15.6.6 Joint Policy for Children Missing

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This policy was last reviewed in Feb 2023

Date of next review feb 2025


Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care


Brighton and Hove 

Please scroll down to 'Working with Adolescents' and 'Missing'

West Sussex 

Practice Guidance - Missing

Timeline guide for when young people go missing

East Sussex

Local arrangements for children missing in East Sussex




Children who are missing are at risk. The reasons for their absence are varied and complex and cannot be viewed in isolation from their home circumstances.

Professionals must collaborate to ensure a consistent and coherent response is given to the child on their return and that parents and carers are supported appropriately.

  • Missing child: a child reported as missing to the Police by their family or carers
  • Looked after child (child in care) : a child who is looked after by a Local Authority because of a care order, or being accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989
  • Responsible Local Authority: the Local Authority that is responsible for a looked after child's care and care planning
  • Host Local Authority: the Local Authority in which a looked after child is placed when placed out of the responsible Local Authority's area
  • Care leaver: an eligible, relevant or former relevant child as defined by the Children Act 1989
  • 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 is not known
  • Away from placement without authorisation: a looked after child whose whereabouts is known but who is not at their placement or place they are expected to be, and the carer has concerns, or the incident has been notified to the Local Authority or the Police

The Association of Chief Police Officers Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2013) uses the following definitions (as used by the Police):

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

Risk Classifications employed by the Police in missing person investigations

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

The Police use three 'risk-based' categories of missing:

  • High: The risk of 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 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, not minimal.


Children who go missing from home

Children within this group are composed of:

  • Those who are 'not known' in the sense that although they will be known to a universal service such as school or a GP there has not been previous contact with a targeted service
  • Children who are receiving additional support from a targeted service because they are assessed to be a Child in Need. Having been missing in the past may be one factor which results in them becoming a Child in Need;

Children who are on a Child Protection Plan either due to their increased vulnerability because they have been missing in the past or because there are other concerns relating to child protection.

Children who become lost

Children who, because of their age or learning difficulties/disabilities, become separated from their carers, become temporarily disorientated and become missing as a result and would wish to be found.

Children who make telephone contact and agree a time to return, but subsequently fail to do could also fall within this definition.

Children Remanded to Local Authority Accommodation

A small number of young people enter Care after being remanded to local authority accommodation (RLAA) by a Youth Court. A child who absconds from local authority accommodation when RLAA is unlawfully at large and has escaped from custody in legal terms. If a child who has been RLAA goes missing from a children's home or a foster placement, then procedures relating to escape from custody should be followed. The investigating officer will need to liaise with an appropriate officer in the areas' Youth Offending Team.

Children Placed in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Grounds

If a child absconds from secure accommodation, the usual missing person procedures would apply. When a child has a Secure Accommodation Order absconds, this is considered a 'significant event' that should be reported to Ofsted.

Absent from Education

Children who are absent from education may also be missing from home. See more Safeguarding children who are absent from education | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual

Missing from Local Authority care

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. This may be from any accommodation provided by the Local Authority including those placed out of county.

Vulnerabilities and risks when children are missing

Looked After Children (children in care)

Looked after children are particularly vulnerable when they go missing.  Local Authorities have a duty to place a looked after child in the most appropriate placement to safeguard the child and minimise the risk of the child running away. The Care Plan and the Placement Plan should include details of the arrangements that will need to be in place to keep the child safe and minimise the risk of the child going missing from their placement or home. The Care Plan and the Placement Plan must be clear on who will be responsible for completing Return Home Interviews with the child when they are found.


Going missing is a significant risk factor in relation to exploitation:

  • A child may go missing because they are being exploited;
  • A child's risk of being exploited might increase because they are missing and spend time with people who may seek to involve them in exploitation. The risk is heightened whilst missing because the protective factors of family or Care are not available to them.

Because there is such a strong link between children going missing and risk of exploitation, professionals should always assess whether a child who has gone missing is being exploited or at risk of being exploited.

Being drawn into offending behaviour

Children who go missing from Care, Home and Education also need safeguarding against the risk of being drawn into offending behaviour by gangs or organised crime groups.


Some of the children who Local Authorities look after may be unaccompanied asylum-seeking children or other migrant children. Some children in this group may have been trafficked into the UK and may remain under the influence of their traffickers even while they are looked after. Trafficked children are at high risk of going missing.  Unaccompanied migrant or asylum-seeking children, who go missing immediately after becoming looked after, should be treated as children who may be victims of trafficking. Children, who have been trafficked, may be exploited – Exploitation


Going missing is a risk factor in relation to radicalisation:

  • A child may go missing because they have already been radicalised;
  • A child's risk of being radicalised might increase because they are missing and spend time with people who may seek to involve them in radical/extreme activities. The risk is heightened whilst missing because the protective factors of family or care are not available to them.

Professionals should always assess whether a child who has gone missing is at risk of radicalisation Children and Young People Vulnerable to Violent Extremism



A full record of all actions taken and messages received and given must be kept by all agencies.

Risk Assessment - Planning before the Event

As far as possible, there should be an assessment or safety plan in advance of any child who is judged to be likely to go missing.

In these circumstances, there will be a safety planning meeting. Children's Services staff and Police will discuss associated risks of the child going missing. This discussion should be recorded in writing using the appropriate risk assessment tool.

In assessing the significance of a child's absence either before the event or once it has happened, the following should be borne in mind:

  • The age and level of understanding of the child
  • The legal status of the child
  • Previous behaviour patterns
  • The emotional needs of the child, e.g. whether there has been any variation in their mood or whether they have expressed any intention to harm themselves or others
  • Behaviour of the child as influenced by peer groups or others
  • Whether the child is perceived as running to someone/something or running from a situation/someone
  • The risk of offending
  • The risk of the child being targeted for exploitation
  • The legal implications of the child breaking any court order by absconding
  • The child's view.

If appropriate, the child should have this policy explained to them to understand what actions will be taken if they go missing.

Once a child has gone missing, both Children's Services and Police staff should avoid dismissing the potential significance of repeated periods of missing. Often such children are immediately labelled as 'the problem', and insufficient consideration is given to why they are persistently absconding. This needs to be explored, particularly at the Prevention Interview, conducted by Police and Return Home Interview conducted by Children Services. 

Planning before the Event - for Children in Care

In addition to the planning processes above, where there is a likelihood that a child in Care may go missing from their established placement the social care pre-incident assessment should be used to assess the likelihood that the child might go missing and the risk they may face as a consequence. Children's home and fostering service staff should contribute to this assessment. All information should be included in the placement plan and the child's care plan.

For children placed outside of the Local Authority area liaison must happen with the Local Authority where the child is placed. This should include copies of the risk management plan and details of how any Return Home Interview are to be conducted.

This assessment should include information on the following:

  • The likelihood of the child going missing
  • The child's view
  • The level of supervision /support that care staff propose to provide for the child
  • The views of Social Care staff/foster carers on their child needs and the action that needs to  be taken if the child is missing
  • The risk of harm to the child and their vulnerability if they are missing
  • Consideration of any external influences which may result in a child's removal without consent
  • The likelihood of the child being harboured.

Once again, the child should have this policy explained to them and the potential dangers that they may encounter so that they understand the implications of running away.


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.

When a child goes missing, parents, foster carers, residential homes and those with Parental Responsibility are expected to undertake measures to locate the missing child if safe to do so. Anyone else who has care of a child, including school, should also take reasonable steps to locate the child and ascertain their safety.

The Police should be informed without delay when a child goes missing. Before a child is reported missing the following actions should be undertaken:

  • Search bedroom/accommodation/outbuildings/vehicles
  • Contact known friends and relatives where child may be
  • Visit locations that the child is known to frequent, if it is possible.

If it comes to the attention of any agency that a child is missing, they must advise the parent/carer of their need to report this matter to the Police. They also need to inform the parent/carer of the agency's duty to ensure that the matter is reported to the Police and if necessary follow this up by contacting the Police to verify that the child has been reported missing.

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.

The consent of the person with Parental Responsibility will be sought for a photograph to be used in any subsequent missing person investigation.

The reporting of the child should include the details of the child as follows:

  • The child's name/s; date of birth; status; responsible Authority
  • Where, when and who missing with
  • What was the child wearing plus any belongings such as bags, phone etc.
  • Description and recent photo
  • Medical history, if relevant
  • Time and location last seen
  • Circumstances or events around going missing
  • Details of family, friends and associates
  • Updated risk assessment

If there is any suspicion that the child may be removed from UK jurisdiction, appropriate legal interventions should be considered, and Legal Services consulted about options, the Police should also be informed. It may also be appropriate to contact the Consular Directorate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which may follow up a case through their consular post in the country or countries concerned.

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.

If the child has a Child Protection Plan, the Lead Social Worker should regularly consult the Child Protection Conference Chair, and if the child is not found within 20 working days, the Child Protection Review Conference must be brought forward to consider whether any other action should be taken.  

A Strategy Discussion must be called, to which the Police and partners agencies are invited, at the earliest opportunity if there are concerns a child is at risk of significant harm.



Response when a child is missing from Care

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.

Please refer to 'Information to be made avaliable' below.

Where a child / young person in Care has been missing for more than 24 hours, a Strategy Discussion must be called to which the Police are invited. This should occur within 72 hours for low and medium risk cases and within 24 hours for high-risk cases. A judgement needs to be made regarding the timing concerning attendance by key professionals.

If the circumstances relating to a child / young person are particularly concerning an immediate Strategy Discussion should be convened. If the child / young person is found before the Strategy Discussion occurs, consideration must be given to the Strategy Discussion going ahead to consider the circumstances relating to the child / young person's missing episode.

The Strategy Discussion needs to consider the following:

  • Information relating to potential risk/harm
  • At what stage publicity will be sought (this needs to be agreed by Head of Service)
  • Information relating to possible locations
  • What contact has there been with child / young person
  • A clear strategy for finding the child / young person
  • Any additional specific information which should be passed.

The detailed police response to children who go missing is contained in the relevant Force policy and national guidance and is not repeated in this policy.

Children in Care who go Missing during External Activity of a Residential Home

If a child becomes absent outside their area, the carer in charge of the external activity or holiday will:

  • Arrange a search in the area where the child became absent
  • Notify the local Police for that area
  • Notify the child's parents or guardian (the decision of when to inform parents/those with Parental Responsibility must be made in consultation with a team manager)
  • Notify the child's social worker or the accountable team manager
  • Notify a senior manager at the home if relevant
  • Notify the Youth Justice Service if the Child or Young Person is on remand
  • Notify the emergency duty team if out of hours

Information to be made available

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

Before contacting Sussex Police consider

  • What is the specific concern regarding the circumstances? I.e. are there specific risk factors associated with the child?
  • What action can be taken to resolve the situation prior to contacting the Police?
  • Is there a means of contacting the child (e.g. phone) – and has this been attempted?
  • Is the child suspected to be at a known location? Can this be verified by phoning or visiting the location?
  • If appropriate has the child's social worker, key worker or EDT been contacted for assistance with the situation.
  • Has all relevant information been gathered to provide to the Police if necessary? 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 workers
  8. Knowledge of any previous missing incidents

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

 The Police contact officer 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.

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 Prevention Interview will be completed by the Police. 

Police Powers

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that the child could suffer Significant Harm the Police can take the child into Police Protection under the Children Act 1989, and placed in suitable accommodation which could include the home from which the child originally went missing. The Police are not given the power to use force to take children into Police Protection.

There will be occasions when a child is found in a location that may be considered unsuitable, but where there would not be legal grounds for taking them into Police Protection. In such cases, Police and the accountable manager from Children's social work will need to liaise to discuss who to best safeguard the child's welfare.  This should involve consideration of possible offences being committed under the Child Abduction Act 1984.

Any child unlawfully at large from a secure unit or penal establishment may be liable to arrest and returned by Police.

Children who go missing abroad

Any reports of missing children overseas will, in the first instance, be investigated by the relevant agency within the country where they went missing.

If the matter is reported to an agency within Sussex, as with any other missing child the Police should be informed. The Police may decide to commence their own enquiries and/or investigation.

Should it be necessary for the UK investigators to liaise directly with their overseas counterparts, or if there is a need to visit the country conducting the enquiries is identified, the first approach should be made through the Interpol Bureau in Manchester. Interpol will then advise on the most appropriate approach to be made and through which channels.

Further guidance for the Police on this issue in contained within Force policy.

Longer Absences

A further Strategy Discussion should be convened if a child is missing for a longer period, and at least 72 hours.

The Head of Safeguarding and the Director of Children's Services in the area should be notified.

This meeting will review the action taken up to this point, and satisfy themselves that all possible steps are being taken to locate and return the child.

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 (Prevention Interview). It may be however that the child would prefer to speak to a social worker or to an independent agency (Return Interview).

When a child has been missing on more than one occasion, a Return Interview should always be conducted separately from the child's parents/carers.

An exception to this would be a child placed in an East Sussex County Council residential placement where the child has made a proactive choice to have their Return Home Interview completed by a residential keyworker as their trusted adult.

Return Home interviews are a key way to find out the risks children and young people have been exposed to when missing and listen to their concerns and demonstrate concern for their welfare. If the young person can engage with this, it may help prevent such situations arising in the future and may focus on the help the young person needs.

If there are concerns that the child ran away due to circumstances relating to their family or their placement, this interview would need to take place before the child's return. Otherwise, this should take place within 72 hours of their return from absence.

All completed Return Home Interviews should be shared with the police to inform their response to any future missing episodes. This is particularly important when there are concerns regarding exploitation.

Where an allegation of significant harm is made or becomes evident, child protection procedures must be implemented.

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

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 looked after child (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 Looked After Review of the child's Care Plan.

This page is correct as printed on Tuesday 16th of July 2024 06:42:24 AM please refer back to this website (http://sussexchildprotection.procedures.org.uk) for updates.