Missing Children - The Facts

This information must be read in conjunction with the SET Procedures (Part B Chapter 20).

It is important to understand that the terms missing, absent, high and medium risk, have specific meanings in practice - details on the definitions can be found here.

Most children and young people who go missing return the same day and some incidents concern children and young people who are late home and for whom there are no other concerns. However, very often running away/ going missing is an indicator of underlying problems which need further intervention such as:

  • Problems at home / family conflict
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Placement issues if Looked After by the Local Authority
  • Wanting to harm themselves
  • Issues at school including exclusion & bullying
  • Pressure from friends/ associates
  • Sexual exploitation/ trafficking
  • Wanting to buy / use alcohol or drugs

Young people who run away may be at risk of significant harm whilst away from home or care placement e.g. those who remain missing overnight or for several days, sleeping rough and in contact with people posing a risk to them.  Young people may also only be missing for a short time period and risk may still be significant.

Police will lead efforts to locate children who are missing, working closely with Children’s Social Care when children are missing from care placements.  This also applies to children living at home.

When the child is located the Police will carry out an immediate vulnerability check (safe and well) to identify 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.

Police, Children’s Social Care & any agency involved with a child who has run away/ gone missing will share information and where necessary take action to safeguard or offer support to the child and family.

Arrangements will be made for all children who have been missing to have the opportunity to take up a Missing Chat.  This offer is made irrespective of whether the child lives at home or is Looked After by the Local Authority. This is a voluntary activity and all Missing Chats are conducted by trusted professionals who meet the statutory guidance recommendations of being trained appropriately.  The Missing Chat will build on information gained from the Police Vulnerability Check and serve to identify any harm the child may have suffered, understand and address the reasons why the child ran away and consider preventive measures regarding further running away.

All Children who are Looked After by the Local Authority will have meaningful contact with their Social Worker and been seen within 72 hours.  Their Social will complete a Missing Prevention Plan.  The Prevention Plan aims to establish whether going missing is a pattern of behaviour and support informed judgement about what action needs to be taken.  Social Workers are required to exercise a professional judgement of the level of risk (low/medium/high) based on knowledge of the young person, their circumstances and the missing episode.  Social Worker’s will also complete an Action Plan with the child to explore what can be done to reduce the risk of further missing episodes.

The Alternative Education Commissioning Service (AECS) Children Missing Education Policy 2015

Children unable to attend school due to health needs (AECS)

Children Missing from Education Policy 2015

Missing Practice Guidance 2015 (N.B this document is specific to Essex County Council, Family Operations only)

Missing Children Children's Society: Protecting young runaways

Other resources

The Children's Society have developed a range of resources to help understand how to support vulnerable young people, in particular those who go missing. These resources help you know what to do when a child goes missing and how to prevent children from going missing in the first place.The Children's Society has developed a series of guides for:

  • Local safeguarding leads
  • Local authority commissioners 
  • Professionals working with children and young people
  • Parents and carers
  • Children and young people

The resources are available on the Children's Society website.

Referral

Sometimes children who go missing are not reported missing to police by parents/carers.  If an agency becomes aware of a child who has run away from home or is missing, a referral should be made to Police or Children’s Social Care.  Similarly, if you have concerns about a child’s missing episode, you should discuss this with your Designated Safeguarding Lead taking advice regarding any course of action you may need to take.  If you require further advice, you can call the Family Operations Hub on 0345 603 7627 and request a Professional Consultation.  If you have immediate concerns that a child is missing, you must contact the police. Dial 999 in an emergency situation or call your local police force immediately on 101.

For further information about children who run away or go missing from home or care please see SET Procedures (Part B Chapter 20).
Schools

A child going missing from their educational setting can be a potential indicator that they are at risk of harm.  Schools should follow safeguarding procedures in cases where children go missing and there is a concern, particularly when children go missing on repeat occasions. Schools should act to identify any risk of abuse and neglect, including sexual abuse or exploitation.  Where a child is missing during the school day, the same must apply.  If a school is concerned about a child who has been missing, the school must discuss this with the Designated Safeguarding Lead taking advice regarding any course of action that may need to be taken.  If you require further advice, you can call the Family Operations Hub on 0345 603 7627 and request a Professional Consultation.