Children who go missing

This section of the procedures covers situations where a child cannot be contacted because the whereabouts of the family is unknown; the child has gone missing or the child is missing from education provision.

 

Overview

When there are concerns about a child (e.g. because they are “in need”, are the subject of a child protection enquiry or of a current child protection plan) it is important that services remain in contact with the family to ensure that the child’s needs are being met. In situation where the child/family cannot be contacted it is important that appropriate action be taken to ensure that the child does not “fall through the net”. This section of the procedures covers situations where:

  • A child cannot be contacted because the whereabouts of the family is unknown;
  • The child has gone missing;
  • The child is missing from education provision.

Children with families whose whereabouts are unknown

When there are on-going concerns regarding a child’s welfare a series of missed appointments should act as a warning indicator to the involved agencies. In such situations agencies should bear in mind that missed appointments may be an indicator that the child has moved address.

Where there are such concerns children's social care and the police should be informed. Children's social care and the police will consider what steps are required to try and locate the family/child – which may include legal interventions where there is concern that the family may be attempting to deliberately avoid intervention by removing the child. In circumstances where the child has been taken overseas this may include contacting the Consular Directorate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for assistance.

Children who go missing

Children who run away do so because they are unhappy or are afraid. This is, in itself, a matter of concern for agencies involved in child protection work. However, the fact that the child is missing will also mean that they are vulnerable and in danger. Statutory guidance for dealing with missing children [1] requires that there should be a “Tees Runnning or Missing Protocol” agreed between children's social care, the police and other relevant agencies. The protocol should include:

  • a definition/description of what constitutes “running away” and “missing”
  • an inter-agency framework for classifying the degree of risk when a child goes missing from home or when a missing young person comes to agency notice;
  • guidance on the threshold for referrals to children's social care;
  • guidance on where a CAF may be beneficial to ascertain why the child may be running away, who should carry this out and how this information should be shared;
  • guidance on the basis on which agencies will offer ‘Return interviews’ for children who have gone missing; and
  • guidance on preventative approaches.

Children who go missing from education

It is very important that all children receive education provision as this:

  • helps them achieve their potential;
  • provides an environment and context for identifying when a child may be experiencing difficulties and an arena for seeing the child on a regular basis and for assessing the impact of services provided when the child has needs.

For these reasons a child who is missing education is of concern to agencies involved in safeguarding and protection. The reasons why a child may be missing education include:

  • failing to commence education provision and therefore, as a consequence, never entering the system;
  • ceasing to attend due to exclusion;
  • being withdrawn by a parent/carer;
  • failing to take up a place when transferring education provision e.g. being unable to find a suitable school place after moving to a new local authority area.

Children facing difficulties at home, or in specific circumstances, may be at particular risk. Such children include:

  • children who have committed offences;
  • children living in women’s refuges;
  • children of homeless families, perhaps living in temporary accommodation;
  • runaways;
  • children with long-term medical or emotional problems;
  • children looked after by the local authority;
  • children with a gypsy/traveller background/from transient families;
  • young carers;
  • teenage mothers;
  • children who are permanently excluded from school;
  • migrant children, whether in families seeking asylum or economic migrants;
  • children/teenagers being forced into marriage.

Every local authority has a Child Missing Education (CME) named point of contact. Every practitioner working with a child has a responsibility to inform their CME contact if they know or suspect that a child is not receiving education.

There is specific guidance to assist local agencies in:

  • finding children who are missing from education and
  • identifying those at risk of going missing from education

[1] Statutory guidance on children who runaway or go missing from home or care 2007