regarding their care, including if they chose to run away from an abusive situation.

If the expectant  child indicates a wish to be interviewed by an alternative professional, all reasonable efforts must be made to accommodate the child's wishes.

If the expectant  child has been found in a different local authority area and is not likely to return, representatives of the 'receiving' local authority must be involved in the Strategy Discussion and the transfer of responsibility for and/or services to the child and family must be discussed.

This page is correct as printed on Thursday 18th of April 2024 02:21:50 AM please refer back to this website (http://sussexchildprotection.procedures.org.uk) for updates.