Concerned about a child or young person? Call 0345 603 7627

Missing Children - The Facts

This information must be read in conjunction with the SET Procedures (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:



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.



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.


Missing Person Safe Call Team


The Missing Person Safe Call Team provide a debrief service to children and young people who have recently been missing and have potentially come into contact with gangs or involved in county lines.


The team accept self-referrals from children and young people and referrals from external professionals and agencies (police, social services, schools, charities, youth organisations etc). They work closely with children, young people and their parents/carers to ensure that the risk of exploitation is minimised and ensure that information is shared between social workers, youth workers and other services that they may be receiving support from.


They aim to offer a non-judgemental service to ensure these children/ young people have a safe space to talk about their experiences in confidence. They also support the families and carers of those who have missing episodes; providing them with emotional support and guidance.


Operating hours for the Safe Call Team are Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm. There is also a free 24 hour helpline which is available should support be needed out of hours.


Professionals can complete online referral form. Or, can send an e-mail to the Safe Call Team with the name of the young person, DOB, telephone numbers and reason for referral with any concerns highlighted.


SafeCall Telephone:   020 8392 5710


SafeCall E-mail:


24/7 Helpline:  116 000


24/7 Helpline E-mail:




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. 


Strategies and Guidance


SET Missing Strategy


SET Missing Memorandum of Understanding 2021


SET Planning for Missing Form 2022


Missing Practice Guidance 2021 (N.B this document is specific to Essex County Council, Family Operations only) 


Admissions and attendance information (Essex)



Shout 85258 is a free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone who is struggling to cope. They are there for people who are anxious, stressed, depressed, suicidal or overwhelmed and who need immediate support.


The Missing People helpline 116000 is also Free and confidential. The helpline is open 7 days per week, between 9am and 11pm. If you are missing, thinking of going missing, or someone you know is missing, we're here for you. You can call or text us, even if you have no credit on your mobile.


Missing Persons Information Hub

This hub is intended as a single point of reference where links and information can be found about all aspects of missing persons.  It is aimed at everyone who may be involved or needs help, including persons who are missing, those connected to them, professionals and academics.  


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.