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13.2 Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home or Care Strategy

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter comprehensively covers the issue of children who go missing and in particular the forces that drive children to go missing, together with the relevant agencies roles and responsibilities. Highlighted is the fact that children who go missing can be subject to trafficking and child sexual exploitation, and that the more often a child goes missing, the greater the concerns rather than a reduction of risk they may be exposed to.

Where children go missing from home, and there is a delay in parents carers reporting their absence, then this itself should be a cause for concern.

The chapter has helpful flow charts to describe the key processes together with relevant forms/tools. The LSCB actively monitor details of children who go missing in a variety of settings. Links to other relevant chapters are made as appropriate.

RELATED GUIDANCE

DfE, Children who run away or go missing from home or care

DfE, Children missing education – statutory guidance for local authorities (2015)

RELEVANT CHAPTER

Children and Families who go Missing Procedure

AMENDMENT

This chapter was amended in February 2017 to amend Appendix 5: Flowchart for Missing Children to provide additional information in respect of actions for social workers in respect of Looked After Children and Child Protection concerns. Some additional detail has also been provided with respect to the ‘Return Interviews’. (see Section 3, Children Missing from Care and Section 5, Return of the Child).


Contents

1. Background
  1.1 Introduction
  1.2 Scope
  1.3 Named Responsible Officers
  1.4 Principles
  1.5 Going Missing on an External Activity
  1.6 Definitions and Explanation of Terms
2. Children Missing from Home
  2.1 Principles
  2.2 Reporting a Child Missing from Home
3. Children Missing from Care
  3.1 Pre-Placement
  3.2 Corporate Parenting Responsibilities
  3.3 Reporting a Child Missing from Care
  3.4 Away from Placement Without Authorisation
  3.5 Before Contacting Police
  3.6 The Role of Care Planning / Missing Strategy Meetings
  3.7 Out of Area Placements
  3.8 Other Local Authority Placement
  3.9 Planning for Return
  3.10 Longer Absences
4. Police Responsibilities
  4.1 Initial Report and Risk Assessment
5. Return of the Child
  5.1 Independent Return Interview
  5.2 Return Interview Responsibilities
  5.3 Children Missing from Education (CME)
6. Strategic Arrangements
  6.1 Governance Arrangements
  6.2 Training and Induction
  Appendix 1: Information for Merseyside Police
  Appendix 2: CSE Information Gathering Form
  Appendix 3: Return Interview Form
  Appendix 4: Missing Strategy Meeting / Missing From Care Review
  Appendix 5: Flowchart for Missing Children
  Appendix 6: Flowchart for Absent Children


1. Background

1.1 Introduction

The Children’s Society "Still Running" Survey estimated that around 100,000 children under the age of 16 run away from home or care each year across the UK. We know that many of these children stay with friends or family members, but there are some who do not have or don’t access these support systems, or who are forced to stay in environments that are harmful to their safety and well-being, and so end up engaging in activities that may put them at risk.

There are strong links between children involved in sexual exploitation and other behaviours such as running away from home or care, bullying, self-harm, teenage pregnancy, truancy and substance misuse. In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable, for example, children with special needs, those in residential or foster care, those leaving care, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, forced marriage and those involved in gangs.

The majority of Children who go missing are not in care and go missing from their family home; however, children who are looked after are much more likely to run away than those who live at home, and over 50% of young people in care have run away at some point. This is not to presume that the care system necessarily causes young people to run away. In many cases, a pattern of running away may have been established at an early age and may have been a factor in the young person’s admission to care. It is also important to remember that the majority of Looked After Children do not necessarily go missing.

Whilst each case needs to be considered on its merits, children who run away are at a heightened risk of being victims of crime, being sexually exploited, involved in substance misuse or of becoming involved in crime and disorder. Additionally, research shows that the level of risk to the individual child escalates with each episode they go missing and repeat episodes have been identified as a significant indicator of high risk to the child or young person.

1.2 Scope

These procedures relate to Missing and Absent children including:

  • Children Looked After by Liverpool City Council, placed in either Local Authority or privately run Children’s Homes within the City of Liverpool;
  • Children placed in foster care within Liverpool;
  • Children looked after by councils other than Liverpool but placed with care providers within Liverpool;
  • Children missing or absent from their home address or other non-care related addresses, including schools or hospitals.

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 risk of harm to themselves or another.”

Absent – “A person not at a place where they are expected or required to be.”

The `absent’ category should comprise cases in which people are not presently where they are supposed to be and there is no apparent risk.

Police classification of a child as missing or absent will be based on an on-going risk assessment. All children under 13 years of age will automatically be classed as missing. Note that ‘absent’ within this definition would not include those defined as ‘away from placement without authorisation’.

A child whose whereabouts are known would not be treated as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ under police definitions; Guidance on how the police will apply these new definitions to children was issued by ACPO in April 2013 (see ACPO/College of Policing, Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation Missing Persons).

For the purposes of this protocol; a child is defined as anyone who is under 18 years of age.

The Local Authority retains responsibility for children Looked After and placed outside the Local Authority boundaries. In these cases the Local Authority will require the placement provider to comply with these protocols and protocols local to their area.

Other Local Authorities placing children within 'the Local Authority' boundary will be required to comply with these protocols.

Associated documents:

  • Children Missing Education Guidance;
  • Merseyside Child Sexual Exploitation Protocol.

1.3 Named Responsible Officers

The Assistant Chief Constable is the designated lead officer with primary strategic responsibility for children missing from care and home.

The Local Authority has designated the Assistant Director for Safeguarding as their lead officer with primary strategic responsibility for children missing from care and home.

The LSCB Business Manager will help to ensure that reporting arrangements are managed in accordance with this procedure.

1.4 Principles

The following principles should be adopted by all agencies involved with young people who may go missing:

  • Going missing is a dangerous activity and can have short and long term consequences. All individuals have a responsibility to report a child if they are missing. If a parent or carer does not report a child missing within a reasonable timescale when their whereabouts are unknown, this should be seen as displaying compromised parenting and should be considered as a potential safeguarding concern;
  • It is imperative that services working with children are able to, and actively do, identify those who are commencing a pattern of running behaviour and provide the appropriate interventions at the earliest opportunity to prevent future incidents which may place them, or others, at risk.

The Children’s Society through its research has identified the following risk factors that can precede a missing incident in a young person, otherwise known as ‘push’ factors:

  • Arguments and conflicts at home including being told/forced to leave;
  • Poor family relationships including specific step-parent issues;
  • Physical and emotional abuse including Domestic Violence and Abuse;
  • Personal wellbeing – feeling depressed, needing someone to talk to;
  • Problems with alcohol and/or drugs;
  • Problems at school.

‘Push’ factors also include placement instability for Looked After Children and children who are Placed at a Distance from their family and friends.

Significant ‘Pull’ factors are:

  • Children running to be with family particularly if contact arrangements are problematic;
  • Grooming for potential sexual exploitation – young people will run away or go missing following grooming by adults wishing to exploit them.

Many children will exhibit normal adolescent behaviour in testing boundaries and it is not helpful to consider every incident of lateness or absence for all people as high risk. However, some will need to be treated as missing immediately due to their vulnerability. This protocol is based upon the principles of sound individual risk assessment, by carers and agency professionals and by Merseyside Police in classifying and responding to the incident.

Accurate and up-to-date information from the person’s past and present is key to appropriate risk assessment and response to missing, and other, incidents. Information from previous assessments, immediate welfare checks or full Return Interviews (see Section 5, Return of the Child) should be fed back to Police and carers so this picture of behaviour and experiences can be developed.

The Police will only become involved after the Reporting Individual has completed all reasonable checks to locate the individual. Missing children and remain the responsibility of the person / organisation which has legal Parental Responsibility (PR) for the child, even after they have been reported missing.

The primary function of the Police is to investigate the disappearance and attempt to locate the young person prior to any harm befalling them or the general public. Police response and associated actions will be based on a police risk assessment of the incident and knowledge of the individual(s) concerned, which will utilise information from partners and those who know the person.

Children’s views must continue to be taken into account when responding to incidents and any expectations put on children through this policy should be discussed with them, as part of the care planning and review process and during other interventions for children not in care.

1.5 Going Missing on an External Activity

After careful consideration of the new ACPO definitions, the parent /carer or lead staff member should determine whether they think the child is ‘missing’ or ‘absent’. If a child is deemed to be missing whilst on an external activity, the parent/carer or lead staff member is responsible for the below:

  • Arrange an initial search of the area the child or young person was last seen;
  • Notify the local Police immediately. This should be the Police Force responsible for the area where the child or young person was last seen. This report should NOT be delayed until the carers have returned to their home area;
  • Notify the child or young person's social worker or team manager both locally and within the placing authority (if applicable);
  • Notify the senior manager at home (if applicable);
  • Notify the emergency out of hours duty team (if applicable).

1.6 Definitions and Explanation of Terms

The current ACPO definition of missing is:

  • 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 risk of harm to themselves or another.”
  • Absent – “A person not at a place where they are expected or required to be.”

The `absent’ category should comprise cases in which people are not presently where they are supposed to be and there is no apparent risk.

Police classification of a child as missing or absent will be based on an on-going risk assessment. All children under 13 years of age will automatically  be classed as missing. Note that ‘absent within this definition would not include those defined as ‘away from placement without authorisation.’

A child whose whereabouts are known would not be treated as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ under police definitions; Guidance on how the police will apply these new definitions to children was issued by ACPO in April 2013 (see ACPO/College of Policing, Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation Missing Person).

  • Looked After – A child is ‘looked after’ by a local authority if they are ‘in care’ by reason of a court order, or if they are provided with accommodation for more than 24 hours by agreement with parents or with the child if they are aged over 16 years;
  • Accommodated – A child is accommodated if they are looked after by the Local Authority with the voluntary agreement of parents, or the child if they are over 16 years;
  • Responsible Local Authority – The authority that is responsible for the young person’s care and care planning;
  • Host Local Authority – The authority in which the young person is placed when placed outside of the responsible authority’s area;
  • Care Leaver – an eligible, relevant or former relevant child as defined by the Children Act 1989;
  • Missing Person Coordinator – Approval of the new ACPO definition is conditional on the role of missing person coordinator or someone performing this function in each police force. ACPO advise that ideally the role has close links with arrangements to deal with Child Sexual Exploitation;
  • Absconded –  When a child or young person has gone missing who is subject to an order or requirement resulting from the criminal justice process (e.g. remands, curfews, tagging, conditions of residence, ASBOs) or a secure order made in either civil or criminal proceedings;
  • Child Abduction - Where a child has been abducted or forcibly removed from their place of residence, this is a ‘crime in action’ and should be reported to the Police immediately;
  • Forced Marriage - Some young people run away because they are at risk of abuse. Forced marriage in particular can lead to young women running away from home. Further guidance on this can be found in the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Multi-Agency Protocol and Forced Marriage Guidance (GOV.UK);
  • Child Sexual Exploitation - Boys and girls may run away or go missing from home or care following grooming by adults who are seeking to exploit them sexually. Children can also be exploited for the purposes of criminal activity. Further guidance can be found at Liverpool Safeguarding Children Board Website, Child Sexual Exploitation;
  • Child Trafficking - Some missing children subsequently become trafficked, often for the purposes of sexual exploitation. They may be trafficked across both small and large geographical areas. Further guidance can be found at Safeguarding Children and Young People who may have been Trafficked Procedure.


2. Children Missing From Home

2.1 Principles

A co-ordinated response is required for children who are missing from home.

There is an expectation that parents or guardians will report their child as missing. Failure to do so should be considered as a potential child protection issue and if appropriate the LSCB safeguarding procedures followed.

Children and young people who go missing and are under the age of 16 are not considered as being able to live independently away from home. Young people over the age of 16 who are living away from home can be vulnerable and consideration should be given to a child’s physical and emotional needs and the potential risk of harm in making a professional judgement about their individual circumstances. 

Children who are going missing from home are at an increased risk of sexual exploitation and all agencies should be alert to the relevant risk factors and risk indicators. If a child is thought to be at risk of exploitation, child sexual exploitation procedures must be followed. See Liverpool Safeguarding Children Board Website, Child Sexual Exploitation.

2.2 Reporting a Child Missing from Home

In the first instance parents/carers are expected to make reasonable efforts to locate the missing young person, providing that it is safe to do so, they should:

  • Search their bedroom and house including any outbuildings and vehicles;
  • Contact known friends and relatives where the child or young person might be;
  • Visit locations where the child is known to frequent if it is safe to do so.

When all reasonable steps have been exhausted, parents and anyone who has care of a child or young person should inform the police and if appropriate, Children’s Services through Careline  0151 233 3700.

To inform the police about a young person missing from home Dial 101.

In exceptional circumstances if a very vulnerable child goes missing and an immediate, urgent response is needed dial 999, explain the circumstances of the child’s disappearance and the reasons for your concern. The police will need to know:

  • The child’s name;
  • The child’s date of birth;
  • Where, when and with whom the child went missing;
  • What the child was wearing;
  • A description of the child;
  • Agree to provide a recent photograph;
  • Their medical history;
  • The time and location they were last seen;
  • Circumstances of going missing;
  • Details of any friends or associates.

Officers will conduct a risk assessment forming the basis for resulting proportionate actions. At this stage, the child will be determined as ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ as per the definitions. The police will make ongoing enquiries, sharing information with parents and other agencies as appropriate.

The Police risk assessment will be informed by:

  • Individual circumstances, including family circumstances in which the child has gone missing;
  • Their motivation for running;
  • Their possible destination; and
  • Their recent patterns of absences (if any);
  • If the parent/s appear unable, or unwilling, to work to support and meet the needs of children.

Upon receipt of information concerning a child missing or absent from home Careline staff will assess whether a referral as a child in need (Section 17) or a child in need of protection (Section 47) is required.


3. Children Missing From Care

3.1 Pre-Placement

Prior to each accommodation arrangement for a Looked After Child, the placing social worker must consider within the care planning process all potential risks to the child including an assessment of the potential for them to go missing. The child and their parent/carer should be involved in the planning process and it should be related to that individual’s needs, previous history and views. Missing episodes prior to the child becoming Looked After must be taken into account.

Care should be taken when establishing where the child or young person should be accommodated:

  • Is the home able to meet the needs of the young person?
  • Is the placement a good match in terms of other young people in the placement?
  • Are there external factors in the area of the placement which need to be taken into account when considering the placement?

When placing outside the placing (home) Authority, it is even more critical to properly assess the above issues. If there is a need to discuss specific risks or issues, the placing Authority should speak to the Safeguarding Unit in the Authority in which the child will be living. When a placement is confirmed, the Placing Authority with Parental Responsibility must always follow the Formal Notification Process as detailed in ‘Working Together’ to inform the new Authority that a ‘Looked After’ Child is being placed in their area.

The Placement Plan is an opportunity for the care provider and the social worker to discuss with the young person issues around going missing and absent and to explain the rules and responsibilities of all involved. It is also the opportunity to provide the carer with details of the young person and their family and history. This will help carers to understand any risks to the young person or themselves if they go missing and it may help to locate the young person. The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations Volume 2: Care planning, placement and case review June 2015 set out is required in Placement Plan and the Care Plan, if a child has a history of missing episodes practical focus needs to be given to these:

  • Trigger points for absence or missing episodes;
  • Risks to themselves, the public and/or the carer before, during or after a missing episode including when being picked up;
  • What steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of the child going missing and coming to any harm or harming others;
  • Friends and family details and contact numbers as well as addresses commonly found at.

Expectations of the young person: for example, curfews and, when and how to make contact, and the consequences of lateness etc.

Expectations of the care provider: for example at which point the Police will be notified, what processes will follow an incident, who will collect a child if they are missing, details of who conducts immediate assessments on their return and arrangements for full return interviews.

Agreements around rules for staying overnight at friend’s houses or going on trips. This is frequently cited as a major issue by young people who wish to behave like their peers who are not looked after. Local Authority Circular (2004) 4: Guidance on the delegation of decisions on "overnight stays" for looked after children suggests that “decisions on overnight stays should normally be delegated to foster carers and residential care staff. Arrangements for such decisions should be written into the Placement Plan or equivalent.” There is no statutory duty for DBS checks to be carried out on adults in a private household where a child/young person may stay overnight and so restrictions should only be placed on looked after Children if there are exceptional circumstances.

Care Providers, together with Local Authorities and all other relevant agencies, should operate a system of intervention strategies designed to reduce the possibility of a child or young person going missing again, as stated under the Children’s Homes: National Minimum Standards 2015, A safeguarding culture and ethos. These must relate to the individual young person and take into account their experiences and needs.

Every Child who is placed within National, North West Framework Contracts for Residential/Fostering and Leaving Care placements requires an Individual Placement Agreement (IPA).

The IPA is the Individual Placement Agreement, for each Child placed with the Provider and which forms part of the Framework Contract. Arrangements for the completion of return interviews should be incorporated into the IPA for the child at the time of agreeing the placement with the provider.

This Agreement is between the Provider (the Residential/Fostering or Leaving Care) and the Purchaser (the Placing Authority) for the below named child.

The Terms and Conditions of the Framework Contracts are incorporated into the IPA, as far as applicable and subject to variation under the specific terms of this IPA.

If there are specific concerns or risks to young people the consideration by  placing social workers should be given to liaison with local community policing, to the extent of sharing potential addresses and locations where children might run to and possibly engaging the police in speaking to the young person about potential dangers in the local area.

Children who are going missing from care are at an increased risk of sexual exploitation and all agencies should be alert to the relevant risk factors and risk indicators. If a child is thought to be at risk of exploitation, Child Sexual Exploitation Procedures must be followed.

3.2 Corporate Parenting Responsibilities

When a child or young person is reported ‘Missing’, the carer(s), Local Authority with Parental Responsibility (PR) and the police have a joint responsibility for protecting the wellbeing of the individual. Whilst the police are the lead professionals for the investigation of ‘Missing’ people, any child who is “Looked After” by the Local Authority remains the responsibility of that Local Authority at all times.

A police officer will attend all reports of missing children or young people and will require the carer to provide information to assist the investigation of the missing child or young person, specifically:

  • Known acquaintances and addresses frequented;
  • Any previous history of being missing and circumstances where found;
  • Name and addresses of the child or young person’s GP and dentist;
  • Details of when the child or young person was last seen and with whom;
  • A recent photograph;
  • Mobile phone number of child or young person, email and bank account details (to help with tracking).

The act of reporting a child or young person missing by staff at the care establishment or foster home does not absolve the carers from their ‘duty of care’ to the individual and of a continued duty to do what a ‘reasonable parent’ would do in the circumstances.

3.3 Reporting a Child Missing from Care

Categories of ‘absence’ have been agreed between Merseyside Police and the Local Authority as per the ACPO definitions. If a child is missing from care, the Local Authority or independent care provider will decide which of the two categories the episode best fits based on their assessment after considering the risks below. This basic assessment should be carried out before contacting the Police and all information shared with them. Police will then confirm the category of the episode: 

  • Missing (Some risks identified);
  • Absent (No risks identified).

It is not helpful to consider every momentary absence as warranting a formal report to the Police.

In deciding whether the person is missing or absent, all staff must consider the circumstances of the child and their absence. This will include consideration of:

  • The circumstances of the absence;
  • The child’s Care Plan;
  • The age of the child;
  • The maturity of the child;
  • Any physical or cognitive disability of the child;
  • Any continuing or urgent need for the child to have medication or treatment;
  • The legal status of the child;
  • Previous behaviour and history of the child;
  • Danger posed by the child to themselves or others;
  • General vulnerability of the child;
  • The child’s tendency to drug/substance misuse;
  • Whether the child is perceived as running to, or running from, someone or something;
  • Any circumstances within the placement, say with carers or other residents that may be relevant to the absence;
  • The risk of offending;
  • The influence of peer groups, families or friends;
  • Predatory influences on the child. These may relate to others wanting to use the child for crime, sex or drugs;
  • Any known risk of abduction;
  • Environmental factors including weather, time of year, community events or tensions.

Children who are absent from their placement are considerable concern to carers and there is a need to locate them and ensure that they are safe. These children can be thought of as being on a continuum, with there being little cause for concern at one end, and with significant cause for concern at the other.

Children who are a few minutes late home from school would not normally give rise to concerns; they may have missed the bus, or they may be exhibiting normal adolescent testing out, to establish the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, or to show their disagreement with aspects of their placement. It is not helpful to consider every momentary absence as warranting a formal report to Police.

Each case must be decided on merit and a formal missing person report to the Police may be actioned earlier in some circumstances than in others. Indeed for a small number of young people it may be appropriate to immediately report them as a missing person. Normally this will have been previously agreed as part of the Care Plan because of the child’s vulnerability.

The fact that the child may have gone missing on a number of previous occasions does not reduce the risk. In fact, children who repeatedly go missing are often being enticed away from their placement by activities that they see as exciting or by predatory influences. Furthermore, short absences may be as risky as lengthy ones. The categories and consequent actions are outlined below.

3.4 Away from Placement without Authorisation

Clearly some children 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. Examples of situations where Away from Placement without Authorisation may apply are below:

  • Failing to return on time;
  • Staying at a known location with a friend or family where there are no known risks.

If the carer assesses that the child is at risk due to any factor/s known to them then the child should be reported missing without delay and the believed risk communicated to the Police.

If the assessment of the carer is that there is no apparent risk for their immediate safety but they are away from care without permission it is still important that staff/carers record these incidences in the child’s record and report these absences to the Police. It is not helpful to consider every momentary absence as warranting a formal report to Police. In addition to this, staff/carers should always start a dated/timed record of their contacts, risk assessment and decisions throughout the episode from the point that they are aware of the child’s absence, in case the level of risk changes and decisions are auditable.

A period of six hours should normally be regarded as the absolute maximum for any child whose whereabouts are not known and who cannot be contacted, to remain categorised as absent, rather than being formally reported as missing; in many cases a shorter period will be appropriate. It will not be appropriate for any child whose whereabouts are not known and who cannot be contacted, to remain out overnight, without being formally reported as missing.

If the child’s whereabouts are known or suspected, the Local Authority staff will decide whether to allow the child to remain at that location, albeit temporarily, or to arrange for their return. If the decision is to arrange their return and there is reason to believe that there may be public order difficulties, the Police will assist. Police assistance in these circumstances does not mean that the child is categorised as missing. Each such occurrence needs to be evaluated based upon the factors mentioned above and upon other information gleaned from the child, friends, family and associates.

A clear assessment needs to be made by the carer in each individual case as to the length of time that elapses and the risk factors involved before they consider if a child who is reported absent should be categorised as missing.

A reported absence must be kept under regular review by the appropriate carer.

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.

Any further information that comes to light as part of the carer’s assessment and impacts on the level of risk to the young person, should be communicated to the Police immediately.

3.5 Before Contacting Police

When a child or young person is identified as not being at a location they are expected to be, the reporting individual (care provider / foster carer / social worker, etc) must take proactive steps to trace the child’s whereabouts prior to contacting the police. Such steps would include:

  • Physical checks of the residence, including the child’s bedroom and any other location the child may be hiding within the house / building;
  • Physical checks of any garden, garage, sheds, grounds and surrounding area(s);
  • Attempting to contact the missing person directly, via mobile phone, text, or social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook;
  • Contacting the missing person’s family and friends;
  • Make reference to any risk assessments, placement plans or action plans that allow for some leeway with curfews for ‘boundary testing’.

If the child is located through such enquiries, they should not be reported as missing to the police unless there are significant safety issues with the child being at the location. If safety issues are identified, information should be passed to Police along with an indication of risk factors that have been identified. A decision regarding the necessity for a safe and well check to the young person will be determined.

It should be recognised that police powers to return an individual to a care address are limited unless they are on a care order or Police Protection is considered necessary. Children / young people must not be reported missing as a behaviour management tool and Police Protection must not be considered merely as a tool to return an individual.

Carers must also inform without delay:

  • The parents/those who have Parental Responsibility (unless indicated otherwise on the care plan);
  • The key social worker or appropriate Team Manager;
  • Careline if out of hours, and the social worker and appropriate Team Manager at the start of the next working day.

3.6 The Role of Care Planning / Missing Strategy Meetings

Throughout a missing episode the carers, police and social worker will continually review the case. Good practise suggests that, where risks are identified, a paper review by a manager should be undertaken on a daily basis to consider any new or developing information. An Initial Missing from Care Review should be held within seven days of the child being reported as missing. If there is a need for a more urgent review, the Team Manager should liaise with the IRO. A review should be convened prior to a child being missing for seven days or being assessed as high risk.

Every looked-after child must have a Care Plan based on a comprehensive assessment of their needs that takes into account their wishes, feelings and aspirations for the future. All Care Plans must be kept under review. The review meeting must be chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO).

The statutory review should consider the adequacy of the Care Plan in addressing why a child has gone missing and in ensuring adequate strategies are in place to address future missing episodes. The review should consider all push/pull factors in relation to missing episodes (e.g. sexual exploitation, running to spend contact time with family).

Alongside the Care Plan, a Placement Plan should completed between the local authority and the provider of the child’s placement.

Missing strategy meetings should take place in the event of:

  • Repeat episodes of missing from care;
  • Long Periods of missing;
  • High Risk cases;
  • Repeat or persistent episodes of absence;
  • Children who are on a Child Protection Plan who are missing for more than 72 hours.

For these meetings to work, and thereby improve our collective responses, appropriate attendance and clarity of purpose are essential. The intervention meetings should be held within five working days. The meetings should be chaired by a social worker or Team Manager and recorded and the increased levels of concern reflected in the seniority of those attending. For children and young people who are placed in Liverpool by other local authorities, these meetings should be convened and attended by the placing social worker.

After nine missing episodes within a 90-day period:

After nine missing episodes within a 90 day period, a meeting should be held. The Independent Reviewing Officer should be invited and should in all circumstances be provided with minutes of the meeting.

It should be noted, that the number of incidents is not the only reason to launch an intervention. The following are both examples of other reasons to launch or escalate interventions:

  • Any case where the risks involved in even a single future-missing episode is very high;
  • Cases where it has been identified that immediate action is necessary to ensure the well being of the person;
  • A quick succession of missing episodes eradicating the need for 90 days to elapse.

3.7 Out of Area Placements

Children ‘looked after’ by Liverpool but placed out of the local area should be subject to equal rigour of care planning as those placed within Liverpool City Council’s borders. They should be subject to escalation meetings, reporting requirements and return interviews as specified in these procedures.

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

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

In order to maintain a full overview of children missing from care, the allocated IRO is required to report the number of missing episodes and the adequacy of responses to these episodes following each statutory review of a looked after child placed outside of Liverpool. This will inform strategic planning and reporting. The IRO should inform the relevant team leader of any escalation meetings/return interviews for children placed out of county have not been managed in accordance with these procedures.

There should be ongoing communication between the host authority and the placement authority in order to share information around the missing episodes and associated risks. Merseyside Police should also liaise with the Police force where the child is placed to share information and intelligence.

3.8 Other Local Authority Placement

Other Local Authorities placing children within Liverpool are required to inform Liverpool Local Authority (LA) of their placement. Upon receipt of this notification, a record of the child and their placement will be recorded within the Electronic Children’s Social Care Record.

All missing episodes reported to the police are recorded and shared with Liverpool Children’s Services for strategic monitoring and planning purposes.

Upon receipt of a missing notification regarding a child placed in Liverpool by another LA, a notification  will be sent to the placing local authority advising them of the missing episode.

3.9 Planning for Return

When a child’s absence is reported as ‘missing’, the child’s social worker, residential unit or foster carer placing authority and placement provider, (and if possible and where appropriate in consultation with the parents and police), should commence planning for when the child is located. Such plans should include:

  • Whether the child will return to the same placement;
  • How and by whom they will be conveyed there;
  • Do the police wish to interview the child before they return to their placement? This would only occur if the young person was an offender or a victim of crime;
  • Create a sensitive environment for the child’s return;
  • Identify and arrange for an appropriate professional person, independent of the child’s placement, to talk to them prior to their return to the placement.

Police will visit the child to conduct a ‘Safe and Well check’. This should not be confused with the role of the ‘Independent Return Interview’. This is especially relevant to cases concerned with Child Abduction and Child Trafficking.

Whoever finds a young person has a responsibility to try and find out why the young person ran away. This may be the only opportunity a young person has to report abuse, bullying or mistreatment in a care setting. In the event of significant concern the young person should be reported under Section 47 Child Protection procedures to Careline on 0151 233 3700.

3.10 Longer Absences

When a child has been absent for a period of 48 hours the child’s social worker should inform the relevant strategic lead for their service via the usual line management route. If there is significant concern the strategic lead should be alerted immediately.

Throughout the enquiry, carers and the police will continually review the case. After the young person has been missing for 3 days, or earlier, if deemed appropriate, the police and child’s social worker will hold an urgent case review meeting. It will involve police officers, carers, the child’s social worker, and any other care professional involved in the care of the child.

The meeting will review:

  • What action has been taken so far by the police and care professionals;
  • What action needs to be taken by the police and care professionals;
  • Whether the young person should return to that placement when located;
  • Any other relevant information;
  • Date of further meeting to be agreed by all parties should the missing episode continue;
  • Decide if procedures should be invoked under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Minutes of the case review should be provided to the child’s Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO), who chairs their ‘looked after’ reviews, and the Assistant Director Safeguarding upon request, but specifically in respect of high risk cases.

All police missing person’s files will remain live until the person is traced or until a senior police officer, in consultation with the respective Liverpool City Council Children’s operational lead, is satisfied that all lines of enquiry have been exhausted. They will then forward the file to their appropriate line managers who will take the final decision to file or otherwise. The Assistant Director  Safeguarding must be informed of all such cases.

Where the decision to file has been made, Merseyside Police will be responsible for bringing forward the file on persons who remain missing for review by the appropriate senior managers, 12 months after the file date. Further such reviews will take place at least every 5 days thereafter or earlier, if deemed appropriate.


4. Police Responsibilities

4.1 Initial Report and Risk Assessment

An initial risk assessment is made by the call taker and used to determine the classification of the incident and the appropriate level of response.

At the point of initial report, it will be necessary for the call taker in Merseyside Police to determine whether the person is missing or absent and all reports of absent or missing will be subject to an initial and ongoing risk assessment.

A secondary risk assessment is conducted as a result of an officer being deployed to take a missing person report. Using all the information available, the officer will determine the level of risk of danger to the missing person, which in turn informs the extent and urgency of the enquiries to be made.

Questions to assist in the assessment of risk are available as part of the 2010 Guidance and on the Police Online Knowledge Area (POLKA).

The following set of questions, informed by the National Decision Making Model (NDMM), should be used to define the status of the missing episode:

  • What is the specific concern in this instance?
  • What has been done so far to trace this individual?
  • Is this significantly out of character?
  • Are there any specific medical needs?
  • Are they likely to be subjected to crime?
  • Are they likely to be the victim of abuse?
  • Are they currently at risk of Sexual Exploitation?
  • Are they likely to attempt suicide?
  • Do they pose a danger to other people?
  • Is there any other information relevant to their absence?

All reports of ‘absence; in relation to children or young people will be subject to a risk assessment by the Police. This is a subjective assessment and determines the appropriate level of investigation. It is an ongoing process and will be reviewed throughout.

Where a report is categorised as Absent, a record will be created and the case will be continually reviewed every 2-6 hours by the Police Critical Incident Manager (CIM) and escalated to Missing if necessary.

In relation to Missing reports, Police will decide the risk level to be assigned to the case, this will either be high or medium:

High Risk

The risk posed is immediate and there are grounds for believing that the child or 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 or young person in danger or they are a threat to themselves.

In the event of any dispute arising over the level or risk posed to any individual child, the matter should be referred expeditiously to the Critical Incident Manager via the Operational Communication Department by dialling 101.

In accordance with National Protocol the police will inform The National Missing Person Bureau of any High Risk cases immediately but in any case within 24 hours.

The Compact system will send an automatic notification after 72 hours has elapsed for all Medium Risk Cases.

Children who have gone missing may come to the attention of the Police in a variety of circumstances. Where the Police locate a child who they believe may be missing, although not officially reported, assessment and enquiries based on the child's account of the circumstances will be made. These should include checks of Police systems i.e. PNC/COMPACT/Storm as well as enquiries at the home address.

In the event that a missing child has not been reported by parents/carers, this should trigger further enquiries and assessment by the Police and other relevant agencies in accordance with safeguarding procedures.


5. Return of the Child

Family or friends locating a child missing from home should return them to their home address unless they have concerns around the safety of the child in which case the Police should be informed. Where a risk is present, a police officer may accompany the family or the police may be requested to return the child to the place of residence only if it is safe to do so.

For Looked After Children, it is the responsibility of the local authority or to arrange for a child’s return. However, there will be exceptional circumstances when, in the interests of the safe return of the young person, the police may agree to assist in recovering the young person. The police will provide assistance in cases where they may be a perceived risk. The police will not agree to requests purely to provide escorts for children.

It is the responsibility of the parent/ carer or placement provider to contact the police by telephone and to confirm that the missing child has returned. The police will accept confirmation from care professionals; however may still conduct a safe and well check.

The police will a ‘safe and well check’ to establish the young person’s wellbeing and safety, and to establish whether they were the victim of abuse or a crime whilst missing. If information obtained during the safe and well check gives cause for further concern, the police will complete a VPRF1 form and send the information to Careline.

5.1 Independent Return Interview

In addition to a ‘safe and well check’ all children who have been categorised as missing should receive a return interview.

This is a more in-depth interview and is best carried out by an appropriately trained practitioner independent of providing care to the young person. In Liverpool this would usually be the case holding social worker who is then able to follow-up any actions that emerge and will inform future care planning and development of an individual risk management plan. In the cases of young people who are not in the care of the Local Authority, the Protect Team will be asked to complete the return interview.

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.

The return interview should be carried out within 72 hours of the child being located or returning from the missing episode and this is particularly important if they have been missing before and/or there are risk indicators suggesting potential child sexual exploitation, involvement in crime or if they have been hurt or harmed.

The return interview form can be found at Appendix 4: Missing Strategy Meeting / Missing From Care Review and has been built into the Liquid Logic Children's Services recording system.

Consent for return interview

Prior to any interview conducted with a young person the interviewer should inform the young person who this information will be shared with, when and why and gain consent before sharing. If they are unwilling to speak to anyone at all for fear of confidentiality issues arrangement should be made for the child to speak to an independent advocate or suitable voluntary agency.

It is crucial that any information gained through this interview is fed back to Police and to any intervention meetings so that a picture is built up and any issues can be dealt with. This should only be done if consent is given or if the information is critical to safeguard the person from harm. For this purpose, the return interview record has been developed and can be found in the Appendices.

5.2 Return Interview Responsibilities

Cases not open to Children’s Social Care:

Return interviews on cases not open to Children’s Social Care will be conducted by a dedicated ‘missing worker’. Should the return interview identify any safeguarding issues the case will be referred to the Careline who will follow LSCB safeguarding children procedures.

Where a notification to  Careline has resulted in a child’s case being processed as requiring further investigation, the receiving Social Worker should conduct a return interview. Careline will include the requirement for a return interview in their recommendation for assessment.

Children subject to Child In Need and Child Protection processes:

Return interviews for children who are subject to Child in Need or Child Protection processes will be conducted by dedicated ‘missing workers’ who will link in with the allocated social worker. However the dedicated ‘missing workers’ are available to conduct these if this is deemed appropriate by the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker for the team where the case is held.

Looked After Children:

Return interviews for children who are subject to Looked After Children processes will be conducted by the allocated social worker.

5.3 Children Missing from Education (CME)

Children and young people miss education either because they do not have a school place, or they are having some other difficulties in attending school, this makes them vulnerable and more likely to be at risk of Neglect or abuse.

Children who are missing from education are also at an increased risk of sexual exploitation and all agencies should be alert to the relevant risk factors and risk indicators. If a child is thought to be at risk of exploitation, the Child Sexual Exploitation Procedures must be followed.

Certain groups of children and young people are more likely to miss education, they include:

  • Young people who have committed offences;
  • Children living in women’s refuges;
  • Children of homeless families, perhaps living in temporary accommodation;
  • Young runaways;
  • Children with long-term medical or emotional problems;
  • Looked After children;
  • Children with a gypsy/traveller background;
  • Young carers;
  • Children with transient families;
  • Teenage mothers;
  • Children who are permanently excluded from a school;
  • Migrant children, whether in families seeking asylum or economic migrants;
  • Trafficked children.

For detailed guidance on Children Missing Education, see Statutory guidance on identifying children not receiving a suitable education (DfE, 2012).

The Local Authority must have a Children Missing Education (CME) Officer and a system for recording and monitoring those children who fall into this category. The CME Officer works with colleagues in order to secure and maintain educational provision.

For children and young people without a school place contact:

  • The school admissions team: 0151 233 3006.

Non-school Attendance:

There is a duty on the Local Authority to identify and support children and young people with attendance difficulties. Each school has the support of the Education Welfare Service who should be contacted via the school for assistance on attendance issues.


6. Strategic Arrangements

6.1 Governance Arrangements

Operational oversight:

An operational missing group is held once per month to review high risk missing cases including the below:

  • High risk missing cases as categorised by the police at the time of the episode;
  • Repeat missing cases ( those who have been missing or absent more than once the previous month) and are not open to any other social care processes i.e.: LAC / CP / CIN / MACE.

Strategic oversight:

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

A monthly strategic MACE (multi agency child exploitation meeting) provides oversight for cases of concern who are missing from home or care and will also review any emerging patterns or trends in relation to missing children.

In addition, the LSCB Performance Management Sub Group will review received quarterly reports regarding compliance with this procedure, including statistical analysis of local needs arising and any identified gaps in service delivery.

Exception reports, including any issues pertaining to joint commissioning, will be reported to the LSCB.

6.2 Training and Induction

The contents of this strategy should be shared with all key members of staff within each agency. The protocol should be part of the induction of residential staff, foster carers, field social workers, Careline and foster carer support staff. It should be part of the induction of the following staff within the police force; supervisors within force control and Local Policing Units commanders.

Inter-Agency Training to support effective implementation of this procedure will be provided by LSCB.


Appendix 1: Information for Merseyside Police

  1. Full name;
  2. Full description of individual;
  3. Who are the individual’s known associates?
  4. Has the individual been reported missing/ absent before?
  5. Has the person made any preparations for being missing/absent?
  6. Is their behaviour out of character?
  7. Do they have access to a mobile?
  8. Do they use social network sites?
  9. Do they have access to a vehicle?
  10. Do they have cash/access to cash?


Appendix 2: CSE Information Gathering Form

Click here to view Appendix 2: CSE Information Gathering Form.


Appendix 3: 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 / Missing From Care Review

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


Appendix 5: Flowchart for Missing Children

Click here to view Appendix 5: Flowchart for Missing Children.


Appendix 6: Flowchart for Absent Children

Click here to view Appendix 6: Flowchart for Absent Children.

End