15.6.6 Joint Policy for Children Missing
This policy was last reviewed in Feb 2023
Date of next review feb 2025
Brighton and Hove
Please scroll down to 'Working with Adolescents' and 'Missing'
- Introduction(Jump to)
- Definitions(Jump to)
- Scope(Jump to)
- Vulnerabilities and risks when children are missing(Jump to)
- Recording(Jump to)
- Risk Assessment - Planning before the Event(Jump to)
- Planning before the Event - for Children in Care(Jump to)
- Response(Jump to)
- Response when a child is missing from Care(Jump to)
- Children in Care who go Missing during External Activity of a Residential Home(Jump to)
- Information to be made available(Jump to)
- Police Powers(Jump to)
- Children who go missing abroad(Jump to)
- Longer Absences(Jump to)
- The Return(Jump to)
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.
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):
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:
Children who go missing from home
Children within this group are composed of:
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:
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:
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:
If appropriate, the child should have this policy explained to them to understand what actions will be taken if they go missing.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Information to be made available
The following procedure should be carried out when reporting a missing child.
Before contacting Sussex Police consider
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.
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.
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 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.