SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Never give up on a child
Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board expects all agencies working with children/young people who are missing from Home or Care to implement this protocol and ensure that all relevant staff are aware of it and know how to use it.
It was updated and approved by members of Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board in April 2014. It incorporates the recommendations coming from the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Runaway and Missing Children and Looked after Children and Care Leavers, published in June 2012. It also incorporates findings from Ofsted Report on Missing Children published in February 2013, reflects the "statutory guidance on children who go missing from home or care" which was published in January 2014 and relevant updates from the National Police Chiefs' Council. The protocol will be regularly reviewed as new guidance is issued and was last updated in November 2018.
Separate guidance has been produced for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children who go Missing - to follow and Trafficked Children Procedure.
What to do if a child is missing?
Quick reminder of procedures for practitioners:
- If information is received that a child/young person is at immediate risk of Significant Harm then the Police must be immediately contacted;
- Carry out immediate checks and searches to try and locate child;
- Consider vulnerability of child;
- Undertake local searches and places where the child is likely to be based on known behaviours and/or current information. After this or during any point if you feel there is an immediate risk you will need to call the police;
- If missing or absent from care, inform placing social worker immediately and keep log of all actions;
- If missing or absent whilst the subject of a child protection plan, inform the child's key worker immediately;
- Record information on child's case file;
- Police will assess the information and if the child is under14yrs automatically record as missing and then commence an investigation to locate the child together with the relevant agencies. If the child is over 14yrs police will on the information provided complete a risk assessment and grade the episode as either Absent or Missing. If Absent then a record is created, intelligence checks completed, however no active search will commence. At this time a periods not exceeding 6 hours will be agreed with the caller for a call back to reassess the information and risk with the duty sergeant which may result in the child being reassessed as Missing and a plan to locate child, jointly with parents/carers and relevant agencies, including Emergency Duty Team;
- Consideration of police powers;
- Strategy meeting, depending on vulnerability, and any patterns or trends but always once the child is assessed as missing for 24 hours or absent for 48 hours. In this instance the strategy meeting should be instigated by CSC, and over bank holiday periods this will be co-ordinated by EDT and recorded on Frameworki;
- On return: police 'safe & well' check leading to immediate risk assessment - consider strategy meeting if increased risks apparent;
- Referral to Children's Social Care; recorded on Frameworki and records checked;
- Open social care/YJS case: referred to social worker/YJS worker for return interview (to be arranged and take place within 72hrs);
- Closed/not known to CSC: referred to Early Help Service for return interview (to be completed within 72hrs, and on the child's case file and sent to Thames Valley Police within 5 days);
- Who is a suitable and capable person to undertake the return interview? (for a Looked After Child, consult the IRO). Consider an independent person;
- Undertake return interview and record on child's file;
- Assess and review child's needs and current support plan/placement. Are they fit for purpose to reduce likelihood of further missing episodes? Is a Child Protection Conference threshold met? Is legal action indicated? Is the child's school actively engaged in reducing risk/absence?
- Revise the child's plan;
- For LAC, consider bringing forward a LAC Review;
- For a child subject to Child Protection Plan, consider bringing forward review CP conference;
- Does the child meet the criteria for Missing Children's Panel?
- If yes, provide and update alongside the return interview records and revised care plan and/or MARAMP to the Panel;
- Incorporate into the plan any recommendations of the Panel;
- Never give up on the child.
- Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home or Care (January 2014);
- Thames Valley Missing Children's Guidance.
Also see Local Resources.
This chapter has been updated in January 2019 to incorporate Oxfordshire's local processes.
- Common Principles for all Missing Children/Young People: from Home and Care
- Children/Young People Who Go Missing from Home (includes going missing from school during the school day)
- Contacting the Police
- Initial action by the Police
- Police Powers
- Out of hours/Emergency Duty Team (EDT)
- Planning for locating and /or the Return of a Child/Young Person - Safe and Well Check and Referral to Children's Social Care
- Children who go Missing whilst the Subject of a Child Protection Plan
- Strategy Meeting
- Return Home Interview
- Revise the Child's Plan
- Emergency Accommodation
- Children who Repeatedly go Missing from Home
- Support for 16 and 17 Year Olds
- Missing Mother of an Unborn Baby, subject to pre-birth safeguarding concerns
- Missing Children's Panel
- Looked After Children/Young People (including) Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Reported as Missing from Local Authority Care
- Definition of Child Missing from Care
- Definition Absent
- Actions for Absences
- Preventing a Looked After Child/Young Person Going Missing
- Placement Plan and Risk Assessment and Management Plan
- Reporting Procedures for Missing looked After Children /Young People including Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children
- Reporting missing looked after children to the Police
- Initial Action by the Police
- Police Assessment of Risk Whilst Missing
- Strategy Meeting
- Instances where Child/Young Person Looked After by another Authority and placed in Oxfordshire is reported Missing
- Instances where Oxfordshire Looked After Child/Young Person who is Placed in another Authority is reported Missing
- Informing other Children in Placement
- Informing the Press
- Planning for Locating and/or the Return of a Child/Young Person
- Emergency Accommodation
- Other Useful Guidance
- Annex 1: Push-Pull Factors in Going Missing
1. Common Principles for all Missing Children/Young People: from Home and Care
This Protocol is important for the safeguarding of children and families in Oxfordshire, or those using services in the County. It should be read and implemented, where necessary by all practitioners and managers working with children/young people who are missing from home or care.
If you believe that a child/ young person is at immediate risk of Significant Harm, whilst absent or missing, this should be reported without delay to the Police as a 999 emergency. The police will, where appropriate, make a referral to Children's Social Care.The most effective assessment and support comes through good information sharing, joint assessments of need, joint planning, tenacious partnership working across relevant agencies to keep children safe and joint action in partnership with families.
1.2 Causes of Going Missing
When (children and) young people start to go missing, that is one of their ways, when they are putting their hands up and saying "outside world things aren't great for me right now". Children's Society.
The main reasons for running away are:
- Problems at home - ranging from arguments with parents or carers to long-term abuse or maltreatment;
- Family break-up where young people are drawn into their parents conflict;
- Mental health complexities;
- Bullying, racism and racial harassment, homophobia;
- Teenage pregnancy;
- Wanting to be near friends or family - especially where a young person is in care and there are problems with contact;
- Grooming for sexual exploitation - evidence indicates that 90% of children subject to sexual exploitation go missing at some point;
- Child trafficking - young people may go missing when they are being trafficked;
- Forced Marriage - some young people may run away or go missing because they are at risk of or in a forced marriage.
The immediate risks associated with going missing include:
- No means of support or legitimate income- leading to high risk activities;
- Involvement in criminal activities;
- Victim of Abuse;
- Victim of crime, for example through sexual assault and exploitation;
- Alcohol/substance misuse;
- Deterioration of physical and mental health;
- Missing out on schooling and education;
- Increased vulnerability;
- Lack of boundaries or structure leading to chaotic lifestyle choices.
Longer-term risks include:
- Child sexual exploitation;
- Long -term drug dependency/alcohol dependency;
- Disengagement from education;
- Poor physical and/or mental health.
1.3 Scope of Protocol
This protocol is designed for:
- All children/young people under 18 who go missing from their family home, education provider or care;
- Children/young people in the care of Oxfordshire County Council placed in Local Authority Children's Homes within the authority's boundaries;
- Children/young people in the care of Oxfordshire County Council placed outside the County boundaries. In these circumstances, placement providers will be required to adhere to this protocol. This arrangement will be reviewed once the Government has introduced the 'Missing from Care' Scorecard (Yet to be implemented) which will bring all agencies into line with robust procedures;
- Children/young people in the care of Oxfordshire County Council placed with foster carers within the authority's boundaries;
- Children/young people in the care of Oxfordshire County 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/young people in the care of other local authorities who are placed in Oxfordshire;
- This protocol will always apply to children/young people who have a disability, which limits their independence whatever their age. It also recognizes that some of children/young people will be placed within residential special schools and educational establishments.
1.4 Children Missing from Education
Children and young people who run away and go missing are also likely to be missing from education i.e. missing from a school roll. Some children missing education may also be missing from home.
Information will be exchanged with Oxfordshire County Council (Children Missing Education Officer).
Child: anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday. 'Children' therefore means 'children and young people' throughout this guidance.
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.
All parties should be clear about the definition missing and absent.
The National Police Chief's Council definition of Missing and Absent are:
Missing "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 a risk of harm to themselves or another".
Absent: A person not at a place where they are expected or required to be.
No child aged 14 and under will be recorded as 'absent' they will always be missing by virtue of age.
No child/young person under 18 will be recorded as 'absent' if there is intelligence /evidence to suggest they are at risk of sexual exploitation or have been the subject of child abduction warning notices.
Missing child: a child reported as missing to the police by their family or carers.
An "absconder" is a child/young person who is absent from their placement without permission and who is subject to an order or requirement resulting from the criminal justice process such as curfews, tagging etc. or a secure order made in either civil or criminal proceedings.Child Abduction - where a child/young person has been abducted or forcibly removed from their place of residence the parent or carer should immediately contact the Police via 999. This includes children known to be at risk of sexual exploitation and who have been taken from their place of residence by unknown adults, even if the child appears to have gone willingly (a child cannot in fact consent to their own abuse and so they should not be seen as having gone willingly)
1.6 Services to Children Who go missing
All agencies will be alert to the needs of children who go missing. Some children who go missing are hard to engage and it can be difficult for parents, carers and professionals to find out the reasons and the kind of help that may be effective. Guidance to help professionals persevere and build trust with Harder to Engage Children/Young People is included in this manual (see Children who run away or go missing from home or care (2014)).
Services to help young people can be accessed, according to need, through the Early Help Service, Children's Social Care or Youth Offending Services. They will help identify cases of going missing and provide opportunities to address and prevent escalation.
Children with mental health needs, learning and physical disabilities are particularly vulnerable when missing. They may have communication difficulties and fewer opportunities to disclose reasons for going missing. All agencies should be alert to the particular needs of disabled children, making sure they know how to raise concerns and receive whatever assistance and support they require.
Oxfordshire County Council Children Education and Families Services has a responsibility to assess the needs of children to determine the most appropriate solution for a child where it has been determined, it is not in their best interests to return home.
1.7 Legal Framework
- The law does not generally regard young people under the age of 16 as being able to live independently away from home;
- Where a child/young person under 16 (or 18 if disabled) stays with a person (other than a person with Parental Responsibility or a close relative), for 28 days or more, the person caring for them is acting as a 'private foster carer' within the meaning of s66 of the Children Act 1989 and therefore they must notify the local authority that they are privately fostering the child/young person. 'Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005' SI 2005/1533. Failure to notify the local authority may be an offence;
- Anyone who has care of a child without Parental Responsibility may do what is reasonable in all the circumstances to safeguard and promote the child's welfare (Children Act 1989 s3 (5)). It is likely to be 'reasonable' to inform the police, or children's services departments, and, if appropriate, their parents, of the child/young person's safety and whereabouts;
- Anyone who 'takes or detains' a runaway under 16 without lawful authority may be prosecuted under s2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984. The enforcement of this provision might be problematic, however, if the young person has chosen to stay with another adult of his or her own free will;
- Where a young person who has run away is likely to be a child in need within the meaning of s17 of the Children Act 1989, the local authority should consider whether it should provide any services for the child, and in particular, whether the child meets the criteria in s20(1) of the 1989 for accommodation. This may entail undertaking a Child and Family Assessments in accordance with the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families and, in most cases. If the local authority has reasonable cause to suspect the child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, they should also undertake appropriate enquiries to enable them to decide what, if any, action they should take to safeguard or promote the child's welfare. (S47 Children Act 1989) Those enquiries must be started as soon as possible and in any event within 48 hours;
- A court may make a Recovery Order concerning a child who is the subject of a Care Order or an Emergency Protection Order; or who is the subject of Police Protection if there are grounds to believe that he has been unlawfully taken away from the person responsible for his care, or if he has run away or has been missing from care (s50 of the Children Act 1989). The Order acts as a direction for the child to be produced or for disclosure of his whereabouts. It also has the effect of permitting a police officer to enter named premises to search for the child using reasonable force if necessary. (See OSCB Strategy on Working With Child Sexual Exploitation and Disruption Plan);
- A person, who unlawfully removes, keeps away, assists or otherwise encourages a child to run away or stay away from their care placement may be guilty of an offence and liable to prosecution (s49 of the Children Act 1989.);
- On granting an Emergency Protection Order the Court may make a further order requiring a person to disclose any information that they may have about the whereabouts of a child/young person (s48 CA 1989);
- A Court Order can be obtained to authorise the entry, search and removal of a child/young person from premises attached to an Emergency Protection Order in relation to that child and, if appropriate, other children who may be found on those premises (s48 CA 1989).
1.8 Monitoring - Oxfordshire - Information on Missing Children
Thames Valley Police collect information and intelligence about missing children on the NICHE database. The police will provide Children's Social Care with daily reports of children who have been reported missing and the outcomes. Daily updates on all missing reports are sent to CSC to disseminate to the key worker (if open to CSC or YJS) or to the identified area EI hub.
The responsible social worker, early help worker or YJS worker should record each missing episode on the child's case file and monitor how often the child/young person goes missing, how the parents/carers manage that child/young person's missing episodes and ensure plans are in place to safeguard the child.
For a child in care, the social worker should report to managers any concerns about a placement not being able to meet the needs of the child/young person.
In all cases a looked after child going missing should be reported to the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). The IRO or Social Work manager may determine that an urgent Looked After Child review meeting should be held. IRO's are notified daily on any child report missing that they are responsible for.
A standard return interview form is used by all relevant service areas. The details from these recordings are used to inform care plans. Where concerns are heightened by the frequency, duration, pattern, trend or risks of missing episodes the records of incidents and care plans are shared at the missing children's panel (see criteria in para below). The plan is the scrutinised and risk assessed to ensure that all is being done across agencies to better understand and reduce future missing episodes when meeting the needs of the child.
The professionals who attend the missing children's panel take responsibility for ensuring that feedback from the panel is shared with the agency key worker and other front-line practitioners in agencies.
The role of the Missing Children's Panel in monitoring Oxfordshire-wide information
The Panel monitors patterns of missing behaviour. This will include intelligence about children and young people going missing from a specific location, any connections such as from a particular school or being located in particular areas. Information such as premises (café's, takeaways, taxi firms, pubs etc.) frequented will also be highlighted to aid planning and possible disruption activity where CSE/child trafficking/exploitation is suspected.
At the present time, there is no national information-sharing protocol for Police forces that would ensure reporting of missing incidents on children who go missing out-of-county.
Data is collated by Children's Social Care on all missing incidents for out of county residential and independent fostering placements. In the light of recent concerns by the All Party Group for Runaway and Missing Children the following measures have been put into immediate effect:
- Guidance for foster carers is provided on how the police assess when a child is "missing" or "absent";
- For foster carers, their handling of missing incidents will form part of their annual review report and also will be fed into their continuing training;
- Independent Reviewing Officers conduct a scaled-down Regulation 44/45/46 Children's Homes Quality Standards checks when they complete out of county LAC Reviews and review the homes log of missing episodes;
- Missing notifications and return interviews for all out of county placements (both residential and agency foster placements) are monitored via quarterly spot checks by Placement Service and responsibility to provide this information is written into all contracts with providers;
- These monitoring reports are available to Ofsted, sent to the Corporate Parenting Manager and Independent Reviewing Officers;
- The data is monitored at the Placements Panel where patterns of absence among children in care are analysed and contribute to the scrutiny of placement sufficiency.
A report showing patterns of absence and specific concerns is made from the Placement Panel to the Missing Children's Panel.
Outcomes of the monitoring arrangements
- For the individual child, the risk assessment and care plan are scrutinised and quality assured to ensure they are effective in reducing risk for the child;
- Placement providers are monitored, supported and challenged to achieve high standards of practice in their responses to missing episodes;
- Data is pulled together in one performance report to ensure there is regular senior oversight of the incidence of missing episodes and return interviews;
- Patterns and hotspots provide intelligence to the Police and partner agencies to be able to target actions.
Actions by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board
The Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board's Child Sexual Exploitation Sub-Group is responsible for receiving monitoring reports from the Missing Children's Panel and regular performance overview reports.These reports are used to develop the Board's CSE Strategy, which includes the CSE Disruption Plan and Action Plan, which, in turn, feed learning into improved practice and training opportunities for all agencies.
2. Children/Young People Who Go Missing from Home (includes going missing from school during the school day)
- Every individual has a responsibility to inform the Police if a child/young person is missing or Absent. Repeated failure of a parent or carer to report a child missing should be considered as a child protection issue;
- For children and young people, including those over the age of 16, agencies need to consider, along with their family or main carers, their physical and emotional needs, any additional concerns with regard to their wellbeing/welfare and the potential risk factors when assessing the likelihood of harm if the young person continues to be absent from home or their usual accommodation.
Parents and others responsible for the care of a child/young person
Parents and anyone who has care of a child/young person (e.g. friend, teacher, child minder, etc.) are expected first to undertake basic measures to try and locate their child if considered safe to do so and ascertain their safety:
- Search bedroom / house / school/ outbuildings / vehicles;
- Contact known friends and relatives where child/ young person may be;
- Visit locations that the child is known to frequent, if safe to do so;
- Attempt to phone/speak to the child/young person, if appropriate on social media or by text to enquire as to whereabouts.
It is considered a reasonable step for parents or carers of a child to inform the Police that their child is missing.
All Agencies (e.g. hospitals, schools etc.) with care of a child or young person, must, before reporting to the Police as a missing or absent person, take all reasonable steps to locate the young person by searching the building, grounds etc. if it is considered safe for the young person or others to do so.
If it comes to the attention of any agency (including voluntary organisations) that a young person is missing from home, they must advise the parent / carer of the agency's duty to ensure that the matter is reported to the police, If necessary, the agency will follow this up by contacting the police to verify the reporting by the parent / carer has occurred.
The consent of a person with Parental Responsibility will be sought for a photograph to be used in any subsequent missing person investigation.
2.1 Contacting the Police
If the child / young person is not found following this search a report should be made immediately to the Police by telephone or in person.
In an emergency dial 999 and ask for Police, non-emergencies dial 101. On contacting the Police Central Referral Unit you will be asked the following questions which also form part of a risk assessment:
When a call is made to the police, the call taker will ask 10 questions to determine if the person is to be recorded as 'absent' or 'missing'. This will subsequently be reviewed by the control room supervisor who will confirm the appropriate category i.e. 'absent' or 'missing'. The questions the police will ask are those contained in the national guidance and are as follows:
- What is the specific concern that has caused you to call the police?
- What has been done so far to trace this individual?
- Is this significantly out of character (Has there been a recent change in the persons behaviour)?
- Do they need urgent medical attention or essential medication that is not likely to be available to them?
- Are they currently at risk of child sexual abuse including child sexual exploitation?
- Are they likely to be subjected to any other crime?
- Are they likely to be the victim of any other form of abuse?
- Are they likely to attempt suicide?
- Do they pose a danger to other people?
- Is there any other information relevant to their absence?
2.2 Initial action by the Police
On receipt of a report of a missing child TVP will institute a plan to locate the child and a record created and an investigation will be initiated which is appropriate to the level of risk All missing enquiries will be recorded on the TVP NICHE system which includes all details, photographs, risk assessment and tasks to be completed. Reviews of the investigation are monitored by the police supervisor. The 'child at risk' form will be completed by the Police Central Referral and Task Unit who will automatically notify the Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU). CAIU will make a referral within 24 hours to:
Oxfordshire Children's Social Care
The police, following national guidance, will conduct a risk assessment by gathering information from family and other agencies as appropriate.
If the child /young person is found by any person it is their responsibility to return them to the home address or to make such arrangements with the parents or carers. Parents, carers and agencies must inform the police immediately when a child/young person is returned or returns of their own accord.
In recovering a child/young person where there is a substantial risk in doing so, the police may become involved in assisting.
If the child is over 14 and after the initial risk assessment if recorded as 'absent' a record will be created, intelligence checks completed and a time frame agreed with the caller for call-backs. 'Absent' persons will be circulated on the Police National Computer and where considered necessary by the missing person co-ordinators, referrals will be made to appropriate partner agencies. No further action will be taken by the police to locate an 'absent' person.
An 'absent record will be monitored ad reviewed and should a risk factor become evident, their status will be change to 'missing', at which point officers will be deployed to investigate in the usual way.In all cases, but particularly for a 'looked after child', it is expected that all reasonable steps will be taken by the caller/care providers to locate the child prior to and after the call to the police. A report to the police should only be made where the child is not located and the care –provider feels the child may be at risk of harm.
2.3 Police Powers
Routinely the child/young person should be returned home unless there are grounds to suspect there is a risk posed at home. If risk is suspected Police officers are encouraged to consider their powers under Children Act 1989 s.46 (Police Protection) or a referral to Children Social Care to apply for an EPO (Emergency Protection Order).
Section 46 empowers police officers to take a child/young person into Police Protection in prescribed circumstances i.e. when police have reasonable cause to believe that they would otherwise be likely to suffer Significant Harm, they may remove them to suitable accommodation and keep them there. Police officers, on exercising such powers, must contact Children's Social Care.Home Office Circular 44/2003 gives guidance on the application of Section 46 (CA 1989) for children/young people who are subject to an order or requirement resulting from the criminal justice process or a secure order made in either civil or criminal proceedings and is absent from their placement without permission is an absconder (see Section 2.3). The police must be informed of the absence without delay and they will deal with the matter using appropriate powers under the relevant legislation.
2.4 Out of hours/Emergency Duty Team (EDT)
EDT has established protocols for working with other agencies where there are concerns about children. Telephone Number: After 5pm 0800 833408 Mon-Thurs and after 4pm Friday
Where the Police have immediate concerns about the circumstances of a child who has been reported missing from home out of office hours e.g. concern that the child may be at risk if returned home, they will contact the Emergency Duty Team to assess the child's needs and make appropriate arrangements for accommodation. This will include young people who may at risk of 'honour'-based violence or forced marriage.
Should EDT have involvement with a missing child they will inform and provide information to the relevant Children's Multi Agency Safeguarding Team for the child's area or case responsible social worker for action as soon as day time services resume.Social Care Teams will send an alert to EDT where a child with whom they are working has run away/gone missing from home with specific plans should the child be located.
2.5 Planning for locating and /or the Return of a Child/Young Person - Safe and Well Check and Referral to Children's Social Care
If the police have any safeguarding concerns they should refer the child/young person to the Children and Families Assessment Team or out of hours to the Emergency Duty Team.
Police risk assessment and referral to Children's Social Care
A referral to the Children's Multi Agency Safeguarding Team should be based upon safeguarding concerns, whether the child still missing or returned (see risk factor appendices 7 and 8) with particular attention to the child's age and vulnerability and will take into account:
- Individual circumstances, including family circumstances in which the child/young person has gone missing such as whether the parents are unable or unwilling to work to support or meet the needs of the child;
- Motivation for running;
- Whether the child/young person has, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm;
- Possible destination;
- Missing overnight;
- Gone missing/run away on more than one occasion;
- Known mental health issues;
- Known risk of child sexual exploitation;
- Known risk of contact with persons posing a risk to children/young people;
- Involved as victim or perpetrator of criminal behaviour whilst missing/running away.
On a child being located the police will conduct a "Safe and Well" check as soon as possible after the young person has returned home. This is in order to ensure the young person's wellbeing and safety; and to establish if they were a victim of crime or abuse whilst missing. An evaluation of whether the young person is likely to run away from home in the future must be included.
Outcome of discussions between Police and Social Care.
Agreement about the course of action to assist or protect the child will be reached and recorded on FWI (Social care) and appropriate TVP systems.
- Completion of Common Assessment Framework (CAF) and Team Around the Child (TAC) approach with the involvement of the relevant Early Help Service;
- Section 47 (Children Act 1989) joint enquiries to be undertaken by Police and Social Care where there is reason to suspect the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm. A strategy discussion will be held to agree and plan any joint enquiry and must be considered if the child has not been found, may be harmed or has been persistently running away. This enquiry may lead to a child protection conference and plan;
- Assessment of need by Children's Social Care. The views of the child gained in the return interview (see below) will be of importance and inform the assessment and decision-making. This will be co-ordinated by Children's Social Care and the outcome recorded on FWI;
- Completion of the Child Sexual Exploitation Screening Tool and where appropriate consultation with the Kingfisher Team;
- Completion of the multi-agency risk assessment and management plan;
- Actions identified only for the Police resulting from information sharing with Children's Social Care/other agencies.
2.6 Children who go Missing whilst the Subject of a Child Protection Plan
Where the missing child is already the subject of a child protection plan, the key worker for the child must be informed immediately, or the Emergency Duty Team, if out of hours.
The Service Manager for Safeguarding and Quality Assurance should be informed.
Children's Social Care will inform the appropriate local agencies and other local authorities.
Where the risk of immediate Significant Harm to the missing child /young person is considered to be high, the key worker should arrange an urgent core group meeting to consider strategies for tracing the child.Consideration should also be given to convening a review child protection conference to determine what further action should be taken to ensure the safety of the child/young person and family.
2.7 Strategy Meeting
Any child or young person missing for a period of 24 hours or absent for more 48 hours, must trigger a strategy meeting with all relevant agencies and staff, the outcome of which MUST be reported to the Deputy Director Children's Social Care.
The strategy will be instigated by Childrens Social Care and the meeting must address:
- Last known whereabouts;
- Any intelligence relevant to the child/young person, their family friends or any other significant relationships;
- Analysis of risk;
- Plan of action and by whom;
- Media strategy where appropriate;
- Follow up strategy meeting no more than 5 working days apart;
- Plan of action upon the return of the child in relation to contacting all parties, how and who will receive the child, who will conduct the return interview;
- The return interview should trigger a final strategy meeting to consider the case, the risk factors and issues and a plan to prevent any further absconding behaviour.
2.8 Return Home Interview
It is particularly important that an interview takes place as soon as the child/young person is ready to speak about their 'missing' experience to find out whether the child/young person has been at risk. Children/young people tell us that sometimes they are not ready to talk as soon as they return and this may need to be followed up over the next few days, within a maximum of three days (72 hours).
The messages given when a child/young person returns home are crucial in helping to work with them to try to prevent any repeat episodes.
The principle of 'Never Give Up On A Child' should be applied and where a child or young person is reluctant to talk about their experience professionals should be persistent in their efforts. Children and young people say that if adults stop asking they see this as a sign that they don't care. This is particularly critical where there have been repeat episodes of going missing.
Deciding who undertakes the return home interview
A suitably skilled and capable person is required to undertake a return interview within 72 hours of the child/young person being located or returning from an absence. This is a more in depth interview than the police "safe and well check".
Consideration should be given as to whether an independent person would be best placed to conduct the return interview. For all looked after young people the social worker will discuss this with the Independent Reviewing Officer. The Volunteer Independent Visiting and Advocacy Service (VIVA) have been trained to conduct return interviews where the need for an independent person has been identified. This service is available to all children and young people who are likely to be unable to communicate openly, unless they are speaking to an independent person.
For other children and young people, being able to speak to a known and trusted professional is the preferred option.
Most critical is that the young person themselves has an element of choice of whom they might wish to speak to.
Where the child is an open case to Children's Social Care or YJS, the child's social worker/YJS worker will take responsibility for ensuring the return interview is completed.
Where a child is not open to Children's Social Care or YJS will co-ordinate the return interview, as follows:
- If it is the first time that a child/young person has been reported missing then the EI Worker should contact the relevant school and request that an appropriate School Staff member undertake the interview. On completion of the interview, School will be required to complete the Missing Child/young Person Return Interview Form and return to the Hub within 3 working days;
- If the child/young person has been reported missing previously then the EI Worker should contact the School and request that an appropriate member of the School Staff be present whilst the allocated EI Worker conducts the interview;
- If the child has Special Educational Needs then it may be more appropriate for the School Staff member to lead the interview;
- A Missing Child/young person Return Interview Form should be completed and returned to the EIS Hub for the child's home address. The EI Hub will review the information, decide whether follow-up action is required and store in a confidential file.
All return interviews should be recorded and added to the child's record. A copy should be sent to the missing child administrator email@example.com and Thames Valley Police missing child co-ordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org
Purpose of the return interview
The return interview should:
- Be undertaken in a neutral place and focus on trying to help rather than feeling like an interrogation of the young person;
- Have as its main purpose the need to learn more about the reasons behind the missing episode, the "push and pull factors" that were the key contributory factors (see Annex 1: Push-Pull Factors in Going Missing);
- Identify and deal with any harm suffered, including any need for medical attention, emotional, behavioural or psychological support linked to:
- Having engaged in criminal activity during their absence;
- Having been hurt or harmed whilst missing;
- Having known mental health issues;
- Having contact with persons posing risk to children;
- Possible risk of child sexual exploitation.
- If the interview highlights no safeguarding concerns and the child is not open to Children's Social Care or YJS, the interviewer should consider whether the child has any other additional needs and a Early Help Assessment (EHA) is required;
- Identify safeguarding concerns, in which case the interviewer should consider the and whether to complete the CSE screening tool, neglect tool or other relevant assessment tool and refer to Children's Social Care, if not already open;
- Where the interview, builds on an existing pattern of risk, it should update the child's assessment and risk management plan and facilitate an agreed multi-agency response (see below)All young people with risky behaviours should be screened to see if a multi-agency risk assessment and management plan is required and practitioners should discuss with their manager if a multi-agency meeting should be called to complete or review this plan;
- Provide a clear record of what has taken place. A chronology of missing episodes will be collated each time a new episode is entered on EMS (ONE) and recorded within document manager so that patterns of behaviour can be identified and analysed.
2.9 Revise the Child's Plan
The child/young person should be offered the relevant support by either a statutory or voluntary organisation depending on the level of need and the assessment of risk.Where there are serious concerns the assessment should lead to multi-agency response i.e. a team around the child, a child in need plan or a child protection plan. The planning process will be determined by the assessment of risk and the relevant statutory framework.
2.10 Emergency Accommodation
During normal working hours, if the child/young person cannot be returned home the decision to place the child elsewhere will be made by Children's Social Care. Outside of normal working hours this decision will be made by the Emergency Duty Team in consultation with the duty senior manager.
2.11 Children who Repeatedly go Missing from Home
For those young people who repeatedly go missing from home and are felt to be at risk of Significant Harm, consideration must be given to holding a strategy discussion with a view to conducting enquiries under Section 47 (Children Act 1989) and holding an Initial Child Protection Conference or, where a young person suspected to be at risk of child sexual exploitation the CSE screening tool should be completed and the child discussed with the Kingfisher Team for advice.
Children's Services and the Police will record and keep up to date on their databases, chronologies for children who repeatedly go missing.Children and young people who have more than two missing episodes in a 90 day period will be discussed at the multi-agency missing children's panel.
2.12 Support for 16 and 17 Year Olds
16 and 17 year olds who run away or go missing are not necessarily any less vulnerable than younger children and are just as likely to need support in order to make a successful transition into adulthood.
However, young people over 16 can choose to leave home and it may be necessary to involve other services e.g. housing officers or outreach workers in the assessment of their needs. Vulnerable young people need to be in a secure housing setting - no 16 or 17 year old should be placed in bed and breakfast accommodation by Housing or Children, Education & Families services except in an emergency and for the shortest time possible where B&B is the only available alternative to homelessness.
If a young person presents themselves to Children's Social Care as homeless, then an assessment of need will be undertaken by CSC and the young person will provided with appropriate services and support. In this case, local authority children's services must assess their needs as for any other child. Where this assessment indicates that the child is as child in need and requires accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, they will become looked after.
If a young person presents themselves as homeless to a housing provider the housing provider will provide emergency accommodation and refer the young person to Children's Social Care for an assessment of need. The housing provider will continue to provide emergency accommodation while the Assessment is being undertaken.
2.13 Missing Mother of an Unborn Baby, subject to pre-birth safeguarding concerns
Any person who receives information about the mother of an unborn child, who is the subject of safeguarding concerns or a pre-birth assessment, has gone missing, must pass the details immediately to Children's Social Care or, if out of hours, to the Emergency Duty Team.
Children's Social Care will take responsibility for alerting the appropriate agencies (including Police) and other authorities, initially by telephone and confirmed in writing as soon as possible.
Local enquiries should always be made of the following as soon as possible:
- Designated Nurse for Safeguarding and other Health professionals including GP, Health Visitor and Midwife as appropriate;
- The child's school or preschool provider;
- District Council Housing Provider;
- Police Central Referral Unit or Child Abuse Investigations Unit.
If these enquiries prove unsuccessful
- The local Department for Work and Pensions should be asked to search local and national records;
- The Child Benefit Agency on 0845 302 1444 for any information;
- The key worker must ensure that all information resulting from these enquiries is collated.
2.14 Missing Children's Panel
The Missing Children's Panel is a multi-agency group that meets monthly to share information and review plans for children and young people who meet the criteria of:
- More than two missing episodes in a 90 day period;
- Missing for a period of over 24 hours;
- Where significant safeguarding issues are identified and linked to a missing episode;
- Where they is an emerging pattern or trend that is signposting to risks;
- Where they child has been absent for more than 48 hours.
An important part of supporting a child/young person is identifying patterns and themes arising from their missing from care episodes, analysis of information arising from each episode must form part of the on-going work with the child/young person.
This panel is chaired by the Childrens Social Care and Thames Valley Police.
Once a child/young person returns consideration should be given to:
- The need for a multi-agency strategy meeting (MARAMP) which should be used to update the child's profile on the RMO;
- The need for an early Review of the child's plan;
- The review of any prevention/support work currently being undertaken with the child/young person and his/her family;
- A placement support meeting;
- Further meeting with the child/young person if more details are required about the missing episode.
Child/young person's Placement Information Record on Framework I should be updated.
Factors to consider:
- The likelihood of the child/young person continuing to go missing and any factors which may reduce this;
- Are there issues in relation to the placement meeting their needs, additional risks given adults and children they associate with and how can these be addressed;
- The level of supervision and support the child/young person requires currently;
- The likely level of risk should the child go missing and any additional action that should be taken.
3. Looked After Children/Young People (including) Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Reported as Missing from Local Authority Care
The Local Authority has the same duty of care toward all children who are looked after whether they are accommodated under s20 (CA 1989) or subject to Emergency Protection Order, Care or Interim Care Orders.
The Local Authority's approach to managing missing from care episodes is a key element of its corporate parent responsibilities and helping to ensure the best possible outcomes for all the children that it looks after.
Where young people are missing from their care placement it is essential that all professionals concerned work closely together and follow the procedures agreed in this protocol.The senior manager accountable for the performance of the Looked After Children Services (Corporate Parenting Manager) in tandem with the police and partner agencies must analyse missing from care incidents, and take steps to minimise any repeat incidents in particular where trends are identified regarding episodes from particular care placements. All such children and young people will be considered by the Missing Children's Panel.
3.1 Definition of Child Missing from Care
A child/young person under 18 is to be considered missing if their whereabouts are unknown whatever the circumstances of their disappearance and/or there is concern for the child/young person because of their vulnerability, or there is a potential danger to the public. He or she is considered missing until located and his or her well-being, or otherwise, is established.
All Looked After young people, including those over the age of 16, will be reported as missing if their whereabouts are not known and they have been missing from placement whether this is care or semi-independent accommodation.Sometimes a looked after child or young person may be late returning to their placement. The carers will need to make a judgement about whether and when this constitutes the child being missing taking into account the child's age, any factors which increase their vulnerability such as a disability or additional learning need, involvement in sexual exploitation or criminal behaviour, the child's history and whether the child has been in contact. The child's care plan and or risk assessment and management plan should set out the level of leeway which may be applied to a 'late return' episode before the child is to be reported missing. This should be kept under review.
3.2 Definition Absent
Where a child/young person's is not at a place they are expected or required to be, and a risk assessment does not raise concerns for their immediate safety or that of the public, they are not considered to be 'missing' but to be 'Absent'
Some children and young people absent themselves for a short period and then return, with their whereabouts known to the carer. Sometimes children stay out longer than agreed, either on purpose to test boundaries, or accidentally. This kind of boundary-testing activity is well within the range of normal teenage behaviour and should not come within the definition of "missing" as used within this protocol. However the child's care plan and/or risk assessment and management plan should set out clearly the level of leeway before the child is reported as missing.
To cover these situations the category of 'Absent' should be considered. Examples of situations where absents will apply are:
- Leaving the supervision of the responsible adult after a dispute to a known location and returning within a risk assessed timeframe;
- Failing to return on time but; not beyond the agreed level of leeway in the care plan/risk assessment;
- Staying at a known location or with someone else and there are no other reasons for concern;
- They are communicating regularly with carers and there are no other reasons for concern.
To provide additional safeguards for key 'At Risk' groups, we have adopted the national guidance and this is to confirm that the joint protocol with the local police will included the following stipulations relating to 'Absent':
- No child aged 14 and under will be recorded as 'absent'; they will always be classed as 'missing', by virtue of their age;
- No child/young person under the age of 18 will be recorded as 'absent' if there is evidence/intelligence to suggest that they are at risk of sexual exploitation or have been the subject of child abduction warning notices;
- No known sex offender will ever be recorded as 'absent'; they will always be recorded as 'missing' due to the risk they may pose.
3.3 Actions for Absences
If the child/young person does not return at the expected time, residential workers/ foster carers/parents/teachers must take all reasonable steps to ascertain the child/young person's whereabouts and safety prior to contacting the police. In doing this; there should not be undue delay in proceeding from what is expected of a reasonable parental response and contacting the Police.
All carers/staff/teachers/parents will take the following action:
Initiate procedures, which encourage the child/young person to return as quickly and safely as possible, ensuring that they are not intimidated by the prospect of returning.
Staff and carers should carry out a number of basic actions. The following should be seen as a guide only:
- Check premises and outside areas;
- Ask other children/residents if they know the whereabouts of the child/young person;
- Attempt to contact child/young person by mobile phone using text or voicemail if appropriate;
- Check with other carers or staff in the residential unit;
- Make enquiries with relatives and or friends.
The responsibility for managing absence lies with the staff of the residential home/educational setting/foster carer or parent. It is essential that professionals work closely together in order to locate the child/young person as quickly as possible. The degree of urgency will be determined by the age and maturity of the child/young person, understanding and past history taking into account any previous missing episodes. This also applies to many vulnerable children with a Education, Health and Care Plan including being placed in a residential special school.
When a call is made to the police from the appropriate adult responsible for the child at that time, the call-taker will go through a series of 10 questions to risk assess the current 'context' of the report to determine if the child/young person is to be reported as 'absent' or 'missing'. This will subsequently be reviewed by the police control room supervisor who will confirm the appropriate category i.e. 'absent' or 'missing' (if assessed as absent this will be reviewed within 6 hours by the duty sergeant and then at the 12 hour mark by the duty inspector.
Where a child is assessed as 'absent', a record will be created by the police and intelligence checks will be completed and a time-frame agreed with the residential worker/foster carer or parent for call-backs. Likewise episodes of absence should be recorded on the child's social care record and these episodes should be monitored, including in the looked after review. Where considered necessary by the missing person co-ordinators, referrals will be made to appropriate partner agencies. No further actions will be taken by the police to locate an 'absent' child/young person. However an 'absent' record will be monitored and reviewed by the police control room supervisor; should risk factors become evident, their status will change to 'missing', at which point officers will be deployed to investigate in the usual way.
For those children who absent who have not returned but who have been communicated with and/or seen, the details of these contacts should be recorded.In assessing the significance of a child's absence, consideration must be given to the guidance already agreed and incorporated into the child/young person's Risk Assessment and Management Plan. Any absence must be kept under regular review. It is important to consider whether the circumstances of the disappearance would now render the child at risk of harm, for example:
- The child requires medication at a set time; or
- Weather conditions have severely deteriorated;
- Time of day e.g. night-time.
Where episodes of absences have occurred; these must be risk assessed and kept under regular review. This should include the child's age, any additional risk factors such as disability or additional learning needs, risk of grooming, criminal activity, the time of day or night, the child's history and any known concerns.Young people who regularly are absent should be subject to discussion at the monthly multi-agency missing person panel meeting to agree an individual plan of action.
3.4 Preventing a Looked After Child/Young Person Going Missing
During the assessment phase of considering whether to receive a child/young person into Care, the child's social worker will ensure that any previous missing from home information is made available at the Placement Planning Meeting.
3.5 Placement Plan and Risk Assessment and Management Plan
Listening to a child is an important factor in protecting and minimising the chances of a child running away. The Children's Rights Director (2012) reported that "one of the major influences of them running away is having a sense that they are not being listened to and taken seriously", particularly about placement decisions and moves. All looked after children should be informed about their right to be supported by an independent advocate.When a child/young person becomes Looked After, or moves placement, and there is information to suggest they might go missing, their Placement Plan and Risk Assessment & Management Plan should note this and be given to their carers. This information must be shared with carers as it provides the baseline information about the child's behaviour pattern and how to respond. This should be updated where appropriate whether the child remains in placement or moves to another placement. The Risk Assessment & Management Plan will also be attached to Children's Social Care electronic data recording system (FWI) and should include the following:
- Describe the likelihood of the child/young person going missing;
- Detail the level of supervision and support the child/young person requires currently;
- Describe the likely level of risk to and by the child should the child go missing;
- Detail the parent's views on what action should be taken if the child/young person goes missing if applicable.
The social worker will ensure that the child has this information explained to them so that they understand what actions will be taken if they absent themselves without permission and that they will be reported missing from home to the police. This should be done both through discussion and written information.
Carers should be requested to obtain an up to date photograph of the child/young person as the police will need this if they go missing.
In their placement all children/young people should be given clear information about:
- Giving carers times of going out and returning;
- Who to tell about where they are going;
- How to seek help if they are unable to get back for the agreed time, whether this has happened accidentally or on purpose;
- Who they can contact if they have any worries/problems;
- This information will be recorded on Placement Information Record.
This is not an exhaustive list; clearly good parenting will denote the appropriate response. All of the above should be set out clearly within the Placement Information Record. It is the social worker's responsibility to ensure that the information is comprehensive and reflects perceived risk.Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO's) should ensure this matter is considered at Child Care Reviews.
3.6 Reporting Procedures for Missing looked After Children /Young People including Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children
The reporting process for a child in care who is missing has to be influenced by the risk factors in the individual circumstance, e.g. age of child, risks, specific vulnerabilities etc.
All efforts to locate the child/young person must be recorded and available to audit.
If the child is considered missing from a residential home, staff from the residential home will, without delay, inform the police and within normal working hours the child/young person's social worker or duty worker or if out of office hours the Emergency Duty Team. Residential staff will also inform the child/young person's school/college (on next available working day).
A decision will be made with the duty worker about who will inform the parent/s and when.
If the child is considered missing from their foster home, the foster carer will, without delay, inform the police and the duty worker in the fostering team or out of hours the Emergency Duty Team. A decision will be made with the duty worker about who will inform the parent/s and when.
In the case of a child missing from foster care, residential care or residential special school, the details should be recorded and made available to Ofsted in accordance with the requirements of the National Minimum Standards.
In the case of an asylum-seeking child, children's social care is required to notify UK Borders Agency (Ref. "East of England Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) Safeguarding Protocol"). Any child or young person who is missing for more than 24 hours will be reported to the Head of Children's Social Care, the Children's Social Care Service Director and Director of Children's Services by the relevant Service Manager via a 'Need to Know' notification and an Ofsted notification. The following procedures should be applied for an Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child under the age of 18 years. (If the child turns 18 during this process then they will be closed and re-assessed for a service based on their entitlement if they return).
Note - All Children to be photographed and finger prints taken on presentation to Children's Social Care/Thames Valley Police.
- Child missing reported to Thames Valley Police;
- Strategy Discussion undertaken within 24 hours with Thames Valley Police and Key 2/ Foster Carer;
- 24-hour update from Thames Valley Police;
- Children's Social Care to complete tasks identified as part of the Strategy Discussion;
- Part one meeting with allocated Independent Reviewing Officer to discuss case (within 7 days);
- 7-day update from Thames Valley Police;
- Part two meeting with Independent Reviewing Officer (within 20 days);
- Statutory Looked After Child visits to be recorded six weekly with updates by Social Worker;
- Second Strategy Discussion at two months;
- Final Strategy Discussion with Independent Reviewing Officer at 12 weeks (de-accommodation discussion);
- Missing episode completed and sent to MISPER panel for review by Children's Social Care and Thames Valley Police Missing Children Strategic Leads;
- Looked After Child case closure, chronology of events to Area Social Care Manager for agreement and sign off;
- Area Social Care Manager to complete hazard flag on front screen and case note that child is missing summarising events, actions being undertaken in terms of missing by police and agreed status and that the child would continue to be discussed at Misper Panel;
- Children's Social Care completes Looked After Child closure process and steps case down to Child In Need a plan;
- Children's Social Care keep the case open and remains with an allocated social worker until the child reaches 18yrs old;
- Work within Child In Need workflow until 18yrs old;
- Step up to section 20 Looked After Child / Leaving Care if returned and entitled (age specific).
Residential child care staff should refer to their own detailed procedures and guidance.
3.7 Reporting missing looked after children to the Police
In an emergency dial 999, for non-emergencies dial 101When the police are contacted the child's looked after status must be made explicit. The police should be provided with the same information as outlined above by the relevant staff member or foster carer. Residential carers should complete this electronically and sign and date it and foster carers should complete it either by hand or electronically and sign or date the record.
3.8 Initial Action by the Police
A police officer will attend all reports of a missing looked after child. They will require further information to assist their enquiries, as follows:
Guidance already agreed and incorporated within the child/young person's Placement Plan and Risk Assessment & Management Plan.
- The age and maturity of the child/young person;
- Clear consideration must be given to children/young people with disabilities and/or special needs as they are deemed most vulnerable and high risk;
- The legal status of the child/young person;
- Previous behaviour patterns and activity;
- Is there a reason for the child/young person to go missing?
- State of mind/perceived risk;
- Group behaviour, social networks and environmental factors;
- Consideration of any external influences, which may result in a child's removal without consent;
- The possibility of a child being harboured/abducted;
- Any disclosures made by the child/young person or others prior to the child/young person going missing;
- The possibility of the child/young person being in the company of a person who poses a risk to children;
- Do they need essential medication that is not likely to be available to them.
The level of risk to the child/young person will be determined by the police in conjunction with the Local Authority and carers. Police will share information with other agencies as appropriate.
The attending police officer will take the information and photograph to assist them with their investigations.Whilst missing persons aged under 18 are automatically classed as "vulnerable missing persons" this is NOT an indication of risk.
3.9 Police Assessment of Risk Whilst Missing
All reports of missing children will be subject to a risk assessment by the police. Thames Valley Police will conduct a risk assessment in line with nationally agreed guidance (The National Police Chief's Council 2005). This will be carried out for each child/young person on every separate occasion they are reported missing. This risk assessment, conducted by the initial investigating officer, and subsequently confirmed or revised by the supervising officer will form the basis for the appropriate level of investigation. It is an on-going process and will be reviewed throughout the investigation. The police have two categories for risk:
- High Risk
The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing the child/young person 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 the public is in danger;
- Medium Risk
The risk posed is likely to place the child/young person in danger or they are a threat to themselves or others;
- No child will be graded as low and in the case of an absent child there will not have a risk rating by virtue of the category.
As noted above this will be reviewed at the 6 hour and 12 hour points as a minimum.
3.10 Strategy Meeting
Any looked after child or young person missing for 24 hours, or absent for more than 48 hours, must trigger a strategy meeting with all relevant agencies and staff, the outcome of which MUST be reported to the Deputy Director Children's Social Care. Ofsted must also be made aware at the point at which a strategy meeting is held. The IRO Manager will monitor this for compliance and a sample audit undertaken at the missing Childrens panel each month.See above for the strategy meeting agenda.
3.11 Instances where Child/Young Person Looked After by another Authority and placed in Oxfordshire is reported Missing
When a child/young person placed in Oxfordshire by another local authority goes missing, the registered manager or delegated senior of the children's home or fostering service is responsible for ensuring that the accountable manager in the child's responsible (i.e. placing) local authority receives notification that their looked after child has gone missing and that appropriate actions have been initiated. The responsible local authority must be informed immediately. Thames Valley Police will liaise with the Police in the child's responsible authority. In all other respects this procedure will be followed although the responsible authority would normally be responsible for convening strategy meetings and initiating child protection procedures. If the responsible authority fails to Oxfordshire Children's Social Care will make representations to the responsible authority to ensure Child Protection procedures are followed.
3.12 Instances where Oxfordshire Looked After Child/Young Person who is Placed in another Authority is reported Missing
Children and young people placed outside their home area may be at increased risk if they go missing. This includes risks that they do not know the area, have no access to friends or support networks and are unaware of local risks. Great care should be taken when considering placing a child or young person in a cross border placement (or indeed an in County placement outside the child's own locality). In particular the placing social worker should assess any risks including running away behaviours of other children and young people in the placement. Oxfordshire County Council will ensure that the child's Placement Plan and Risk Management Plan are as detailed as possible, including specific behaviour management strategies where there is a known risk that the child or young person may runaway.
The care provider will be responsible for following their local Missing from Home and Care procedures and contacting the Placement Service (Emergency Duty Team if out of office hours), Independent Reviewing Officer and child's social worker in Oxfordshire who will consider the need for a Strategy Discussion to include local police and ensure that a return interview is conducted by an independent person within 72 hours of the child returning. An early LAC review may be convened to address issues for the child and placement.
A copy of the relevant procedure from the host Local Safeguarding Childrens Board area will be obtained and held on the child's file.
3.13 Informing other Children in Placement
Should a child's absence continue after the matter has been reported to the police, the staff of the residential home/educational setting should make arrangements to inform all children and staff. In respect of children in foster care, a similar process needs to be undertaken by the foster carers. In this way, distressing rumours may be avoided and additional information may be gained regarding the missing child's whereabouts. Any relevant information should be passed to the police immediately.
3.14 Informing the Press
It is a decision for the police, to advise the media regarding any missing child/young person.Whether the child/young person is missing from public or private care providers, the decision to publicise by press and/or television will always be made in consultation with the responsible social worker and the Deputy Director Children's Social Care. This will be arranged at a local level, by the Deputy Director or nominee with Oxfordshire County Council press office. The social worker will be informed before any publicity in order to advise the parents. However, there may be occasions where the decision to go to the press is immediately instigated by the police if the situation is deemed life threatening. All efforts will be made by the police to liaise with children's social care in the first instance or immediately after.
Children's homes and the fostering teams will maintain a distinct log that records on a regular basis all unauthorised absences and missing from care episodes. A full record must be kept of all actions taken and messages received / given this could be used as evidence.
For residential staff they should make a note in the home's log of any action taken, messages received and cross reference it to the running log for Missing in Care. The running log for missing in care should be completed electronically and a full record of all action taken and messages noted on this.The foster carers must record all unauthorised absences and missing from care episodes in their records log. They must complete the Running log for Missing in Care and the fostering team to enter this on the One/FWI electronic data system.
3.16 Planning for Locating and/or the Return of a Child/Young Person
The police will conduct a "Safe and Well" check for ALL children/young people reported missing as soon as possible and within 24 hours after their return. The Safe and Well check is an immediate check that the child has been seen and assessed for any medical treatment etc.
If a child/young person's absence comes within this protocol, the senior residential manager on duty within the home or the duty officer, in consultation with the social worker, police, carers and parents (where appropriate) should commence contingency planning for when the child/young person is located. Such plans will include:
- The Return interview (see Section 2.8, Return Home Interview and Section 2.9, Revise the Child's Plan) which must take place within 72 hrs, of the child/young person returning. The Social worker should determine the most appropriate way to ensure the child/young person is listened to; decide where the interview should occur and who should carry this out. The timing for the interview may vary from child/young person depending on the circumstances at the time, discretion should be used and reason for any delay clearly recorded;
- Giving the child/young person the opportunity to speak with someone independent of direct involvement, this person maybe an advocate or a social worker/police officer not directly involved with the child/young person or responsible person trusted by the child/young person. Ensuring that the child/young person is aware of his/her rights and access to an advocate;
- Identify ways in which the child/young person can meaningfully inform and participate in the return plan;
- Deciding if the child/young person is to return to the previous placement;
- If returning to placement, deciding how he/she be conveyed there;
- Agreeing how and when the police see a child/young person on their return to undertake the "safe and well" check. The timing and process to do this will be based on the outcome of the discussion noted in point 1 but should be done within 24 hrs. Plan and identify who will complete the return to placement interview;
- It is usual for children's social care to make the arrangements for the transportation of the child/young person back to their placement. Where appropriate and subject to policing requirements at the time the police will assist. However the responsibility remains with children's social care. Children should not normally be told to return alone in a taxi;
- Discussion should take place between children's social care and the police regarding their respective powers to enforce a return if the child/young person resists and is not apparently at risk. Children's social care legal department should be consulted. If there is a failure to agree on a course of action then the Area Social Care Manager and the local police inspector will be consulted;
- The police will work in partnership with the plan developed by children's social care to return a child/young person to his/her placement. If there are any allegations of abuse, or a suggestion that the child/young person has been a victim, or a perpetrator of any crime, the police need to be contacted immediately and they will consider implementing child protection procedures;
- Due consideration must be given to the securing of evidence and possible forensic examination. This may include keeping any clothes the child/young person was wearing and/or sensitively discouraging bathing/showering and toileting where a forensic examination may be a possibility although this will need to be managed appropriately. The police will advise on appropriate procedures to follow;
- The Independent Reviewing Officer should be consulted as to whether an early Looked After Child review should be convened to address issues for the child and placement.
3.17 Emergency Accommodation
If the child/young person cannot be returned to the previous placement during normal working hours the decision to place the child elsewhere will be made by the appropriate manager within children's social care; outside of normal working hours this decision will be made by the Emergency Duty Team in consultation with the duty service manager.
4. Other Useful Guidance
- Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009) Statutory Guidance (revised) for Local Authorities in England to identify Children not receiving a Suitable Education. London Department for Education;
- Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009) Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation. Supplementary Guidance to Working Together to Safeguard Children;
- HM Government (2009) Multi Agency Practice Guidance. Handling Cases of Forced Marriage. Foreign and Commonwealth Office;
- HM Government (2008) Safeguarding Children who may have been trafficked;
- HM Government, Information Sharing: Guide for Practitioners and Managers; a pocket guide is also available at Department for Education ref: DCSF-00808-2008;
- All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Inquiry into Children Who Go Missing From or Run Away From Care.
4.1 Helplines - Information
Missing People provides support for missing children, Adult at Risk and families left in limbo.
Through the Runaway Helpline, the charity provides crisis-support to any young person who has run away from home or care, or been forced to leave. The service is 24/7, free, confidential and can be contacted via Freefone 0808 800 7070, by emailing email@example.com and also by texting 80234.
Missing People also helps local authorities to find young people missing from home or care. The charity can provide liaison and publicity opportunities, including national media partners, to aid the safe return of a child.
Missing People accepts referrals from any agency or carer involved with a missing child as long as the case has already been reported to police. A straightforward media consent form will need to be signed by whoever has parental responsibility.
To contact Missing People about a missing child, email:
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0871 222 50 55.