3.4.6 Children and Young People Missing from Home or Care - Guidance for Social Work Staff

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter outlines risks to consider and steps to take when children/young people are absent or missing from their home or placement.

LEGISLATION AND STATUTORY GUIDANCE

Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care, Department for Education, January 2014

RELATED GUIDANCE

West Midlands Safeguarding Children Procedures, Protocol for Children and Young People Missing from Home or Care

West Midlands Police Missing and Absent Person Policy which provides a framework to ensure that reports of missing and absent persons are correctly risk assessed.

AMENDMENT

The chapter was significantly updated in February 2017 and should be re-read. It outlines risks to consider and steps for social work staff to take when children/young people are absent or missing from their home or placement and should be read alongside the Protocol for Children and Young People Missing from Home and Care (West Midlands Safeguarding Children Procedures).


Contents

1. Introduction and Background
2. Scope
3. Definitions
4. Missing from Home
5. Looked After Children
6. Quick Reference Guide Flowcharts - Missing from Care
7. Conducting the Missing Person Investigation
8. Intervention Strategies
9. Additional Procedures Common to Missing from Home and Care
  9.1 Publicity/Media Strategy
  9.2 When a Young Person Returns
10. Information Sharing
11. Request for Additional Support
12. Sexual Exploitation
13. Monitoring
  Appendix 1: Forms
    Missing Person Risk Assessment Form A
    Missing Person Reporting Checklist Form B
    Progress/Monitoring Sheet regarding Missing Children Form C
    Referral Information for the Emergency Response Service Form D


1. Introduction and Background

Going missing is a dangerous activity. A child or young person who goes missing just once faces the same immediate risks as faced by a child or young person who regularly goes missing. However, children who go missing when they are young (and/or more frequently) are more likely to face longer-term problems.

The following procedure has been created to provide a joined up multi agency response to children and young people who are missing or have gone missing from home or care.

In 2013, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the College of Policing introduced the definitions of ‘missing’ and ‘absent’ to allow responses that are proportionate to the risks faced by those reported as missing and to allow more efficient use of police resources.

A missing child is: ‘Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person maybe subject of a crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another’.

An absent child is: ‘A person not at a place where expected or required to be and there is no apparent risk’.

Statutory Guidance on Children who run away or go missing from care was issued by DfE in January 2014. This reinforced the missing and absent categorisation and outlines the actions to be taken by police in categorising the risks relating to children who are missing as ‘high’ or medium’ and outlines the steps to be taken when a child is categorised as ‘absent’, including agreeing a review time and any on-going actions with child’s family, carer or responsible local authority.

The same guidance states that once found the child must be offered an independent return interview to be carried out within 72hrs of their return to their home or care setting by someone not involved in caring for the child.

Why children go missing

Longitudinal research by a variety of different researchers and organisations have identified that children who run away from home or care usually do so for a range of issues that can be consistently categorised and are usually described and ‘push’ factors and ‘pull’ factors. These are:

  • Arguments and conflicts with parents and carers;
  • Bullying and abuse;
  • Poor family relationships, including step parenting issues;
  • Conflict with peers in school or the wider community;
  • Physical and/or emotional abuse; this can include domestic violence within the family;
  • Feeling that they are not listened to or involved in the decision making in their life;
  • Boundaries being set;
  • Peer pressure;
  • Wanting to spend time with friends or family members when this has not been agreed by the carer;
  • Grooming by adults.

We know in Walsall that the principal reason given by all children and young people for going missing was to have contact with family members. This includes those children who went missing but were not in the care of the local authority.

The principal ‘push’ factors recorded in Walsall were to have contact with family members and conflict within the family.

This means that practitioners need to give careful consideration as to whether the child is telling them something that accurately represents their real reason for running away or telling an adult something that they feel will get them into the least trouble or difficulties with the adult asking the question.

Going missing should be seen as an indicator of underlying problems which may need further intervention. Some young people who run away from home will be Children in Need and therefore entitled to services provided by the Local Authority or local voluntary agencies.


2. Scope

The protocol is designed for:

  • All children and young people under 18 who go missing from the parental home in Walsall;
  • Children living in Private Fostering arrangements;
  • Children and young people Looked After by Walsall Council placed in Local Authority Residential Homes within the authority's boundaries;
  • Children and young people Looked After by Walsall Council placed with foster carers within the authority's boundaries;
  • Children and young people Looked After by Walsall Council placed in private establishments or with agency foster carers within the Local Authority boundaries and where compliance with the protocol is specified in the contract or placement agreement;
  • Children and young people Looked After by Walsall Council and placed in residential settings or with foster carers outside the Local Authority boundaries.

Please note:

  • In circumstances where Walsall children who are Looked After by Walsall Council and are placed in other Local Authorities go missing, a discussion will need to take place between the child’s social worker, the designated Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) and Walsall Street Teams about the most appropriate way to ascertain the child’s needs and feelings, relating to the missing episode;
  • Children who are placed by other Local Authorities in Walsall and go missing in the borough remain the responsibility of their home (placing) Local Authority. It is expected that prior to their placement in Walsall, a risk assessment will be undertaken, which should include consideration of the possibility of the child running away. In practice these children will usually be offered a return interview by Walsall Street Teams and pertinent information shared with their home authority in order to influence planning for their care.


3. Definitions

The following definitions apply to this protocol and relate to children and young people under 18 years old who go or have gone missing.

  • Missing Person - ACPO Definition: “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.”;
  • Absent – ACPO Definition: “A person not at a place where they are expected or required to be (and there is no apparent risk).”;

Children will be categorised as “Absent” if they are not at a place where they are supposed to be and there is no apparent risk. Absent cases should still be reported and will not be ignored by the Police. They will not be actively looking for the child or young person but, they will continue to monitor and review the case and, if there is a change to the circumstances that increases the level of risk then they may be escalated to “missing”.

Periods of ABSENT may then be extended or upgraded to MISSING depending upon the individual circumstances, any further information received, or the period of time the individual has been ‘absent’. It is unlikely that any ABSENT case will reach 72 hours without this being considered ‘out of character’, and the risk assessment will be upgraded to MISSING. It is therefore vital that the reporting individual updates the Police with key information during the absent episode.

If the caller is not happy with the classification allocated by the Police, they will need to provide more information that would change the classification as this is based on a standard risk assessment matrix. If the caller or another professional wishes to escalate this, they should ask to speak to the Force Incident Manager who is on duty 24 hours a day. The Force Incident Manager will then review the case and feedback a final decision.

If Team Managers remain unhappy with the decision of the Police force managing this Missing episode they should also escalate their concerns to the Head of Safeguarding, Children’s Services.

These definitions apply to all children and young people, whether missing from home or looked after children missing from their placement/foster home.

  • Child: anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday. The terms ‘children’ and ‘young people’ are used throughout this guidance to refer to anyone under the age of 18;
  • Missing child: a child reported as missing to the police by their family or carers;
  • Looked after child: a child who is looked after by a local authority by reason 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;
  • Care leavers cover young people from aged 16-24.


4. Missing from Home

All children who go missing from home should be reported to the Police.

Before Contacting the Police

When a child or young person is identified as not being at a location they are expected to be at, the reporting individual (parent/ care provider / foster carer and social worker etc) must take proactive steps to trace the child’s whereabouts prior to contacting the police.

Such steps would include:

  • Physical checks of the residence, including the child’s bedroom and any other location the child may be hiding within the house / building;
  • Physical checks of any garden, garage, sheds, grounds and surrounding area(s);
  • Attempting to contact the missing person directly, via mobile phone, text, or social networking sites (i.e. twitter / Facebook etc.);
  • Contacting the missing person’s family and friends;
  • Make reference to any risk assessments, care plans, placement plans or other planning;
  • Documents that refer to the needs of the young person in particular the management of the risk that the child or young person may go missing.

If the child is located through such enquiries, they should not be reported as missing to the police unless there are significant safety issues with the child being where they have been located. If there has been no need to contact the Police, and the child is a looked after child (LAC), details of the incident should be recorded in full according to the appropriate CSC protocols and dealt with as part of the existing care plan.

Reporting to the Police

Where such enquiries do not establish the whereabouts of the child or young person, the reporting individual should report the incident to the Police. For children and young people who reside within the West Midlands, including children and young people placed by another Local Authority within the West Midlands, this will be West Midlands Police. Unless, there is deemed a serious concern or risk of immediate harm which would require a 999 response, this should be done through 101.

It is the responsibility of the care provider to inform the social worker of a child being reported missing, in accordance with local arrangements. The care provider should record all incidents of missing/absence in order to build a picture of behaviour. Walsall Local Authority residential providers should also inform the child or young person’s birth family that they are missing.

The Police will prioritise all incidents of children categorised as missing from home or care as low, medium or high risk.

High Risk:

  • The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the child is in danger through their own vulnerability; or
  • The child may have been victim of a serious crime; or
  • The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the public is in danger.

Medium Risk:

  • The risk posed is likely to place the subject in danger; or
  • They are a threat to themselves or others.

Low Risk

  • There is no apparent risk of danger to either the subject or the public

Where a child or young person is determined to be MISSING

  • An officer will be allocated and West Midlands Police missing person procedures will be implemented. An investigation will commence which will be reviewed on a regular basis;
  • Enquiries will continue as required until the child or young person is located. A Police Supervisor will review action taken daily. Contacts with relevant agencies will be made and all information recorded by the Police.

West Midlands Police will then conduct a missing persons’ enquiry.

When a child goes missing West Midlands Police will send a notification form to Walsall Council Safeguarding and Independent Review Service advising that the child is missing in accordance with the Compact Agreement.

When any child has been missing for 24 hours the Team Manager must ensure that the Group Manager and Head of Safeguarding must be alerted via Mosaic and completion of the ‘Need to Know’ notification form.

Location and Return of the ‘Absent’ Person

If an ‘Absent’ young person is located, it is the responsibility of the parents/carers to return them to a safe place, unless Police Protection is deemed necessary. The parents/carers must still inform the Police when individuals who have been reported to them under either classification ‘Absent’ or ‘Missing’, return.

No visit or Safe & Well Check will be conducted by Police for young people classified as ‘Absent’ unless there are concerns for the young person. At the point of reporting a return, parents/carers will be asked if there is anything the Police need to know or act on, in terms of the person’s behaviour or welfare. It is essential that those classed as absent are still appropriately safeguarded and kept safe.

Location and Return of the ‘Missing’ Person

If a non-looked after child is located, it is the responsibility of the parents/carers to return them to a safe place, unless Police Protection is deemed necessary.

When a Looked After Child (LAC), is located by the Police or others, it is the responsibility of the residential staff or foster carers to collect and return the child or young person to a place of safety, unless the circumstances pose a risk to them or to the child. In such circumstances, the Police may be requested to assist in returning the child or young person. However, it is noted that the Police only have powers to return a young person to care if they are subject to a Care Order or the circumstances are such that Police Protection is required.

Where there is no risk to a parent or carer collecting a child or young person, but the logistics make it difficult or impossible for the parent or carer to do so, the responsible Local Authority for the child or young person (or their Emergency Duty Team provision if out of hours) must be contacted to assist in collecting and returning the child or young person. Placement Plans for Looked After Children should specifically identify what arrangements should be in place for collection and return of a located child or young person, particularly if the placement is in a host Local Authority area, some distance from the responsible Local Authority.

Any known risks from the young person or their known associates should be recorded in detail and shared with key agencies where appropriate.

Transport of the child or young person back to the placement (or place of safety) is dependent upon who located the child or young person. The following expectations for Looked After Children are:

  • If physically located by West Midlands Police, the child or young person is to be returned by the Police to their placement (or place of safety);
  • If physically located by another statutory agency (Social Worker/EDT/ Care provider, including foster carer), the locating agency / individual must return the child or young person to their placement (or place of safety);
  • If physically located by family / friends, the carers are to advise them that the missing child or young person should be returned to their placement (place of safety) at the earliest opportunity and assist them in doing so if necessary;
  • If located by other means (e.g. telephone), the responsible Local Authority should facilitate the collection and return of the missing child or young person to their placement (or place of safety).

Detention in a police station overnight shall not be regarded as a satisfactory arrangement.

For all missing children and young people, on their return, West Midlands Police will notify Walsall Children’s Services in accordance with the Compact agreement and Walsall Street Teams will offer an independent return interview for all children who go missing. This is to ensure that young people who run away are offered the chance to talk to someone independent on their return.

Parents and carers must be immediately informed that the child/young person has been found. When the child is located by agencies other than the Police, or returns to their home address, the attending adult (parent/guardian or carer) will to notify the Police of the child’s return (and location) without delay.

When a child or young person is reported missing from a placement and is accommodated under Section 20 Children Act 1989 (where the Local Authority cares for the child with the consent of those with parental responsibility and does not have parental responsibility itself), the Police have no power to return the child or young person to their placement (or place of safety) without their consent. In such circumstances, the child or young person should be actively encouraged to return. If the child or young person refuses to consent, the Police will assess whether there are safeguarding concerns for their welfare and/or the circumstances (or location) at which they have been found.

Where necessary, attending officers may consider the use of Police Protection powers. If there are no grounds to exercise Police Protection, the locating Officer(s) must:

  • Conduct a Safe and Well Check (SWC);
  • Ensure the child is safe and advise them on how to return to their placement;
  • Notify the carer of the child or young person’s location;
  • Update fully and close the report.

If any information is gathered during the course of enquiries which indicates a child/young person is at risk on their return home, the Police and Children’s Social Care must be informed immediately, so that they may take appropriate action. In these circumstances a risk assessment should be carried out by Police (and Social Worker) to ensure that it is safe for the child to return to their home. Upon receiving a notification for a missing episode, Walsall Street Teams will make contact with the young person within 3 working days and will offer the child/young person an independent interview to assess their needs with regard to advice, information and support.

Consideration should be given to other risk factors including the vulnerability to Child Sexual Exploitation and Walsall Street Teams will complete the NWG Screening Tool.

If the child or young person is currently working with Children’s Social Care, Walsall Street Teams will share the Return Interview and the completed NWG Screening Tool with the Social Worker or Early Help worker.

Where the child is not known to Walsall Children’s Care Walsall Street Teams will forward the Return Interview and the completed NWG Screening Tool to the MASH.

In all cases, the information will be placed on the child’s record.

Where there are urgent child protection concerns, these will be reported immediately to Walsall Children’s Social Care via the MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub) on Tel: 0300 555 2866.

In order to help prevent further missing episodes and after careful consideration of the individual young person’s issues, a restorative justice approach may be adopted and a family meeting convened. This has proved particularly effective for children missing from home.

In all cases the social worker must visit and meet with the young person alone within two working days of his/her return. Where this is not possible, e.g. the child is placed at a distance from Walsall or the social worker is not available, a team manager may agree that the child is interviewed at a later date, or by an alternative person. The arrangement and reasons for this must be fully recorded. The social worker will ask the young person if they wish to speak to an independent person of their choice e.g. someone from the Children's Society or a Walsall Street Teams worker. If the social worker is not available it is the responsibility of the team manager to arrange the visit. In all cases consideration will be given to the need to convene a Strategy Meeting.


5. Looked After Children

Social Workers must ensure that information about absent and missing episodes are incorporated within the looked after plans and that carers have all the necessary information to enable them to respond to these incidents in an appropriate way.

The Care Plan

The Statutory Guidance states:

‘Care plans should include a detailed assessment of the child’s needs, including the need for the provision of an appropriate placement that offers protection from harm. Where a child goes missing from a placement, a statutory review of their care plan can provide an opportunity to check that it addresses the reason for an absence. The review should result in the development of a strategy to minimise a repeat of the missing episode’.

Prior to each accommodation arrangement for a looked after child, the social worker must consider within the care planning process all potential risks to the child including an assessment of the potential for them to go missing. The child and her/his parent/carer (if appropriate) should be involved in the assessment and planning process. Missing episodes prior to the child becoming Looked After need to be taken into account during the assessment and care planning. This should also consider:

  • The degree and level of risk for the child should they go missing;
  • The level of supervision/support offered to the child and the actions to be taken by the foster or residential carer, based on the risk assessment, which can be taken to prevent a child running away;
  • The parent, guardians or social worker's advice (where appropriate) on what action they feel should be taken if the child goes missing;
  • Any known addresses that the child may frequent;
  • Any adults known or involved where the child may be at risk;
  • Any peer networks/behaviours where the child may be at risk.

This information should be reviewed and revised, as appropriate, at Progress Meetings, Placement Reviews and Looked After Reviews.

All information should be included in the Placement Plan and in the child's Care Plan. As part of this assessment it may be appropriate for Walsall Council to consult with the police to share information that may be of relevance.

Independent Reviewing Officers have the responsibility to monitor the plan by tracking the case; ensure the plan is reviewed and that the actions have been carried out. IRO’s can call an early review if the child/young person’s absent and/or missing episodes continue and the risks to the child/young person remain.

The Social Worker must inform the IRO on each occasion when the child/young person has been absent or been reported missing.

Social Workers must ensure that information about absent and missing episodes are incorporated within the child protection plan and that parents and carers have all the necessary information to enable them to respond to these incidents in an appropriate way.

The Social Worker must ensure that the Record of Missing episode is completed and must record absent, missing episodes and key meetings held within the child/young person’s chronology. Information about the young person’s absent and missing episodes should be included within the case summary.

The Social Worker must alert their Manager if the absent or missing episode raises specific concern. The Manager should consider next steps and whether a CIN meeting should be convened sooner in order to further consider the missing episodes and plan appropriate interventions.

The Team Manager must be informed (alerted through a case note) which young people have been reported as absent or missing. The Team Manager must have regular oversight of these young people, ensuring that all the relevant paperwork is completed and actions are in place to address the issues.

When any child has been missing for 24 hours the Team Manager must ensure that the Group Manager and Head of Safeguarding must be alerted via Mosaic and completion of the ‘Need to Know’ notification form.

Risk Assessment

Individual risk assessments are an essential part of this procedure. They will enable staff/carers to be clear what the risks are for the particular child or young person and/or the risks they pose for the public and must be completed by the child’s social worker at the point of placement and updated as a result of any missing episode.

When a child/ young person goes missing from care, the Local Authority will determine whether the child/young person is missing or absent. Staff will use the Missing Person Risk Assessment - Form A (see Appendix 1: Missing Person Risk Assessment Form A) to assist in making this decision and to assess the level of risk for the child.

The Emergency Duty Team (EDT) should always be informed by the social worker (or Residential Home / Foster Carer at weekends and Out Of Hours) of all children who are missing from care.

If the child or young person has gone missing from foster care and a missing from home risk assessment has not been completed in advance, then the foster carer must contact the child's social worker/duty social worker or EDT (if it is out of hours), who will assist completion of the risk assessment and advise on reporting the child/young person to the Police.

Child in Care Missing/Absent on External Activity

If a child goes missing during an external activity arranged by the residential home or the foster carer the person in charge of the activity will:

  • Notify the local Police in that area;
  • Notify a senior manager at the residential home;
  • Institute a local search if staffing levels permit.

The senior manager at the residential home will be responsible for ensuring that the general procedures in relation to a missing child are followed.

The senior manager of the home and the person in charge of the external activity will decide whether the party should return to the home, and when.

The residential home or foster carer will need to maintain communication with the local Police where the absence occurred.

Photographs

Should a child/ young person go missing it is vital to the safe recovery of the child that a recent photograph of the child is made available. The photograph must be a good likeness of the child/young person, and the date the photograph was taken should be endorsed on the back of it to identify its relevance to the enquiry. The photograph will be used by the police to help them identify the child or young person whilst conducting enquiries. In very serious cases, where the child is believed to be at severe risk, the police and local authority may decide to use the photograph more widely, including publishing the photograph in the national or local media, and circulation on the Police / ICMEC Missing Kids website.

On admission to care, the consent of a person with Parental Responsibility will be sought for a photograph to be used in any subsequent missing person investigation. If possible the consent of the child/ young person should also be gained.

The children's home manager/foster carer should consider the most appropriate ways to meet the above requirements and should ensure that the child/young person is made aware of what will happen if they go missing, including their right to be interviewed by an independent person on or prior to their return, and be given a choice as to who that may be. They should be given information leaflets and contact details of advocacy services/other services that they can access or that can be accessed on their behalf.

Reporting and Responding to Risk

When it is discovered that a child has absented him/herself without permission from a placement, staff will refer to the young person's individual risk assessment in considering whether the young person is "unauthorised absent" or "missing" as defined by these procedures (see Section 3, Definitions). In cases of doubt the home manager or manager on call will be consulted.

The fact that the young person may have gone missing on a number of previous occasions does not reduce the risk. In fact, children who repeatedly go missing are often being enticed away from their placement by activities that they see as exciting or by predatory influences. Furthermore, short absences may be as risky as lengthy ones.

However, at some point, depending upon the child and the circumstances, the young person's absence will give rise to justifiable concern and require a formal missing person report to the police. Whilst there can be no substitute for a considered judgement, based on a sound assessment of the young person and the circumstances, it is the purpose of this framework to assist carers to structure their thinking with regard to the two categories of absence.

Reporting

The decision to report a child as missing should not be taken in isolation, staff should consult with the senior staff member on duty and foster carers should liaise with the young person's social worker or Emergency Duty Team staff. Any decision should incorporate information from the child/young person's risk assessment. The situation should be kept under constant review and changes in circumstances taken into account. If the young person is receiving support from CAMHS professionals, Educational Psychologists of other professionals, it may be advisable to discuss the case with them. However, if they are not readily available a decision must be made on the basis of the best available information. In cases of doubt it may also be appropriate to discuss the case with a local police supervisor.

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. For a small number of young people, it may be appropriate to immediately report them as a missing person. Normally this will have been previously agreed as part of the Care Plan because of the young person's vulnerability.

If the absence is considered to fall within these procedures the relevant staff member, i.e. child's social worker, duty social worker, Emergency Duty Team social worker, residential care worker, will as soon as practical inform:

  • The child/young person's parents/and those with Parental Responsibility; and
  • The Police.

Responding

Where, initially, the decision was made that this absence does not fall within this procedure (i.e. an unauthorised absence) this decision will be reviewed every hour throughout the period of unauthorised absence (to a maximum of 6 hours) if the child does not return or his/her whereabouts are not known.

If such a period of absence continues for 6 hours it will automatically be considered to fall within these procedures. NB: This is the maximum period; and in most situations much shorter periods will be appropriate.

If during a period of unauthorised absence, the informant becomes aware of the location of the missing person, he/she should make every effort to have the missing person return to the place of residence without police involvement, unless there are safety issues, in which case a report should be made to the Police.

If the child or young person is subject to a Care Order, and refuses to return voluntarily with the agent of the care provider, then Police assistance may be requested.

If the child or young person is Accommodated, then a risk assessment is to be undertaken in consultation with the Local Authority, and if police attendance is warranted, the use of Police Protection is to be considered if there is an immediate risk present. The use of Police Protection should be jointly considered by the Police and Children's Services. If the missing person is in no immediate risk, the Police should liaise with the carers/Children's Services regarding any further action.

Whilst notifying the police of the absence of a child or young person is an essential part of the overall process, having done so does not absolve carers of their corporate parenting responsibilities for the child, and such carers should take all necessary actions to attempt to locate the missing person, including where possible, searches of the missing person's room within the residence, immediate searches of the local area, and making contact with the missing person's family and friends to establish if the missing person is with them, or has been seen since by them since the time that the person was identified as being absent.

Walsall Street Teams will ensure that young people who run away are offered the chance to talk to someone independent on their return. This includes children looked after by Walsall Children’s Services and placed out of authority. The child’s social worker is responsible for informing Street Teams of the missing episode

Upon receiving a notification for a missing child, Walsall Street Teams will make contact with the young person within 3 working days and will offer the child/young person an independent interview to assess their needs with regard to advice, information and support.

Where there are urgent child protection concerns, these will be reported immediately to the young person’s social worker. Information will also be shared at the child’s Looked After Review as appropriate.

When Missing Person is Located or Returns (Missing from Care)

It will be necessary to consider when the child is located:

  • Will the child return to the previous placement / home address?
  • How will s/he be conveyed there?
  • Do the Police wish to interview the child before s/he is returned to the placement / residence?
  • How / when will Street Teams undertake the independent return interview?

If there are concerns of safety or public order difficulties, the police will assist in the recovery and return of a child. Otherwise, the child’s parents/staff/carers should make arrangements for his/her return.

Detention in a police station overnight shall not be regarded as a satisfactory arrangement.   

The Police will conduct a “Safe and Well” check for ALL children reported missing. At this time they will obtain consent for Walsall Street Teams to contact the child/young person. This is not the same as a Welfare Return Interview which will be provided by Street Teams.

Parents and carers must be immediately informed that the child/young person has been found. When the child is located by agencies other than the Police, or returns to their home address, the attending adult (parent/guardian/carer) is to notify the Police of the child’s return (and location) without delay.

The locating agency will remind the child and the parent/carer that they will be spoken to by the police, the purpose of this interview being to confirm their well-being, and to discover whether they have been the victim of any crimes whilst missing.

The locating agency should ensure that on the child's return, his/her medical condition is discussed with the child and his/her parents/carers immediately, and an offer made to arrange medical attention if necessary. A medical examination would be particularly beneficial for very young children and those with communication difficulties.

If any information is gathered during the course of enquiries which indicates a child/young person is at risk on their return, the Police and Children’s Social Care must be informed immediately, so that they may take appropriate action.

A risk assessment should be carried out by Police (and Social Worker) to ensure that it is safe for the child to return to their placement/parental home.

The police officer will send a notification form advising of the child’s return; they should also obtain the child’s consent for Walsall Street Teams to undertake an independent return interview within 72 working hours.


6. Quick Reference Guide Flowcharts - Missing from Care

Click here for the Quick Reference Guide Flowchart - Missing from Care

Click here for the Quick Reference Guide Flowchart – Return Procedures Missing from Care

Children and Young People in Care

In all cases the social worker must visit and meet with the young person alone within two working days of his/her return. Where this is not possible, e.g. the child is placed at a distance from Walsall or the social worker is not available, a team manager may agree that the child is interviewed at a later date, or by an alternative person. The arrangement and reasons for this must be fully recorded. The social worker will ask the young person if they wish to speak to an independent person of their choice e.g. someone from the Children's Society or a Walsall Street Teams worker. If the social worker is not available it is the responsibility of the team manager to arrange the visit. In all cases consideration will be given to the need to convene a Strategy Meeting.


7. Conducting the Missing Person Investigation

West Midlands Police (Walsall)

When reporting an absence, police call handlers in the first instance will want the following information that staff should make available:

  • Name of the person missing, include aliases, nicknames;
  • Age and date of birth;
  • Are they an asylum seeker, if so what is their immigration status?
  • Description of the person: (Include gender and ethnicity);
  • Description of clothing;
  • Home address;
  • Location missing from if different from above; 
  • Circumstances of going missing;
  • Are there cultural issues? E.g. possible Honour Crime;
  • Is the behaviour out of character?
  • Has this happened before and details of previous incidents?
  • Details of any vehicle or transport used;
  • Name, address and telephone number of person reporting;
  • Mobile phone number/s of missing person;
  • Have they access to money/ cash point / credit cards?
  • Details of any medication / illness e.g. depression, dementia, Alzheimer's;
  • Has the location from which they went missing from and home address been searched?
  • Identify dangers in the immediate vicinity especially for vulnerable young missing persons e.g. ponds, rivers;
  • Are photographs available? It is advised that photographs are taken regularly especially if the hairstyle/ colour has been changed.

Upon receiving a report of a child or young person being absent from care or missing from home, West Midlands Police will carry out enquiries (which are proportionate to the perceived risk) aimed at locating the child/young person as soon as possible.

Whilst missing, persons aged under 18 years are automatically classified as "Vulnerable Missing Persons". However, this is NOT an indication of risk.

A risk assessment will be carried out for each individual on every separate occasion they are reported missing to the Police. This risk assessment, conducted by the Initial Investigating Officer, and subsequently confirmed or revised by his or her supervising officer will form the basis for the subsequent investigation into the person's disappearance.

The risk assessment for Children's Services Social Care and the Police have been aligned and a copy can be found in Appendix 1: Missing Person Risk Assessment Form A.

When a police officer arrives to obtain further details, this role is investigative and is not simply the recording of details for the missing person report. Any judgements that are made at this stage will have a significant effect on the progress of the investigation.

The Police will:

  • Establish the facts, gather sufficient information about the missing person for an effective investigation and informed decision making. Where appropriate they will consider using the services of interpreters or language-line to assist information gathering;
  • Establish the family composition, history, any previous police or other agency involvement with the family. Have they gone missing before, whether or not reported to the police?
  • Establish the last sighting of the child and the circumstances of the disappearance are crucial. Do not delay any action required to facilitate the immediate recovery of the missing child. Seek assistance to complete urgent enquiries/actions where this may be critical for the safe return of the missing child.

In addition to the points asked initially by the police call handler, officers will further ask about:

  • Details of any travel pass that the child may have;
  • Details of savings accounts;
  • Family addresses;
  • Known acquaintances;
  • Any previous history of absconding;
  • Name and phone number of social worker;
  • Details of any court order;
  • Name and address of child's GP and dentist;
  • Any circumstances which might increase the risk to the child.

The officer/s will also obtain statements from the reporting person and relevant witnesses and will

  • Complete Form WG428;
  • Obtain a recent photograph. The informant should sign the rear of the photograph to endorse its validity, include the name of the missing person, date of birth if known and the approximate date the photograph was taken;
  • Obtain permission for publicity and make sure that the WG428 is endorsed accordingly;
  • Conduct a thorough search of the place missing from and its surroundings;
  • Conduct a search even if carers have already done so. Include all rooms, cupboards and furniture where a person could hide or could have been hidden, attics, cellars, outhouses, garages, garden, grounds and all vehicles. Any area which is not searched due to lack of ready access will be recorded for action/review by a supervisory officer;
  • See and obtain a copy of any Care Orders. This could be helpful in determining police action and powers should the person be traced;
  • Hand the last page of the WG428 'Information for the Family/ Person Reporting' to the person who is the point of contact for the police;
  • Consider the possibility that the child / young person may have been admitted to hospital unconscious or given false details, they may also give false details if taken into custody.

Police Risk Definitions

See also the College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice website on missing persons.

RISK DEFINITION
High

The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the subject is in danger through their own vulnerability, or may have been the victim of a serious crime, or the risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the public is in danger.

Medium

The risk posed is likely to place the subject in danger, or they are a threat to themselves or others.

Low

There is no apparent risk of danger to either the subject or the public.

Click here for the Police Initial Investigation Flowchart.


8. Intervention Strategies

All agencies will operate an escalating system of interventions to reduce the likelihood of a child repeatedly going missing.

Intervention meetings should take place in the event of repeat episodes of children going missing from home and care. These meetings should have clearly identified purpose and attendance. The meeting should be held within a week of any the following trigger episodes. The meetings should be chaired and recorded and the increased levels of concern reflected in the seniority of those attending as follows or incorporated into other processes such as Strategy Meetings or Looked After Reviews. After the first intervention meeting for a Looked After Child, if the threshold is reached for a second time, a Looked After Review should be called instead.

Three missing episodes within a 30 day period or one episode of three or more days:

Children and young people who are Looked After, have a Child Protection Plan or Child in Need Plan Other children and young people
A meeting should be called and possible attendees to be considered are: social worker, local police officer, residential worker/ foster carer /parent, school representative, Walsall Street Teams worker, Youth Services. Discussion at Child Sexual Exploitation and Missing Operation Group (CMOG).

If the child is not known to Children's Social Care, the Child Concern process will be evoked by Walsall Street Teams if required. This Meeting will therefore become an Early Help meeting (with parental consent) or a Professionals Meeting (without consent).

Discussion at Child Sexual Exploitation and Missing Operation Group (CMOG).

These meetings should try to identify any ‘push’ or ‘pull’ factors as well as any other agencies that could provide support. In the case of ‘pull factors’ it may be necessary to target those in the community who harbour the missing person or exploit them with regards to crime, sex or drugs. The meeting should also establish which other agencies are already involved in working with the child/young person and what can be done to prevent further runaway episodes.

Seven missing episodes within a 30 day period or one episode of 7 days or more:

Children and young people who are Looked After, have a Child Protection Plan or Child in Need Plan Other children and young people

These meetings will be chaired by one of the nominated Independent Reviewing Officers for Missing Children. Other attendees may include: team manager from Children’s Services, Police, Children’s Home manager/family placement manager (as appropriate), parent/carer, representative from health and/or education and Walsall Street Teams worker, Youth Services.

Discussion at Child Sexual Exploitation and Missing Operation Group (CMOG).
The nature of these missing episodes would place the child at level 3 of the Child Concern Model and therefore a referral should be made to the Initial Response Service. The nominated Independent Reviewing Officers for Missing Children would then chair an intervention meeting.

Meetings at this level should only be required for a small number of children provided that the protocol has been followed with regard to earlier intervention meetings and return interviews. In addition to seeking to reduce future missing episodes and reduce any apparent risks to the child, this meeting should also quality-assure compliance with the protocol and the efficiency of earlier intervention meetings and return interviews. It is recognised that there will be some children who go missing repeatedly within a short period of time where this level of intervention will immediately apply. Walsall Street Teams will inform the MASH and the IRO’s when this threshold is reached and information from these meetings will be shared with the Child Sexual Exploitation and Missing Operation Group (CMOG).

If the child is still missing, there should be further discussions between the senior managements of all the relevant agencies. This is to review the action taken, agree further actions including a debrief of the person when found and proposals to prevent a reoccurrence if appropriate.

All Police missing person’s lists will remain “live” until the person is traced. If the missing person has not been located after 6 months, a Senior Investigating Officer will review the file, after consultation with the OCU Group Manager. As part of that review process the Head of Safeguarding (Children’s Services) should satisfy themselves on the actions taken by all agencies in the attempt to recover the child.

Other risk factors demanding escalated interventions include:

  • Any case where the risks involved in even a single future missing episode is very high;
  • Cases where it has been identified that immediate action is necessary to ensure the wellbeing of the person.


9. Additional Procedures Common to Missing from Home and Care

9.1 Publicity / Media Strategy

It is the responsibility of the Police to advise the media regarding any missing child or young person.

Whether the child or young person is missing from public sector or private care providers, the decision to publicise via the press and/or television will always be made in consultation with the child's social worker and the Assistant Director, Children's Specialist Services. However, West Midlands Police reserve the right to publicise the child if there are serious concerns for the welfare of that child.

Such publicity will be arranged at local level, by direction of the Divisional Commander (or nominee). Prior to any publicity, the child's social worker will be informed in order to allow the parents to be informed.

Additionally the police will automatically inform the "Missing People" charity of all High risk missing persons within 4 hours of them being reported, Medium risk missing persons within 72 hours of them being reported, and Low risk missing persons within 14 days of them being reported.

The police may also utilise the website facility of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (Missing Kids Website) to publicise the child or young person.

9.2 When A Young Person Returns

Once the child or young person has been located, the police will carry out a (Police) Return Interview – Safe and Well check. It will not be conducted over the telephone, and it must only be conducted by an appropriately trained police officer. Return interviews are not to be conducted by Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).

If there are immediate concerns please see both flowcharts for guidance and actions to be taken.

Where any child or young person has indicated a wish to speak to an independent professional, the Police will ensure referral details are passed to Walsall Street Teams in accordance with the notification procedure.

Where a child/young person has gone missing from their family home for 3 or more occasions the Police may call a Strategy Meeting to discuss further actions required.

If there are already concerns in existence relating to the care establishment that the child or young person has been absent from, or their home circumstances, the police officer must highlight such concerns to the Public Protection Unit (PPU) / Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU) who will submit the MARF referral form to the MASH.

Where children missing from home or care are identified outside of their home authority, the “receiving” and the home authority will need to negotiate so that the child or young person may be linked back into appropriate local services. This includes an independent return interview by Walsall Street Teams.


10. Information Sharing

All young people will be advised of the need to share information and will be reassured that none of their personal data will be shared with partner organisations without their agreement and consent, subject to the exceptions contained in statutory legislation - see Consents, Confidentiality and Information Sharing Procedure.


11. Requests for Additional Support

The return interview may indicate that the child and family require additional support to meet the child's needs and prevent further episodes. The Early Help Assessment will assist with identifying additional needs and ensuring a support package is in place to reduce the risk of future episodes.

NB - If the Early Help Assessment indicates the child may be at risk of Significant Harm, the Contacts and Referrals Procedure will apply.


12. Sexual Exploitation

Staff and carers should be alert to the possibility of sexual exploitation of children. If a child is missing or absent and considered to be at risk of sexual exploitation, s/he is deemed to be vulnerable and should be reported to the Police and others.

This is a sensitive issue and the risk of wrongly labelling a child is clearly an issue. However, this should not deter staff and carers from raising and discussing their concerns.

If a child is continually missing from home staff/carers should remain vigilant and record any incidents of concern, including:

  • Any available description of the possible Coercer or Abuser;
  • Any telephone numbers frequently being used or passed on by others;
  • Registration numbers of vehicles continually visiting the home or that regularly return missing children to the home.

Staff/carers who observe suspicious adults or suspicious vehicles should not approach either if there are concerns for their safety. Record information that is observable, staff should not place themselves or others at risk.


13. Monitoring

Walsall Safeguarding Children Board (WSCB) will ensure that children missing from home or care remain a priority for Walsall by having an oversight of the following:

  • Implementation of "missing from home and care" protocols and procedures;
  • Reporting information about patterns of absence among looked after children to the Director of Children's Services and to Councillors responsible for "corporate parenting";
  • Regular reports will be presented to a multi-agency steering group from the Mosaic Team and Walsall Street Teams about children and young people who go missing in the borough;
  • Any issues/concerns will be raised to the WSCB via twice yearly reports, or more frequently if needed.


Appendix 1: Forms

Missing Person Risk Assessment Form A

Missing Person Reporting Checklist Form B

Progress/Monitoring Sheet regarding Missing Children Form C

Referral Information for the Emergency Response Service Form D

End