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13.2 Liverpool Missing Children Policy

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

Children who run away or go missing from home or care

PAN Merseyside - Local Safeguarding Children Boards Missing Children Procedure

This chapter was added to the manual in August 2018 and replaced a similar chapter.


Contents

1. Definitions of Missing Children
2. Cases not open to Social Care Involvement
3. Children’s Services Responsibilities
  3.1 Children Missing Open as CIN or s.17 Assessment
  3.2 Children on CP Plans
  3.3 Children Looked After
4. Liverpool Looked After Children Placed Out of the Local Area
5. Other Local Authority Children Placed in Liverpool
6. Return of the Child
7. Return Interview Arrangements
8. Governance Arrangements
  Appendix 1: Contact Details for Merseyside Police Missing Co-ordinators
  Appendix 2: Missing Notification Flowchart
  Appendix 3: Liverpool Return Interview Form and Guidance
  Appendix 4: Missing Strategy Meeting Template and Considerations

This process should be read in conjunction with the PAN Merseyside - Local Safeguarding Children Boards Missing Children Procedure.


1. Definitions of Missing Children

Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located and their well-being or otherwise confirmed.

All reports of missing children sit within a continuum of risk from ‘no apparent risk (absent)’ through to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action.

Click here to view an image showing the definition of Missing.

Looked After Children can also be ‘absent’, in that they are away from their placement, their whereabouts are known, but they should not be there. If the child is categorised by Merseyside Police as ‘absent’, the person calling the Police will be asked if there are safeguarding concerns or risks, to inform the Police response.

Any calls to Police regarding a looked after child who is absent and their no safeguarding concerns or risks they will be advised to call the Police if there is a change in circumstances, which would increase the risk level (and potentially categorise the person as ‘missing’), or if the person returns.

Actions which should be taken by Children’s Social Care and the partnership to address ‘absent’, away from placement behaviour, is outlined in the Looked After Children section of this Protocol.

Merseyside Police Missing Persons Policy states that: ALL CHILDREN AGED 13 YEARS AND UNDER WILL BE CATEGORISED AS ‘MISSING’ AND NOT CATEGORISED AS ‘ABSENT’ UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

If Merseyside Police have a CSE or Criminal Exploitation flag recorded on their systems, or have any intelligence that a child is at risk of CSE or CE, they must automatically be recorded as missing, never absent, and the risk level should automatically be recorded as high, for a review to be undertaken by a Police Inspector, who may make a decision to reduce the level of risk based on further information.

Merseyside Police will ask a standard set of questions whenever an individual is reported missing to determine the level of risk and categorisation of the episode:

No apparent risk (absent / away from placement)
There is no apparent risk of harm to either the child or the public. Actions to locate the child and/or gather further information should be agreed with the person notifying the Police.
Low risk (missing)
The risk of harm to the child or the public is assessed as possible but minimal. Proportionate enquiries should be carried out to ensure that the individual has not come to harm.
Medium risk (missing)
The risk of harm to the child or the public is assessed as likely but not serious. This category requires an active and measured response by the police and partner agencies in order to trace the missing child and support the person reporting.
High risk (missing)
The risk of serious harm to the child or the public is assessed as very likely.

This category almost always requires the immediate deployment of police resources – action may be delayed in exceptional circumstances, such as searching water or forested areas during hours of darkness.

There should be a press/media strategy and/or close contact with outside agencies. Family support should be put in place where appropriate.

If a child or young person who has been missing or absent is considered to be at risk or experiencing child criminal or sexual exploitation also refer to the PAN Merseyside Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Protocol.

If a child or young person is thought to have been trafficked also refer to the PAN Merseyside Trafficking Procedure.

It is the responsibility of parents / carers to report all missing episodes to the police however it should be noted that within the general population of Liverpool some parents/carers may not recognise or consider their children missing (particularly teenagers). In these cases parents/ carers may not report their child missing meaning that professionals do not have an accurate record of previous episodes and therefore are not able to put in place support or safeguarding measures at increasing levels of concern.

We know it is these early missing episodes in which parents are not aware of their child’s whereabouts or have been misled by the young person could be an indicator of the start of a “grooming process” and consideration should be given as to whether this is the case.

The remainder of this Procedure outlines actions that services should undertake regarding specific situations when a child is reported missing, according to the levels of needs of the child and presenting risk.


2. Cases not open to Social Care Involvement

Children missing from home

This section specifically relates to children who live at home with a parent or care and not known to Early Help Services or Children’s Social Care.

  • Child has been missing 72 hours – strategy discussion/meeting to be held in MASH by CE CSW or equivalent to determine action required (no action, s.17 or s.47 assessment, Early Help support etc.). *Should the 72hrs fall during a weekend or public holiday, OOH’s TL’s will hold the strategy discussion;
  • Children who have been reported missing on 3 occasions within a 30 day period and safeguarding concerns identified – a strategy discussion/meeting to take place within MASH to decide outcome;
  • Children who have been reported missing on 9 occasions in a 90 day period and safeguarding concerns identified – strategy discussion/meeting to take place within MASH to decide actions required (no action, s.17 or s.47 assessment, Early Help support etc).


3. Children's Services Responsibilities

Under the 2018 Merseyside protocol a Missing strategy discussion/meeting must be considered in the following circumstances:

  1. When a child has been missing for 72 hours;
  2. When a child has been missing 3 times in a 30 day period and safeguarding concerns identified;
  3. When a child has been missing 9 times in a 90 day period and safeguarding concerns identified.

Missing strategy discussions should include Merseyside Police (see Appendix 1: Contact details for Merseyside Police Missing Co-ordinators) plus any additional agencies relevant to the child.

For case open to social care:

The allocated Social Worker and team Manager will be notified via LL if a child on their caseload hits any of the above criteria and the strategy discussion/meeting or any other multi-agency meeting should be considered as soon as possible.

Key changes in more detail by case status:

3.1 Children Missing Open as CIN or s.17 Assessment

  • Child has been missing 72 hours – strategy discussion/meeting to be held by TM/CSW. Ongoing weekly missing strategy meetings will continue to be held until the child returns. *Should the 72hrs fall during a weekend or public holiday, OOH’s TL’s will hold the strategy discussion;
  • Child has been reported missing on 3 occasions in 30 day period and safeguarding concerns identified – strategy discussion/meeting or CIN review to be held by allocated SW and TM/CSW;
  • Child has been reported missing on 9 occasions in 90 day period and safeguarding concerns identified – strategy discussion/meeting or CIN review to be held by allocated social worker and TM/CSW.

3.2 Children on CP Plans

  • Child has been missing 72 hours– strategy discussion/meeting to be held by Team Manager/CSW. Ongoing weekly missing strategy meetings will continue to be held until the child returns. Consideration given to convening missing CP review.
    *Should the 72hrs fall during a weekend or public holiday, OOH’s TL’s will hold the initial strategy discussion;
  • Child reported missing on 3 occasions within 30 day period and safeguarding concerns identified - Strategy discussion/meeting to be held and by TM/CSW and risks to be considered within core group meeting;
  • Child reported missing on 9 occasions in 90 days missing and safeguarding concerns identified – strategy discussion/meeting to be held by TM/CSW – Discussion should also take place between the child’s IRO, TM and Missing co-ordinator from police to determine if the CP review or core group meeting should be brought forward.

If a child subject to a CP plan goes missing with parents – SW to notify TM and Safeguarding Unit immediately and agree arrangements for a strategy discussion/meeting to be convened.

If a child subject to a CP plan goes missing with parents for more than 7 days, a Missing Child Protection Conference will be convened by the child’s IRO.

Should the child continue to be missing with their family, the Team Manager/CSW will continue to hold weekly strategy discussions/meetings until the child is found. The child’s IRO should be kept informed at all times.

It is good practice for children subject to a CP plan to be visited by their allocated Social Worker within 48 hours of their return.

3.3 Children Looked After

  • Child has been missing for 72 hours - strategy discussion/meeting to be held by Team Manager/CSW. Ongoing weekly missing strategy meetings will continue to be held until the child returns. Consideration to convening LAC review. *Should the 72hrs fall during a weekend or public holiday, OOH’s TL’s will hold the strategy discussion;
  • Child has been reported missing on 3 occasions within a 30 day period and safeguarding concerns identified – strategy discussion/meeting to be held by Team Manager/CSW;
  • Child is reported missing on 9 occasions in a 90 day period and safeguarding concerns identified - strategy meeting, Care Planning meeting or CLA review to be convened - Team Manager and IRO to agree which meeting is appropriate.

It is good practice for Looked After children to be visited by their allocated Social Worker within 48 hours of their return.


4. Liverpool Looked After Children Placed Out of the Local Area

Children ‘looked after’ but placed out of the local authority boundary should be subject to equal rigour of care planning as those placed within the borders of the local authority. They should be subject to escalation meetings, reporting requirements and return interviews as specified in local procedures for each authority.

The Care Plan should clearly detail a young person’s needs in relation to missing episodes. This should detail the expectation that all missing episodes are reported by the placement provider to the police and the case holding social worker.

The Individual Placement Agreement (IPA), for each child placed and forms part of the Framework Contract. Arrangements for the completion of return interviews for children placed out of the local area should be incorporated into the IPA for the child at the time of agreeing the placement with the provider.

It is the allocated social worker’s responsibility to ensure that a copy of the completed return interview is received and recorded on the child’s file in Liquid Logic.

Standards for return interviews and escalation meetings should be maintained for children placed outside the local authority’s borders.


5. Other Local Authority Children Placed in Liverpool

When another Local Authority places a child in the Merseyside area, they are required to notify Children’s Services in the area the child is being placed of the placement. (See Notification of a child in the care of another Local Authority (CICOLA) being placed within the Local Authority boundary & Notification of a child being placed out of the Borough in a neighbouring / Distant Local Authority Procedure).

All looked after children placed within the Merseyside area by another Local Authority should be recorded on the Local Authority where they are residing ICS (Liquid Logic) system, as an Out Of Borough Placed Child.

Any incidents regarding a child placed within the Merseyside area going missing, the carer should inform Merseyside Police. The Police notification should be communicated to the Liverpool MASH who will notify the placing Local Authority. The MASH should record this missing notification on the Other Local Authority (OLA) placed looked after child records on their Liquid Logic data system.

The child’s placement also has a responsibility to inform the child’s allocated Social Worker.

Under the 2018 Merseyside protocol, a Missing strategy discussion/meeting must be considered in the following circumstances which also apply to other local authority children placed in Liverpool:

  1. When a child has been missing for 72 hours;
  2. When a child has been missing 3 times in a 30 day period and safeguarding concerns identified;
  3. When a child has been missing 9 times in a 90 day period and safeguarding concerns identified.

If safeguarding concerns are identified, the placing Social Care Team will be requested to organise and chair a Strategy Meeting, involving Merseyside Police (see appendix for contact details).

Responsibility for making child protection enquiries rests with the host authority, who should negotiate with the responsible local authority to continue with these enquiries (section 47, Children Act 1989).

Consideration should be given as to whether the Care Plan and/or placement is meeting the child / young person’s needs and addressing any safeguarding concerns / risks.

Where there are increasing concerns regarding a child placed in Merseyside by another local authority, (children who have been missing 9 times in 90 days), the Director of Children’s Services in the host authority will be informed and will consider whether further measures are required.

The Director of Children’s Services in the responsible authority will be informed (via the police process) and asked to ensure that all appropriate measures are in place for the future care and safety of that child.

Return interviews for children placed in Liverpool by other Local Authorities remain the responsibility of the placing authority.


6.Return of the Child

Parents, carers, family or friends locating a missing child should inform the police.

The police must also be informed when a child returns of their own accord.

The child should be returned to their home / placement address where it is safe to do so.

On the child’s return, carers should make clear that they are relieved to see the child safe and well. Their general condition should be assessed immediately, and if appropriate, medical attention should be arranged. Food and drink should also be a priority. The safety and welfare of the child should also be ensured especially if it seems that they have run away because of bullying or harassment.

The return of a child must be effectively managed. Confirmation that the missing person is safe and well, together with effective prevention interviews, lead to a better understanding of why the person went missing and what can be done to prevent it happening again. Planning for the return has been shown to be extremely beneficial and it is not sufficient to deal with that event when it arises. Firm plans should be put in place while the person is still missing to decide how their return will be dealt with. This is extremely important for those that repeatedly go missing or who are categorised as high risk. If this is not done, it is likely that the cycle of going missing will not be broken and the person will go missing again.

On the return of a missing child or young person, an Officer should be deployed as soon as practicable to assess that the child or young person is safe and well and ensure, as far as possible, that it is safe to return them to the home or care institution that they are absent from.

The officer conducting the safe and well check will question the returned child or young person in an attempt to establish why they left, where they went to, their activity whilst missing and whether there are any concerns relating to the address where they went missing from/returned to. If there are any explicit, implied or suspected concerns then appropriate action must be taken. In cases where the child is uncommunicative, then consideration should be given to questioning carers, parents, or friends, in order to establish the reason for the missing episode.

If it is apparent, upon the return of a child, that they have been the victim of a crime whilst absent, or that they may be in danger or at risk from any person arising out of circumstances that have occurred whilst they were absent, then the police must be called and asked to attend without delay. This is vital for the protection of the child and for the speedy recovery of evidence. A parallel referral should also be made to Children’s Social Care in accordance with Local Safeguarding Children Board’s Inter-agency Policies and Procedures.

Consideration should be given to whether a strategy meeting (Children Act 1989) is required. Any of the partner agencies involved with the child can request a strategy meeting following consultation with their first line manager if it appears that there is significant risk to a young person or there are child protection concerns. A strategy meeting will enable formal consideration to be given to the need to invoke child protection enquiries.


7. Return Interview Arrangements

In addition to a safe and well check carried out by the police, all children determined as missing should also receive an independent return interview. For this purpose, the return interview record has been developed and can be found in the Appendices.

This is a more in-depth interview and is carried out in Liverpool by an appropriately trained practitioner from the Protect Team (Protect.Team@liverpool.gov.uk) who are independent of providing care to the young person. The Protect Team will carry out return interviews for all Liverpool children placed within Merseyside. For Looked after Children Placed outside of Merseyside please see Children’s Services Responsibilities (see Section 3, Children’s Services Responsibilities).

Many young people need to build up trust with somebody before they will discuss in depth the reasons why they decided to run away so it is good practice to identify with the young person if they wish for someone else to conduct the return interview, preferably before any incident occurs. This could be a teacher, family member or other agency professional. Every effort should be made to have that person conduct the interview, even if it has to wait longer than usual and if this is agreed by the young person.

The purpose of the return interview is to:

  • Identify factors which led to the missing episode;
  • Prevent further missing episodes;
  • Inform any subsequent missing person investigation;
  • Share intelligence and information.

Particular attention should be paid if a child is suspected of being involved in or at risk of trafficking or exploitation as they may be fearful of giving information.

Once completed, the Protect Team will upload this information to the Return Interview Form in Liquid Logic and finalise the missing episode.

Any safeguarding concerns identified as part of the return interview will be shared with the allocated social worker for cases open to social care and with the MASH in the form of a MARF for cases not open to social care.


8. Governance Arrangements

Operational oversight

An operational missing and child exploitation group is held once per month. This meeting will review key data in relation to missing children and consider any issues which need to be escalated to Strategic MACE (Multi Agency Child Exploitation meeting).

Strategic oversight

A bi-monthly Strategic MACE provides oversight for concerns in relation to missing and exploited children.

In addition, the LSCB Performance Management Sub Group will review receive quarterly reports regarding compliance with this procedure, including analysis of missing children data.

This procedure is approved by the LSCB Policy and Procedure Sub Group.


Appendix 1: Contact Details for Merseyside Police Missing Co-ordinators

john.rooney@merseyside.pnn.police.uk - 0151-777-4887

sally.l.leisk@merseyside.pnn.police.uk - 0151-777-4029

john.p.chorley@merseyside.pnn.police.uk - 0151-777-4029


Appendix 2: Missing Notification Flowchart

Click here to view Appendix 2: Missing Notification Flowchart.


Appendix 3: Liverpool Return Interview Form and Guidance

Introduction

Children who go missing may sometimes be running from something, which places them at risk and may run into or to situations, which also place them at risk.

Children may not be to talk about these issues; however professionals need to find out why the child goes missing in order to safeguard them.

It is a statutory requirement that all young people who have an episode where they are reported as missing should have an independent interview within 72 hours of their return.

The interview should be conducted by someone who isn’t their carer or parent. If the young person is in residential care, it should also be conducted by someone who is independent of the home.

The following are some guidelines to adhere to when conducting the interview:

  • The young person should be informed that they will be expected to talk to someone about their absence and who this person will be;
  • The interview should be conducted within 72 hours of their return;
  • Identify and deal with any harm the young person may have come to;
  • Issues relating to health should be attended to immediately;
  • Encourage the young person to talk about the reasons why they ran away;
  • Discuss ways to help it not happening again.

The interview should provide information to the child to prevent further period of going missing. There should be questions that pertain to the personal situation of the child/young person.

The fullness of the interview will depend on the circumstances and the degree of risk to the child. This interview should provide information to the child to prevent further periods of going missing. There should be questions that pertain to the personal situation of the child.

Click here to view the Return Interview Form and Guidance.


Appendix 4: Missing Strategy Meeting Template and Considerations

Click here to view Appendix 4: Missing Strategy Meeting / Missing From Care Review.

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