Missing Children and Young People Procedure and Guidance
Missing Flowchart – summarises the actions required when a child or young person is identified as missing
Unauthorised Absence Flowchart - summarises the actions required when a child or young person is missing but their location is known and there is no apparent risk to either the young person or the general public
AMENDMENTSection 2, Definitions was updated in March 2017 to include the revised College of Policing definitions of missing and absent.
This should be read in conjunction with the following Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership practice guidance:
- Children Who Run Away / Go Missing from Home or Care Procedure;
- Children and Families who go Missing (including Unborn Babies) Procedure.
Throughout the guidance 'child' is used to mean any child or young person under the age of 18, acknowledging that many of the children that go missing or run away are at the older end of this age range.
This guidance aims to explain the processes to be followed by social workers, and other practitioners in relation to missing children. Often (for example, in Child Protection and Looked After Children cases) the practitioner will be a social worker, though in some Child in Need cases the practitioner may be a community support worker or a personal advisor. The term social worker is used throughout with the acknowledgement that sometimes other workers may be the key worker in such cases.
Going missing or running away is a dangerous activity that puts children at risk. An explanation of the risks associated with running away / going missing is contained in the Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership practice guidance above. So too is information on why children go missing (push and pull factors) and some specific circumstances in which children go missing (child abduction, forced marriage and honour based violence, child trafficking, grooming for sexual exploitation and the impact of technology).
The same basic principles apply for children who are Looked After, children who are subject to Child Protection Plans and children who are 'In Need' and receiving social work support, although where different / specific action is needed it is identified in the guidance. This guidance is for Children's Social Care and does not apply for children who go missing who do not fall into the above categories and are not receiving social work support. The Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership multi-agency guidance above covers this group. It should be noted though that when children go missing from home it may indicate a need for support / intervention, either via the Early Help Assessment Process or a referral to Children's Social Care.
Any missing episode should cause concern and should be assessed in the light of the child or young persons' particular circumstances, vulnerability and level of risk.
The College of Policing define missing and absent as follows:
- Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located, and their well-being or otherwise is confirmed;
- All reports of missing people sit within a continuum of risk from 'no apparent risk (absent)' through to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action;
- A missing person will only be defined as 'absent' if there is no apparent risk of harm to either the subject or the public.
The police classification of a person as no apparent risk (absent), low risk, medium risk or high risk will be based on on-going risk assessment.
Statutory Guidance on Children who Run Away or go Missing from Home or Care (January 2014) uses the following definitions:
- Child: For the purposes of this document a child is anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday. 'Children' therefore means 'children and young people' throughout the Guidance and this chapter;
- Away from Placement without Authorisation: A Looked After child whose whereabouts are known but who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the police. When the whereabouts of the child is known or suspected and it is not thought to jeopardise their health or well-being e.g. accidentally or deliberately late in returning home or to their placement, they may be assessed as absent (missing with no apparent risk).
In these circumstances, the expectation is that parents/carers, including residential staff and foster carers will take all reasonable steps to locate the child before informing the Police.
Continuing unauthorised absences should be reviewed at regular intervals and at least every 6 hours and consideration given whether or not to inform the Police, particularly when an unauthorised overnight absence is approaching.
Children who have not returned after 12 hours should be reported to the Police;
- Young Runaway: A child who has run away from their home or care placement, or feels they have been forced or lured to leave;
- Missing Child: A child reported as missing to the police by their family or carers;
- 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 are not known;
- 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.
The terms missing and 'runaways' are interchangeable as the categories overlap. However, a child who is missing through abduction or accident would not be described as a run away.
Broadly speaking, a child is considered to be missing from home if :
- Their location is unknown;
- There is no indication that the child will return within a short space of time;
- There are concerns regarding the child's vulnerability;
- There is a potential danger to the child or to the public.
3. Planning Prior to a Missing Incident
Consideration of all risk factors / safety issues, should be part of the assessment of the needs of children whether they are children in need, in need of protection or Looked After. This includes consideration of whether or not there is a risk of going missing. At key stages of assessment and planning (for example in the Children's Social Care Assessment, Placement Plan, Pathway Plan, Child Protection Review Conference Report, Social Worker's Report to CIN / LAC Review, there is a prompt which asks: "Are there any indications that there is a risk that this child / young person could abscond or go missing?" If there is such a risk then a Missing Person Risk Assessment (MPRA) and a Missing Person Action Plan (MPAP) should be completed.
The MPRA and MPAP were originally devised for children in residential care but are also used for children in foster care. They may also be useful as an optional tool to work with parents of children living at home at risk of going missing. The MPRA is a list of questions aimed at clarifying the risk of the child going missing and the level of risk that going missing would present to that child. The MPAP should be based on the assessment of the risks involved in going missing. It is a plan about what action should be taken by the carers (residential, foster carers) and others in the event of the child going missing, including who needs to be informed if the child goes missing and within what timescales.
If the child is in residential care, it is usually the residential staff who undertake the MPRA and MPAP, though the child's social worker should be informed / involved. If the child is looked after in foster care, the child's social worker would normally complete the MPRA and MPAP in collaboration with the fostering social worker / foster carer. Once completed the MPAP should be authorised by the Team Manager. If the child is living at home with parents, the social worker may use the MPRA and MPAP alongside the parents. The use of them with children living at home is optional whereas for looked after children it is mandatory where there is a risk of going missing.
These specific tools must also fit with the wider assessment and planning for the child. If there is a risk of going missing it should be seen in the context of the child's wider needs which are addressed in the Children's Social Care Assessment and plan for the child. Running away is usually a sign that something is wrong in the child's life and understanding and addressing that problem may help to prevent it.
The assessment and planning should always involve the child's carers, whether residential, foster, parents or others. It should be completed in consultation with parents who should be asked whether the child has ever run away or stayed in unknown, possibly unsafe places. It should also include those with professional knowledge of the child. It should take into account any history / previous incidences of running away or going missing. The assessment of potential to go missing should look at:
- What the risk is likely to be of the child going missing;
- What level of risk going missing would present to the child or others;
- The level of supervision or support to be offered to the child; and
- The parent's views on what should be done in the event of their child going missing.
Wherever possible the child should be involved in discussions and where appropriate be told what will happen when he/she goes missing and will have had the details of this procedure explained to them. Key aspects of the MPAP should be reflected in the Child's Plan.
Prior to any placement of a looked after child, the child's social worker should complete the Placement Plan to assist in the matching of the child to a placement which can meet the child's needs and manage any risks. If there is an identified risk of going missing this should be noted in these documents. When a placement has been identified, if there is a risk present, the MPRA and MPAP should be completed as part of the planning process. They should be discussed at the Placement Planning Meeting (or ideally the pre-placement planning meeting) and the reference made to them in the Placement Plan.
In residential care the MPRA and MPAP are reviewed at the child's Core Group Meetings. In foster care they are reviewed quarterly or more frequently if circumstances significantly change. These meetings will include the child, parents (where appropriate), foster carer/residential workers, social worker and other relevant professionals.
The key points of the MPRA and MPAP should be integrated into the overall Care Plan which is reviewed at the child's LAC review.
The MPRA and MPAP were originally devised for Looked After Children. However, they may also be useful tools when a child 'in need' living at home with parents or carers is identified as being at risk of going missing. Completed with parents / carers, they could help to clarify what action they and others supporting the family should take if the child goes missing.
If the MPRA and MPAP are used, the key points should be integrated into the overall Child's Plan, whether that is a Child in Need Plan, or a Child Protection Plan. The review of those plans takes place for a child in need within the core group and review process and for a child with a Child Protection Plan as part of the Child Protection Conference Review process.
4. Responding to an Incident
Every effort should be made to locate and/or ascertain the whereabouts of any child and secure their return before contacting the Police. This avoids unnecessary work on the part of the Police, particularly when the whereabouts of the child is known, they are not at risk and are testing boundaries (please see Section 2, Definitions).
If a MPRA and MPAP have previously been completed, they should inform the decision about the risk the child may be exposed to and the timescale for reporting the child missing to the Police and informing others.
In determining the level of risk, the duration of absences should not be taken as the primary indicator. Absences of short duration may be as risky as lengthier ones. The fact that the child may have gone missing on a number of previous occasions does not reduce the risk. Each case must be decided on merit and a formal missing person report to the Police may be actioned earlier in some circumstances than in others. Factors to be taken into consideration include:
- Previously-assessed levels of vulnerability;
- Age of child;
- Time of day/night;
- Information specific to the child (e.g. previous history of going missing; whether contact issues or family conflict might have influenced them to go missing from their placement;
- Whether or not the child has any physical/learning difficulties or serious health problems (e.g. diabetes or epilepsy);
- The emotional health of the child (e.g. whether they have a history of harm or self-injurious behaviour); and
- Suspected associations when the child is missing along with possible areas in which the child might be located.
If the child is missing the Police should be contacted with details of the missing person.
- Child's name;
- Date of Birth;
- Where, when and who missing with;
- What child was last wearing;
- Description of child;
- Recent photograph (with agreement of person with PR if appropriate)
- Medical history;
- Time and location last seen.
N.B. Any child whose MPRA defines them as high risk for any "missing" episode must be reported to the Police immediately.
For children and young people who go missing from one of the Hull City Council Residential provisions, the MPAP is shared with the Police.
Parent / others with Parental Responsibility are responsible for the protection of their children. Reasonable actions by a parent in the event of their child going missing would include the following:
- Making a search of the house / outbuildings / vehicles;
- Contacting known friends and relatives where child may be;
- Visit locations that the child is known to frequent;
- There is and expectation that parents will report a child missing to the police.
It is expected that parents will contact the child's social worker who should support and advise as necessary. If a MPRA and MPAP have already been completed the social worker and parents together may use these as a guide.
If the social worker is aware a child is missing and the parent has not reported this they should immediately notify the Police. If parents have not acted reasonably by following the above steps and reporting the child missing to the Police, then this would form a part of the social worker's assessment of the parent's capacity to care for and protect their child. If lack of reasonable action on the part of parents amounted to a safeguarding concern and the child was at risk of significant harm as a result then the usual safeguarding processes should be followed (see Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership Guidelines and Procedures Manual).
Whenever a Looked After Child goes missing from a residential home or foster placement, the foster carer or the manager on duty in the residential home must ensure that the following individuals and agencies are informed within the timescales contained in the child's 'Missing Person Action Plan':
- The local Police;
- The authority responsible for the child's placement - if they have not already been notified prior to the Police being informed that the child is missing. Notification is likely to be by phone in the first instance followed up by e-mail/written confirmation. It will not be enough just to notify the child's social worker. If it is a Hull looked after child, who goes missing out of office hours the Emergency Duty Team should be informed in the first instance;
- The parents and all those who have parental responsibility (unless there are good reasons connected with the child's welfare for this to be inappropriate);
- Record must be made as to when all those with parental responsibility have been informed, and what information has been given to them;
- LAC Health Team (when the child is in foster care and should be done immediately);
- LAC Nurse (residential staff immediately inform the LAC Nurse when the child goes missing from a residential home if needed).
Whenever a child in need goes missing from home the parent / carer should contact the child's social worker (if out of office hours, the Emergency Duty Team) and the local Police.
On reporting any child missing to the Police information regarding risk should be provided including the Missing Person Risk Assessment if one has been completed.
- Missing Flowchart - summarises the actions required when a child or young person is identified as missing;
- Unauthorised Absence Flowchart - summarises the actions required when a child or young person is missing but their location is known and there is no apparent risk to either the young person or the general public.
5. Next Steps
If there are serious concerns about a missing child and the child is deemed to be at risk of significant harm then the usual safeguarding procedures should be followed including convening a Strategy Discussion / Meeting (see Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership Guidelines and Procedures Manual).
The Police are the lead agency regarding the search for the missing child and key decisions. However, even after reporting a child missing to the Police, the social worker for the child should continue to attempt to trace the child by contacting people within the child's network. That includes contacting professionals and other agencies who know the child and people in the child's personal network.
The social worker must:
- Take steps to trace the child through other agencies in collaboration with the Police e.g. Health Records, Education Welfare Records, Probation Providers and other relevant organisations;
- If steps to trace the child have failed, there is a high degree of concern, and an area or national alert is needed, the IRO Team Manager should be notified. This may be for a missing child or for a family who have gone missing with their children to avoid Child Protection processes. The notification form, should be completed by the social worker, authorised by the Group Manager and sent to the IRO Team Manager who will then send out the alert;
- If the IRO Team Manager has been notified (as above), the IRO admin support will place a warning indicator flag on the child's Liquidlogic record to show that they are missing. When the child has been located, the social worker should inform IRO admin support so that the flag can be removed;
- Where a Looked After Child has started running away or going missing from their placement, the social worker should inform the child's IRO (in the IRO's role monitoring the case on an ongoing basis);
- The social worker should ensure that the missing incident is recorded on the Liquidlogic diary recordings;
- If a child is missing for some time or if a whole family is missing, a check of all Council system databases may be undertaken by the Information Governance Team. The social worker should initially make contact with the Information governance Team by emailing email@example.com and then following up with a telephone call to provide details of the request. This is a one port of call approach in which all Council data bases are checked including the following: Youth Justice Service; housing Systems; Homesearch; ICT;CFS; LEA and Schools (Quarterly); ASBI; Electoral Services; Human Resources; Community Legal Advice Centre (including Welfare Rights); Customer Service Centres; Home Office Database; Registrars; 14-19 Team; Environmental Crime; Trading Standards and Private Housing (Landlords).
Take steps to trace the child through other agencies in collaboration with the Police e.g. Health Records, Education Welfare Records, Probation and other relevant organisations.
Sometimes children go missing with their families. The steps above apply for any child with a Child Protection Plan or who is subject to a Section 47 enquiry who goes missing either independently or who moves with their family to an unknown address either in or outside the Hull area. The social worker must follow the steps above.
The particular vulnerability of children fleeing domestic violence should be acknowledged and all efforts to trace these children should be made.
Where efforts to trace the child through the above sources fail, the IRO Team Manager will send a national alert to notify all Child Protection Plan list Managers (or to particular areas if there is reason to believe that the child/family may have gone there e.g. family connections) with details of the child and the family. Prior to such a request authorisation must be gained from the Group Manager responsible for the child's case (via Group Manager signing the relevant part of the Notification Form as above).
Removal of such a child's name from the Child Protection Plan List should not be considered until 6 months have passed, and all reasonable efforts to trace the child have failed. The question of whether a child still needs a Child Protection Plan may then be considered at a Child Protection Review Conference, at which reports of the search efforts are made available.
See Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership Guidelines and Procedures Manual, Children and Families who go Missing (including Unborn Babies) Procedure which includes Children Taken Abroad and Children Missing from Education and Health Services. Also see Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership Guidelines and Procedures Manual, Forced Marriage Procedure and Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership Guidelines and Procedures Manual, Honour Based Abuse Procedure.
The relevant Group Manager will need to be kept informed of any developments or lack of development regarding absences of 12 hours, 24 hours and 48 hours. Residential staff report to their line manager, who will keep the Group Manager informed. The foster carer will inform the child's social worker and their fostering social worker, who in turn will inform their respective managers.
If a child is missing for 7 days there will be a multi-agency Strategy Meeting. However, there are certain circumstances when this would be undertaken earlier e.g. where significant vulnerability factors exist.
The relevant Head of Service and Senior Police Officer will review episodes of absence lasting 11 weeks and thereafter at 12 weekly intervals until their safety is ascertained. Consideration also needs to be given by both agencies regarding the timing of media strategies. This will be done on a case by case basis.
In some cases, particularly where a missing child is felt to be especially vulnerable or where they have been missing for a long period of time, it may be necessary to publicise the case in the media. Such an approach is not routine but is usually a response to very serious concerns for the child's safety. Normally, it is the Police who lead this decision in consultation with Children's Social Care (Head of Service) in the case of a child who is looked after child or subject to a Child Protection Plan. The child's parents should be consulted. If the child is a child in need living at home with parents then the Police would make the decision to publicise in the media in consultation with the parents.
6. After a Child Returns from a Missing Episode
Whether the child is in care or living at home, plans should be in place to respond promptly once the child is located. The plans should take full account of the circumstances that led to the child running from their placement or home to avoid the child being returned to an abusive environment.
The discussion around planning for the return of the child may consider the powers of the Children's Social Care and Police. This may include, in specific circumstances following consultation with the Children's Social Care Legal Services; use of a Recovery Order; or use of Police Powers of Protection.
Children's Social Care and Police will co-operate with such plans and should include the following considerations:
- Will the child return to the previous placement / home (this may depend on what the child has to say about why she/he went missing)?
- How will he/she be taken back?
- Do the Police wish to undertake the Safe and Well Check prior to their return to the placement / home?
- Who will be an appropriate independent person to undertake the Return Interview with the child when she/he is found?
After any new missing incident, the MPRA should be updated to take into account the circumstances of the latest missing incident and any change to the assessed risk. The MPAP may also have to be updated if the assessed risk has changed.
When found by the Police the child will not be returned to the residential home/foster placement without reference to the Children's Social Care plan for returning the child, and a subsequent consultation with their social worker or if out of hours the Emergency Duty Team. This decision is likely to involve consideration of the factors that led to the child running away or going missing from their placement.
Where issues external to the placement are trigger factors in a young person going missing, care staff or foster carers will need to continue to offer them warm and consistent care when they return. In this instance, it could be counter-productive to use their absence as a reason for terminating their placement.
Following missing incidents, especially if they lead to moves that will result in significant changes to the child's Care Plan, a statutory review of the child's Care Plan should be considered. The Police and other relevant agencies should be given the opportunity to contribute to the review, in particular to indicate whether they have any concerns about the quality of care provided to the child and whether this could have influenced the child's decision to run away. As with all other statutory reviews, the child's parents should usually be included in this meeting.
All relevant parties should be informed of the child's return, including family; Children's Social Care/Police (depending on who found the child); the residential home/foster carer as appropriate; and Safe Choices.
Where young people run away persistently and/or engage in other risky behaviour, such as frequently leaving their placement to associate with unfamiliar or inappropriate adults, the care provider - in consultation with the authority responsible for them - should convene a multi-agency risk management meeting. The purpose of this will be to develop a strategy with all relevant agencies for managing the identified risks to young people. This strategy should be recorded in detail in the Child's Plan. This is particularly important where groups of young people run away from their care placement together and are involved in substance misuse, (including alcohol abuse) are being sexually exploited, or are committing offences. The care provider should ensure that risk-management meetings take place regularly to review the strategy until the agencies concerned reach agreement that it has been effective in tackling the targeted concerns.
The Police will undertake a Safe and Well Check as soon as possible after the child returns (see Section 6.5, Safe and Well Check). Arrangements should also be made for the child to have the opportunity for an Independent Return Interview (see Section 6.6, Independent Return Interviews).
The Safe and Well Check is carried out by the Police as soon as possible after the person has returned. Its purpose is to check for any indications that the young person has suffered harm; where and with whom they have been; and to give them an opportunity to disclose any offending by, or against, them.
Where a person goes missing frequently, it may not be practicable to see them every time they return. In these cases, a reasonable decision should be taken with regard to the frequency of such checks. This will mainly apply to young people missing from care who are likely to have other people responsible for their welfare to check this. Every effort should be made to visit those young people missing from home on every occasion. An example of this may be where they go missing on several occasions each day and it would be more effective to see them just once in each day at a convenient time.
If warranted, where the Police undertake a Safe and Well Check with a child who has run away from home, they should refer the child to Children's Social Care via usual safeguarding channels.
Missing person cases should not be closed without the person first being seen by the Police.
Whether children have gone missing from their family home or from a looked after setting, arrangements should be made for the child to have the opportunity for an Independent Return Interview. This interview should be carried out by an independent person who is trained to carry out these interviews and who is able to follow-up any actions that emerge. Many children who run away or go missing need to build up trust with somebody before they will discuss in-depth the reasons why they decided to run away. The interview and actions that follow from it should:
- Identify and deal with any harm the child has suffered - including harm that might not have already been disclosed as part of the Safe and Well Check, and any need for medical attention;
- Understand and try to address the reasons why the child ran away;
- Try to prevent it happening again;
- Help the child feel safe and understand that they have options to prevent repeat instances of them running away;
- Provide them with information on how to stay safe if they choose to run away again, including helpline numbers.
The decision as to when the Independent Return Interview will be undertaken should take account of the child's individual circumstances and assessed needs, but should be carried out within 72 hours of the child or young person returning to their home or care setting. It should be held in a neutral space where the child feels safe.
The interview provides an opportunity hear from the child about why they went missing and to understand the risks and issues faced by the child while missing. This could include exploring issues where a child:
- Has been reported missing on two or more occasions;
- Is frequently away from placement (or their home) without authorisation;
- Has been hurt or harmed while they have been missing;
- Is at known or suspected risk of sexual exploitation or trafficking;
- Is at known or suspected risk of involvement in criminal activity or drugs;
- Has contact with people posing risk to children; and/or
- Has been engaged (or is believed to have engaged) in criminal activities while missing.
Return Interviews for "Looked After" children missing from foster care/residential care should be undertaken by someone independent of the child's placement. The Return Interview process should follow the Statutory Guidance on Children who Run Away or go Missing from Home or Care (2014) Department for Education.
Where children refuse to engage with the independent interviewer, parents and carers should be offered the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence of which they may be aware. This should help to prevent further instances of the child running away and identify early the support needed for them.
N.B. The Missing Person Action Plan and the Missing Person Risk Assessment are on Liquidlogic.
Following the safe and well check and independent return interview, local authority children's services, police and voluntary services should work together:
- To build up a comprehensive picture of why the child went missing;
- To understand what happened while they were missing;
- To understand who they were with when they were missing and where they were found; and
- What support they require upon returning to home or their care placement in accordance with the 'Working Together to Safeguard Children'.
7. Notifications of Missing Children and Families from Other Local Authorities
Hull Children and Families Service receives notifications from other local authorities when a child or family in their area is missing and they have sent out a national alert to all those on the Department for Education's Designated managers list. These are not Hull children and families.
Notifications from other local authorities should be directed to the IRO Business Support. If the following criteria are met, the details of the missing persons will be inputted on Liquidlogic, with a missing person indicator. In the case of expectant mothers, the notification should be sent to Hull Royal Infirmary for the attention of the Midwifery section.
- There is a clear link to our locality e.g. the other local authority says the child has family in the Hull/ East Riding of Yorkshire area or have lived here previously;
- If the notifications come one of our three neighbouring local authorities: East Riding of Yorkshire Council; North Lincolnshire Council or North East Lincolnshire Council;
- Applying risk management principles, if there is information indicating a very high risk to the child/family. Examples might be where they are linked with an adult convicted of murder, trafficking cases, forced marriage or honour based violence risks.
When a local authority makes a notification to IRO Business Support, they will be informed of the above criteria so they can ensure that Hull is notified of any local link.The missing person indicator on Liquidlogic will be removed either when the originating local authority advises that the child or family's whereabouts have been identified, or after two years if no further information is received.