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5.4 LSCB Joint Protocol for Missing Children and Young People

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

Statutory Guidance On Children Who Run Away Or Go Missing From Home Or Care (January 2014)

Children missing education: Statutory guidance for local authorities, DfE (January 2015)

HMIC, Missing children: who cares? The police response to missing and absent Children, (2016)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in April 2017 by adding a link to HMIC, Missing children: who cares? - the police response to missing and absent Children, (2016), and also by updating the government guidance link to DfE, Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation (2017) in Section 2, Legislative Framework.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Legislative Framework
  3. Contact Information 
  4. Definitions
  5. Scope
  6. Principles
  7. Initial Procedures for a Child Who Has Run Away or Gone Missing from the Community (Home or Care)
  8. Response to Escalating and On-going Concerns - Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home
  9. Procedures for a Child Looked After who Runs away or is Missing from Care
  10. Responding to Escalating Concerns - Children Looked After Missing from Care
  11. Return Interviews: Safety, Assessment and Information Gathering
  12. Media Strategy

    Appendix 1: Flowchart for Child who has Run Away or is Missing from the Community

    Appendix 2: Flowchart for Children Looked After Who Run Away or go Missing from Care

    Appendix 3: Process for Notification of Missing Children and Young People

    Appendix 4: Return Interview Pathway for Looked After Children Place Outside of Lincolnshire


    Appendix 5: Referral for Return Interview

    Appendix 6: Return Interview Pathway for Missing Children and Young People


1. Introduction

"No-one runs away for no reason." (Aimee, 13)

This protocol is important for the safeguarding of children and families across Lincolnshire, or those using services in the area. It should be read and implemented, where necessary, by all practitioners and managers working with children or young people who are at risk of going missing from home or care or are already doing so.

The aim of the protocol is to assist practitioners across all agencies to develop robust responses to children who run away and go missing. This will include preventing the child suffering harm and recovering them to a place they are safe as soon as possible.

The most effective assessment and support comes through good information sharing, joint assessments of need, joint planning, professional trust within the interagency network and joint partnership working with families.

Children who are missing from home or care may be at risk of suffering Significant Harm as a consequence of their basic need for food, safety and shelter and/or from the people with whom they may come into contact with. Risks can include Physical Harm, Sexual Exploitation, drug abuse and involvement in a range of other criminal activities. Additional vulnerability due to their age, level of understanding or the significance and seriousness of the circumstances that led to the missing episode may also be present.

Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board expects all agencies working with children or young people who run away or are missing from home or care to implement this protocol and ensure that all relevant staff are aware of it and how to use it. It should be used in all new contacts with children and young people.

The Safeguarding Children Board will be responsible for ensuring an annual review of the effectiveness of all aspects of the protocol.

Why Children go Missing

The Children’s Society through its research has identified the following risk factors that can precede a missing incident:

  • Arguments and conflicts;
  • Conflict within a placement;
  • Poor family relationships;
  • Physical and emotional abuse;
  • Boundaries and control;
  • Step parent issues.

The immediate risks are 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;

Longer-term risks include:

  • Long-term drug dependency/alcohol dependency;
  • Crime;
  • Homelessness;
  • Disengagement from education;
  • Child sexual exploitation;
  • Poor physical and/or mental health.

Academic research shows that children who run away are often very vulnerable in the ways described above.


2. Legislative Framework

The legal parameters within which missing person enquiries are conducted can be found in common law, international law and the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Some of the provisions of the EHCR have been given legal effect within the United Kingdom by virtue of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The law does not generally regard young people under the age of 16 as being able to live independently away from home. For children over the age of 16 years old, consideration should be given to their legal status, physical and emotional needs when making a judgement as to whether they can live independently.

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.

Data Protection legislation places certain conditions on the ‘processing’ of information classed as personal data. Data held for policing purposes should only be disclosed for such purposes. Adherence to this agreement will therefore ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and Lincolnshire Police Data Protection policies. Data Protection legislation does not prevent the Police and Local Authority working together to ensure the safe return of a missing child. Both organisations are registered for the purpose of protecting people and therefore for disclosing information for that purpose.

This protocol is based on the following legislation:

The Children Act 1989 Section 49, 50, 51

The Children Act 2004 Section 10 (1) (2)

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Vol 1, 4.88, 4.91

Statutory guidance on children who runaway and go missing from home or care (DfE, 2014)

The Missing Children and Adults Strategy (2011)

Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015)

DfE, Child sexual exploitation: definition and guide for practitioners (2017)

The Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan (2011)

APCO guidance on ‘Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons’, (APCO NPIA 2010)

Safeguarding Children Who May Have Been Trafficked (DFE 2011)


3. Contact Information

If you believe that a child is at immediate risk this should be reported without delay to the Police service:

  • For emergencies use 999; or
  • For urgent/immediate reporting 101;
  • As well as making contact with Children's Services on 01522 782111 or out of hours 01522 782333.

Reporting a Child Who has run away or is Missing from Home

Reports are expected to reach Lincolnshire Police by normal public reporting methods, using the numbers shown above.

Reporting a Child Looked After Who has run away or is Missing from Care

When a Looked After Child runs away or goes missing from care it is the responsibility of the carer to make all reasonable steps to locate or enquire into the circumstances of the missing episode advise Children's Services. During the working day this should be reported in the first instance to:

  • The child's Social Worker, or in their absence;
  • The relevant duty Social Worker for the team; or
  • Emergency Duty Team (EDT) when out of normal working hours/weekends.

Reporting the child who has run away or is missing also needs to be communicated to the Police.

The carer will provide information about risk factors in the case. If additional written information is required by the Police, Children's Services will have the facility of secure email/fax to send this.


4. Definitions

The Lincolnshire Local Authorities and Lincolnshire Police will adopt the following definitions that have been agreed by the Nation the Association of Chief Police Officer (ACPO). The ACPO definition of a missing person 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 compromise of cases in which people are not presently where they are supposed to be and there is no apparent risk. ‘Absent’ cases should not be ignored, and must be monitored over periods of time with consideration given to escalating to ‘missing’ if there is a change to the circumstances that has increased the level of risk.


5. Scope

The protocol is designed for:

  • All children living in the boundaries of the local authority;
  • Children looked after by the Local Authority placed within residential children's homes or foster homes (either Local Authority or independent) within the Local Authority boundaries;
  • Children looked after by the Local Authority who are living with parents or relatives and who are subject to a Care Order;
  • Children looked after by external local authorities and placed in Lincolnshire within independent residential children's homes or foster homes.

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. Please refer to pathway for looked after children placed outside of Lincolnshire.

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

Within this context, "Children Looked After" refers to children accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, children subject to Care Orders including Interim Care Orders, Sect 31 and 38 Children Act 1989, and children who are otherwise provided with accommodation by sect 21 Children Act 1989.

These include PACE transfers, children on remand and children subject to a supervision order with a residence requirement.

In addition the protocol will apply to all young people placed within the county or Local Authority boundaries (including those aged 18) for whom Lincolnshire County Council have continuing responsibilities under The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.


6. Principles

This protocol should be read as guidance only and cannot anticipate every situation. Anyone working with children in a professional capacity should use their judgment to take whatever action is deemed necessary to protect and safeguard the child, based on an assessment of risk for each child.

Our joint aim is to reduce the incidence of all children who run away or go missing. Children who run away or go missing may place themselves and others at risk and each episode is potentially serious. The reasons for their absence are often varied and complex and cannot be viewed in isolation from their home circumstances or their experiences of care. Every "missing" episode should attract proper attention from the professionals involved, who must collaborate to ensure a consistent and coherent response is given to the child on his/her return.

When a child does run away or go missing our joint aim is to prevent that child suffering from harm/maltreatment and to recover the child to safety as soon as possible. We do this by partnership working, information sharing, and problem solving and performance management. An Early Help Assessment and Team around the child (TAC) should be considered where appropriate (see, Team Around the Child Supporting Documentation).

Interventions, i.e. working formally to consider risks to the child, are important in attempting to address repeat missing episodes. Interventions for looked after children must be informed by and reflected in the placement information record and in the Care Plan.

All partners will report a child missing to the Police according to this protocol. Lincolnshire Police will also receive and record reports of children missing from their home by parents or carers.

The Local authority should collect data on children reported missing from care, unauthorised absences from care placements, and other relevant data and should regularly analyse this in order to map problems and patterns. This should include identifying patterns of sexual and other exploitation. This is undertaken within the remit of the Multi-Agency Safe Hub.

It should be considered by professionals and agencies in all new and existing contacts with children. Together we will take steps to raise awareness, ensure improved responses and practice thereby delivering better outcomes for children.

It is intended that this protocol will assist in developing robust responses to running away, which mirrors good practice already established across Lincolnshire. It should be used to engage partner agencies in developing preventative services for children and young people who are at risk of running away.

This protocol is linked to the Children’s Services “Children Missing Education” document. Where children are absent from school the “First Day Contact” ensures that schools are immediately in touch with parents/carers to advise on a child missing education and schools are expected to assist parents or carers in reporting the child missing to the Police should this prove necessary. Vulnerable children should be prioritised as part of the process.


7. Initial Procedures for a Child Who Has Run Away or Gone Missing from the Community (Home or Care)

Children may run away or go missing from home or care for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Trying to protect themselves from abuse, including Domestic Violence and Abuse;
  • Trying to protect themselves from bullying or as a result of peer group pressures;
  • Being scared and/or afraid or feeling unable to cope; they may feel they are failures or not valued with regard to some aspect of their lives that has not been apparent to adults who otherwise seem close to them.
  • They may have been enticed or persuaded to go missing; been abducted by an adult who is acting inappropriately and who is using the child to meet their needs; or been "thrown out" by the parents/carers;
  • In some cases, young people may run away or go missing following grooming by adults who will seeks to exploit them sexually. Both boys and girls are at risk of child sexual exploitation and looked after children may be targeted by those wishing to abuse and sexually exploit them;
  • There are particular 'push' or 'pull factors pushing or pulling away from the home.

Responsibility of Parents/Carers

Parents and those with Parental Responsibility are normally expected to have undertaken the following basic measures to try to locate the missing child before reporting them to the police as long as it is safe to do so. Professionals working with families should support parents and carers in taking the following necessary steps:

  • Fully search bedroom/accommodation/outbuildings/vehicles; Search for any important leads (e.g. mobile phone, diaries, letters, email and website activity etc).;
  • Calling or texting any mobile phone held by child and leaving a message asking for contact;
  • Spoken with other children in the family or who live in the home to obtain relevant information about the missing child;
  • Visit locations that the child is known to frequent, if it is possible;
  • Contact known friends/ relatives where a child may be; contact school or school friends to gather any available information regarding the child's whereabouts.

Responsibility of Anyone Who Has Care for a Child without Parental Responsibility

Anyone who has care of a child without parental responsibility should take all reasonable steps to locate the child and ascertain their safety. Anyone who has care of a child without parental knowledge or agreement should also do what is reasonable to safeguard and promote the child's welfare. In these circumstances, they should inform the Police, Children's Services and the parents of their whereabouts and safety. If this is not complied with, the Police should consider advice or warning under the Child Abduction Act 1984, if it is appropriate.

Anyone who 'takes or detains' a runaway under 16 years old without lawful authority may be prosecuted under Section 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984. The Police may formally warn a person under the abduction legislation prior to prosecution and a subsequent marker may be placed against them on their Police National Computer (PNC) record.  

Informing the Police

Following this, it is expected that the parents or those with caring or parental responsibility will inform the police without delay. When referring to the Police any relevant information that might help to find or support the child should be shared, including:

  • Description of the child including their clothing;
  • Details of where the child was last seen and with whom;
  • Recent photograph;
  • Relevant addresses, known associates and addresses frequented;
  • Previous history of absenteeism and circumstances of where found;
  • Circumstances under which the child is absent.;
  • Any significant health needs e.g. medication;
  • Any factors that increase the risk to the child for example, the child's maturity, any physical or cognitive disability.

All Agencies/Members of the Public

If it comes to the attention of any agency that a child has run away or is missing they must advise the parent/carer of their need to report this matter to the Police. They also need to advise the parent of the agency's duty to ensure that the matter is reported to the Police and if necessary follow this up by contacting the Police to verify that the child has been reported missing.

The consent of a person with parental responsibility will be sought for a photograph to be used in any subsequent missing person investigation. Where possible the consent of the child should be gained.

Role of the Police

Upon receiving a report of a child who has run away or is missing from home, the Police will carry out enquiries (which are proportionate to the perceived risk) aimed at locating the child as soon as possible. The police will prioritise all incidents of missing children as medium or high risk. Where a child is recorded as being absent, the details will be recorded by the police, who will also agree review times and any on-going actions with the person reporting. The police will advise the person notifying them that information will be shared with partner agencies. In addition the police will pass out observations over the radio to all officers to ensure they are aware in case they see the missing person.

A risk assessment will be carried out for each individual on every separate occasion they are reported missing to the Police. This risk assessment, usually conducted by the Initial Investigating Officer, and subsequently confirmed or revised by a supervising officer will form the basis for the subsequent investigation into the child's disappearance.

'High risk' requires the immediate deployment of police resources. A member of the senior management team or similar command level must be involved in the examination of initial enquiry lines and approval of appropriate staffing levels. There should be a press/media strategy and/or close contact with outside agencies. Family support should be put in place. The UK Missing Persons Bureau should be notified of the case immediately. CEOP and Children's Services should also be notified.

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/GENIE 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.

If enquiries identify risk factors at the home address safeguarding procedures will be implemented. If the Police decide not to return the child to the home address options should be discussed with Children's Services to identify suitable responsible adult(s) and/or accommodation. (Emergency Duty Team (EDT) to be contacted after hours) before placing a child elsewhere. PNC/GENIE must be checked by Lincolnshire Police.

Recording

Lincolnshire Police must open a NSPIS and contact log on all occasions when a child is reported to have run away or is missing to the Police. The NSPIS log must remain open only until the COMPACT based missing person report is opened. However, in high risk cases the NSPIS log will remain open for a maximum of nine hours, at which point the COMPACT record will be used. This is to allow for the co-ordination of resources.

COMPACT missing person reports should be created as soon as possible, as the submission of the report now triggers Police National Computer (PNC) circulation.

The carer will provide information about risk factors via telephone. Considering the available information the Police will decide the risk level to be assigned to the case. This will be high, medium or low. Lincolnshire's Police have decided that no case involving a child under 16 years will be classified as a low risk.


Risk Definition
High The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the subject is in danger through their vulnerability, or may have been the victim of a serious crime, or the risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the public is in danger.
Medium The risk posed is likely to place the subject in danger, or they are a threat to themselves or others.
Low

There is no apparent risk of danger to either the subject or the public. In Lincolnshire, no child aged 15 or under is ever considered to be at low risk, 16 and 17 year olds rarely could be classed as low risk.

Click here to view Appendix 1: Flowchart for Child who has Run Away or is Missing from the Community.

Sharing Information

The Police will receive reports about children missing and record them in accordance with locally agreed procedures.

The Police will notify the relevant Children's Services single point of contact of all missing children recorded on COMPACT.

The relevant Police Officer will also notify the appropriate Children's Services lead if there is further information on a particular case or if the Officer has concerns that need further assessment.

Review of Continued Absence

Throughout the missing episode, the Police are responsible for ongoing enquiries, risk assessment and proportionate actions.

In the event of a continuing missing episode good communication and close cooperation is essential to ensure that any significant concerns are identified and appropriate safeguarding action is taken. When a child has been absent for a period of 48 hours the Police should update the Local Authority of any significant developments at least every five days thereafter or earlier, if deemed appropriate.

Return of the Child

It is the responsibility of the parent or carer to contact the Police and confirm that the missing child has returned.

If the whereabouts are known or suspected, it is the responsibility of the parents or carers to arrange for the child's return. In exceptional circumstances, in the interests of the safe and speedy return of the child, the Police may agree to requests from parents or carers to assist. The Police should not unreasonably withhold assistance in cases involving local recovery and transport missions for vulnerable children.

Police ‘Safe and Well’ check

Once the child has been located, the Police will carry out a Police safe and well check as soon as possible after the child has returned. It will not be conducted over the telephone. The purpose is to check for any indications that the child has suffered harm; where and with whom they have been; and to give them an opportunity to disclose any offending by, or against them.

Where a child goes missing frequently, it may not be practicable for the police to see them every time they return. In these cases a reasonable decision should be taken in agreement between the police and the child’s parent or carer with regard to the frequency of such checks bearing in mind the established link between frequent missing episodes and serious harm, which could include gang involvement, forced marriage, bullying or sexual exploitation.

The ‘safe and well’ check will lead to the Police closing the missing person report on COMPACT and the case being cancelled on the PNC. This is NOT a return interview. The Police will notify the Local Authority of the return of the child and any relevant information via automated systems.

If it is apparent, on the return of the 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 has occurred whilst they were absent then the Police will instigate further enquiries. This is vital for the protection of the child and for the speedy recovery of evidence.

In such circumstances, the missing child’s clothing, mobile phone and trace evidence from their body, fingernails or hair may be crucial. In cases of sexual abuse the child should be discouraged from washing and immediate advice sought from the Police. The Police should advise parent or carers if they become aware of the location of a scene of any crime committed against the child, or the location of any crucial evidence (i.e. a used condom) they must notify the Police without delay. This will enable the Police to take steps to secure and preserve evidence.

Additionally, in matters of sexual exploitation, or any other situation which indicates that the child may have been subject to, or at risk of suffering, Significant Harm, a referral must be made to the Local Authority in accordance with local safeguarding procedures.

In addition, if a ‘Private Fostering’ arrangement is discovered; this will also need to be reported to the Local Authority in accordance with national and local procedures.

Return Interview

The local authority is responsible for deciding whether a return interview is conducted for each missing episode. Return Interviews should be offered in every instance of running away where a child has one or more of the following:

  • Been missing for over 24 hours;
  • Been missing or has run away on two or more occasions;
  • Engaged (or is believed to have engaged) in criminal activities during their absence;
  • Known mental health issues;
  • Has been hurt or harmed whilst they have been missing (or this is believed to have been the case);
  • Is at known risk of sexual exploitation;
  • Has had contact with persons posing a risk to children.

For a Looked After Child, a professional from a voluntary agency should always conduct a return interview where there are safeguarding issues.


8. Response to Escalating and On-going Concerns - Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home

Whilst the majority of children who run away or go missing regularly return within reasonable timescales and do not go missing regularly, there are a minority of children for whom these episodes cause great concern for those practitioners working with them. This may be because they have gone missing for an extended period, they have gone missing on a number of occasions or there are particular risks associated with their periods missing from home (e.g. sexual exploitation; criminal activities; substance use; self harm, etc).

Where there are concerns in relation to a child going missing multi-agency meetings under TAC, Child in Need, Child Protection Plan or Care Planning should be in place, as good practice, to address these issues.

These meetings, in response to escalating concerns must take place in the event of repeat episodes of children going missing. For these meetings to work, and thereby improve our collective responses, appropriate attendance and clarity of purpose are essential.

It is the responsibility of the Police to alert Children’s Services of the need for a multi-agency meeting. It is the responsibility of children’s services to arrange that meeting.

The multi-agency meetings should be held within a week of the missing child referral and include relevant multi-agency practitioners. The meeting should consider any particular vulnerability. This will be particularly important if the child/young person has identified health needs such as mental health, substance misuse or underlying health conditions.

The scheduling of subsequent multi-agency meetings will be initiated by the Local Authority and will be determined by missing person reports recorded on the COMPACT database.

The course of action to assist or protect the child may include:

  • Assessment of need by Children’s Services. The views of the child gained in the Return Interview will be of great importance and will inform the assessment and decision making. The arrangements for this will be co-ordinated by Children’s Services and recorded as part of the assessment. A SAF may result in signposting child/family for a service, consideration under the Team Around the Child (TAC) process, services under Section 17 or action under Section 47 of the Children Act and a Social Care Assessment undertaken;
  • Section 47 enquiries to be undertaken jointly with Police or singly by Children’s Services where the local authority has reason to suspect the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. These enquiries will start as soon as possible and in any event within 48 hours. A Strategy Meeting will be considered if the child has not been found, may be harmed or has been persistently running away. It will involve Police officers, the child’s Social Worker, and relevant agency professionals involved in the care of the child.

Chronologies will be kept up to date for children who repeatedly run away or go missing to assist in identifying patterns of absence.

If a child goes missing on 3 or more occasions in a 3 month period a strategy meeting should be considered by the Local Authority and Police.


9. Procedures for a Child Looked After who Runs away or is Missing from Care

Looked after children are particularly vulnerable. Though the number of looked after children going missing or absent is a small percentage of the overall number of children that go missing, it is disproportionately high compared with the children’s population as a whole.

Looked after children depend on the local authority to act as their ‘corporate parent’. The local authority must assess their needs and ensure they receive appropriate services and support. The local authority should have the same interest in the progress and attainments of looked after children as a reasonable parent would have for their own children.

Local authorities have a duty to place a looked after child in the most appropriate placement to safeguard the child and minimise the risk of the child running away. The care plan should include details of the arrangements that will need to be in place to keep the child safe and minimise the risk of the child going missing from their placement.

Any decision to place a child at distance should be based on an assessment of the child’s needs including their need to be effectively safeguarded. Evidence suggests that distance from home, family and friends is a key factor for looked after children running away.

Listening to a child is an important factor in protecting and minimising the chances of a child running away. The then Children’s Rights Director in 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.

On Admission to the Placement

Each looked after child has a Care Plan based on a full assessment of the child's current and future needs, In addition a safety plan is completed for each child identifying and mitigating any identified risks in caring for them potential risk to self and others. The care plan will therefore take account of any risk that the child may go missing in future and any factors which may increase the risk to the child should they go missing. Children's residential and fostering service staff should be included in the placement plan and the child's care plan. As part of this assessment it may be appropriate for the Local Authority to consult with the Police to share information that may be of relevance. Where the child has previously gone missing prior to becoming looked after, this should be addressed and planned for as part of the care plan.

The care plan will remain in the possession of the Local Authority. It is not a public document. It is not envisaged that the Police will need to view the care plan at any time. However, there may be circumstances when it is necessary to involve the Police in aspects of the care planning process to safeguard the child.

Children will be helped by their foster carers and social workers to understand the dangers and risks of leaving the foster home or residential children's home without permission and will be made aware where they can access help if they consider running away.

Should a child go missing it is vital to the safe recovery of the child that a recent photograph of the child is made available. The photograph must be a good likeness of the child. Most commonly the photograph will be used by local Police officers to help them recognise the child whilst patrolling or when actively looking for the child at relevant locations. In very serious cases where the child is believed to be at severe risk, the Police and Local Authority may decide to use the photograph more widely and even involve publishing the photograph to national or local media. If in such circumstances no such photograph were available a vital opportunity could be missing to safeguard the child.

In respect of looked after children, a recent photograph bearing a good likeness to the child will be kept on record by the Local Authority. When a child is admitted to care the consent of a person with parental responsibility will be sought for a photograph to be used in any subsequent missing person investigation. If possible the agreement of the child should also be gained.

When a Child Looked After Runs Away or is Missing

If a child looked after is absent from care, the responsible carer ( foster carer, residential manager etc) should contact the police.

During placement, if there are concerns that a looked after child or young person may be missing, where it is appropriate, the foster carer, residential carer or supported lodgings provider (the carer) must make enquiries to locate the child or young person by trying to make contact via telephone / text and checking with their friends and relatives in the first instance. A search of the accommodation and local area should also be conducted where this does not leave other children or young people in a vulnerable situation such as when a single foster carer or residential carer is looking after more than one child. The carer should also consider checking with the local Accident and Emergency department and the local police station as in some circumstances the child or young person may have been arrested and refused to give their name or address to the police.

If these initial enquiries do not locate the child or young person, the carer will need to contact the Police who will then decide whether they are missing or absent. This decision is based on an assessment of risk which can be achieved if the foster carer or residential carer refers to the placement plan or other recent risk assessment and thinks through the following:

  • Any medical issues which would increase the risk to the child;
  • Physical, mental or other issues which affect the young person’s ability to stay safe in unknown or strange environments;
  • Whether the child poses a risk of harming themselves or anyone else;
  • Drug or alcohol use;
  • Previous and recent behaviour and whether the absence is out of character – i.e. does the child often return home late or are they usually home at an agreed time; are they usually compliant or do they often push boundaries etc;
  • The presentation of the child or young person prior to the missing / absent incident;
  • The circumstances surrounding the incident;
  • Time that the child was last seen and by whom;
  • Whether there are indications that the child or young person is not expected to return within reasonable time limits; is not staying at homes of others known to then and will not be easily located;
  • The age and functioning of the child or young person;
  • Other risk factors such as a concern that the young person has been identified as being potentially vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

If the current whereabouts of the child or young person are known or can be easily identified and they are not considered to be at risk then they are absent from their placement without authorisation and are not a missing person.

For all children in residential care, the residential carer must record their risk assessment. A copy must be kept on the child or young person’s residential case file and a copy should be shared with the police. Should the young person remain missing for 72 hours or more Ofsted must be notified by the Residential care provider.

In all cases, the carer can liaise with the child’s social worker or the Emergency Duty Team (depending on the time of the incident) for advice and guidance to help to make a decision and agree a course of action. 

If the child or young person is considered ‘Missing’, the carer must make a missing person report to the police without delay. The carer must also report the missing incident to the child’s social worker or the Emergency Duty Team. The report must be noted by the social worker / EDT on the child’s social care record.

For all children in foster care the foster carer must also complete a ‘Risk assessment – young people who fail to return to placement and send a copy to their supervising social worker.

During the period of absence, frequent communication between the carer and the allocated social worker / EDT is essential.

If a child or young person who is absent does not return to placement or is not located, the assessed level of risk must eventually increase to the point where they must be reported as missing to the police. This is a matter of professional judgement taking into account all other risk factors and the views of all professionals responsible for the child or young person’s health, safety and well being.

If the child or young person has not returned to placement or been located by the start of the next working day, the carer must update the allocated social worker (or the team manager/duty worker if the social worker is not available).

The allocated social worker in collaboration with their team manager (or EDT if the absence is over a weekend/ holiday) must keep the unauthorised absence / missing from care risk assessment in continual review. The appropriate service manager (this will be the on-call service manager if being contacted by EDT) must be informed when an absence reaches 24 hours.

Any absence which lasts for 72 hours must be reported to the police and the child or young person will then be classed as a missing person. The appropriate service manager must also be updated at this point.

Unauthorised Absence

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 unauthorised absence will apply are:

  • Running away after a dispute;
  • Failing to return on time;
  • Staying at a known location with a friend.

If the carer assesses that the child is at risk due to any factor/s known to the carer, then the child should be reported missing without delay. During the working day this should be reported in the first instance to the child’s Social Worker or in their absence the relevant duty Social Worker for the team or out of Hours to EDT. Some carers will require reassurance as to when they report a child as missing irrespective of the descriptions given within the document. The believed risk and reporting the child missing also needs to be communicated to the Police.

If the assessment of the carer is that there is no apparent risk for their immediate safety but are away from home without permission it is still important that staff/carers record these incidences as unauthorised absences in the child’s record. In addition to this staff/carers should always start a dated/times 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 unauthorised 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 relevant factors and upon other information gleaned from the child, friends, family and associates.

It is expected that the first response by the providers of their care along with any relevant staff from their responsible authority, which could include the child’s Social Worker in circumstances where a child is late home will be to take all steps a responsible parent would take, to try to locate the child and to make a careful assessment in accordance with the circumstances.

Instances of unauthorised absences should not be reported to Lincolnshire Police. Lincolnshire Police will not record instances of ‘unauthorised absences’.

The responsibility for managing this type of absence lies with the staff of the residential home or carer. It is not the responsibility of the Police to influence or determine the decision of whether a person is missing or unauthorised absence.

A clear assessment needs to be made by the carer in each individual case as to the length of time that elapses before a child who is unauthorised absent becomes categorised as missing. An unauthorised 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:

In accordance with the Police Code of Practice for Missing Persons data (2009) the Police will also inform the Missing Persons Bureau (MPB) of the case:

  • In high-risk cases after a period of 3 hours has elapsed;
  • In medium-risk cases after a period of 72 hours has elapsed;
  • In low risk cases after a period of 72 hours has elapsed.

The MPB of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) is the only national agency with a remit to analyse missing persons as a central service in support of the investigative and preventive operations of Police forces within the United Kingdom.

It is the responsibility of the Local Authority to ensure that staff and EDT are aware of a child's missing status.

Absconder

An absconder is a child who is absent from the placement without permission and who is subject to an order or requirement resulting from the criminal justice process (e.g. remands, curfews, tagging, conditions of residence, other bail conditions or Anti Social Behaviour Injunctions), or a secure order made in either civil or criminal proceedings. A child in this category must be reported to the Police without delay.

If an absconder is under the age of 16 years, or if the absconding does not involve a power of arrest, the Police will treat the case as both a missing child case and an absconder. This means that it will be necessary to provide detailed information to the Police when calling 101. This will lead to a proactive Police investigation managed locally by the Police on the 'COMPACT' computer system. Moreover, the individual will be circulated nationwide via the Police National Computer system. When the child is traced however, it is likely that they will also be arrested or dealt with by the Police in relation to any offence or breach. It is essential however, that they are also viewed as a child in need of protection and safeguarding, and any risks exposed to during their absence must be reviewed fully.

However, If the child is aged 16 or over and is liable to arrest, the Police will treat the child solely as an absconder and not a missing child, unless there are grounds to suspect that factors other than the absconders desire to evade justice are involved in their disappearance. If the Police treat the case solely as one of absconding, in these circumstances they will actively seek the absconder for arrest. Notwithstanding, absconders in this category must also be reported to the Police without delay.

Roles and Responsibilities

A strategic approach is essential to complement high-quality care planning in individual cases, so that looked-after children are effectively safeguarded by minimising the likelihood of missing-from-care incidents.

After reporting a looked after child missing, Children's Services remain responsible for the child in their care. This responsibility is not absolved when the child has been reported missing to the Police.

Carers and the child's Social Worker will be responsible for liaising with the Police, taking an active interest in the investigation and passing on all information, which may help to inform the investigation and assist in protecting the child whilst absent.

Carers and the child's Social Worker should continue to make appropriate enquiries with other residents or by telephone with all persons who may be able to assist with the investigation unless they are requested not to do so by the Police. All information gleaned from these enquiries should be passed to the Police.

Once a child is reported missing to the Police, the Police will have primacy in respect of the investigation to trace the child.

The Police will normally conduct all physical enquiries away from the premises from which the child is absent.

In certain circumstances the Police may need to revisit duties initially performed by care staff. When necessary they will do so in liaison with the appropriate children's service's staff and will do so sensitively, causing as little disruption as possible to the establishment and residents.

Throughout the process in this protocol, residential carers and Social Workers must keep a full record of actions taken and messages received and given. Police will likewise keep a record of all aspects of the investigation on the 'COMPACT' computerised missing person case management system.

Review of Continued Absence

A senior manager in the authority's children's services department should be responsible for taking the lead in working with partner agencies so that across the authority there is a systematic response whenever a looked-after child goes missing from their care placement. In Lincolnshire this role is undertaken by Roz Cordy, Head of Service.

The Social Worker should inform the relevant senior manager as per the Local Authority protocols via the usual management route.

Throughout the missing episode, carers and the Police will continually review the case. After the child has been missing for five days, or earlier, if deemed appropriate, an urgent case review meeting / Strategy Meeting will be held. It will involve Police officers, carers, the child's Social Worker, relevant health practitioner and any other professional involved in the care of the child.

The meeting will review:

  • What action has been taken so far by the Police and professionals;
  • What action needs to be taken by Police and professionals;
  • Decide whether the child should return to that placement when located;
  • Consider any particular vulnerability. This will be particularly important if the child/young person has identified health needs such as mental health, substance misuse or underlying health conditions;
  • Consider any other relevant information.

Further such reviews will take place at least every five days thereafter or earlier, if deemed appropriate.

Return of the Child

If the whereabouts of a looked after child are known or suspected, it is the responsibility of the Local Authority to arrange for the child's return.

However, there will be circumstances when, in the interests of the safe and speedy return of the child, the Police may agree to requests from the Local Authority to assist. The Police should not unreasonably withhold assistance in cases involving local recovery and transport missions for vulnerable children. However, the Police will not agree to requests to provide escorts to missing children, which would unreasonably involve officers leaving their normal areas of patrol.

When a child returns to the placement it is the responsibility of the carers to notify the Police, child's social worker and Out of Hours Emergency Duty Team (EDT).  

The Police will verify the child's safe return in person. The Police will carry out a Police safe and well check once the child has been located. This will lead to the Police closing the missing person investigation and the case being cancelled on the Police National Computer. Where a child goes missing frequently, it may not be practicable for the police to see them every time they return. In these cases a reasonable decision should be taken in agreement between the police and the child's parent or carer with regard to the frequency of such checks bearing in mind the established link between frequent missing episodes and serious harm, which could include gang involvement, forced marriage, bullying or sexual exploitation.

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.

In such circumstances, the missing persons clothing, mobile phone and trace evidence from their body, fingernails or hair may be crucial. In cases of sexual abuse the child should be discouraged from washing and immediate advice sought from the Police. If carers become aware of a location of the scene of any crime committed against the child, or of the location of any crucial evidence (i.e. a used condom) they must notify the Police without delay. This will enable the Police to take steps to secure and preserve evidence.

In child sexual abuse cases the Police have access to specially trained officers, doctors and facilities designed to care for the victim and obtain evidence.

Additionally, in matters of sexual exploitation, or any other situation which indicates that the child may have been subject to, or at risk of suffering, Significant Harm, referral must be made under the Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board policy guidance and procedures.

Out of Area Placements

See Appendix 3: Process for Notification of Missing Children and Young People and Appendix 4: Return Interview Pathway for Looked After Children Place Outside of Lincolnshire.

When a child is placed out of their local authority area, the responsible authority must make sure that the child has access to the services they need. Notification of the placement must be made to the host authority and other specified services and as part of the placement agreement, appropriate details should be shared to support the Local Authority to manage the risks to inform care planning for the individual child.

If children placed out of their local authority run away, the local Runaway and Missing From Home and Care (RMFHC) Protocol should be followed, in addition to complying with other processes that are specified in the policy of the responsible local authority. It is possible that the child will return to the area of the responsible authority so it is essential that liaison between the police and professionals in both authorities is well managed and co-ordinated. A notification process for missing/ absent episodes should be agreed between responsible and host local authorities.


10. Responding to Escalating Concerns - Children Looked After Missing from Care

Police and Social Care will work together in efforts to locate the child. The responsible Social Care Manager must notify the Locality Manager or Area manager when a child remains missing for more than 24 hours. The Assistant Director/Director of Children's Services will be informed if the child is missing for more than 72 hours. Consideration must always be given to convening a Missing Child Strategy Meeting. The meeting will involve the relevant Police Officer, the child's Social Worker, relevant health practitioner and any other relevant professionals involved in the care of the child.


11. Return Interviews: Safety, Assessment and Information Gathering

The ‘return interview’ (see Appendix 5: Referral for Return Interview,) is different from the Police ‘safe and well’ check.

Children should be offered the opportunity to talk about their absence to someone independent of their carers on their return. Providing children with an opportunity to talk is key to safeguarding them. Barnardo's step change project is currently offering the return interviews service.

Barnardo’s are commissioned by Lincolnshire County Council to deliver a return interview service utilising a problem solving approach. Barnardo’s works in partnership with the police and Local Authority proactively to safeguard children who go missing from home or care.

Barnardo's will receive a referral form for the completion of a return interview from the SAFE Team, following their receipt of the missing children data exchange from Lincolnshire Police, which occurs daily.

Lincolnshire Police will provide the SAFE Team with all missing children data, which the SAFE Team will record on the ICS system. However an agreement rating will be applied by Lincolnshire Police to determine which children and young people will receive the return interview service.

Return Interviews will be offered in every instance of running away where a child has one or more of the following:

  • Been missing for over 24 hours;
  • Been missing or has runaway on two or more occasions;
  • Engaged (or is believed to have engaged) in criminal activities during their absence;
  • Known mental health issues;
  • Has been hurt or harmed whilst they have been missing (or this is believed to have been the case);
  • Is at known risk of sexual exploitation;
  • Has contact with persons posing risk to children;
  • For a looked after child; (a professional from a voluntary agency should always conduct a return interview where there are safeguarding concerns).

If a child is missing from home but does not have a Social Worker a return interview will still be carried out by Barnardo’s (as detailed above). If concerns are identified during the course of this staff will complete an Early Help Assessment or liaise with Children’s Social Care to discuss any safeguarding.

The Return interview is used as the template to establish the ‘push factors’ those which drove a child/young person to runaway or go missing e.g. disputes with parent(s) or carer(s) and/or ‘pull factors’ those factors outside the home or care setting that drew a child/young person to become Runaway and Missing from Home (RMH) or Runaway and Missing from Care (RMC) e.g. family conflict or the influences of a negative peer group. The information gathering home visit also assesses the risk of harm and the likelihood of any future episodes of RMH or RMC.

When looked after children are placed out of county in foster or residential care and repeat patterns of RMC occur they will be offered the same service as children within our area.

When looked after children from other Local Authorities are placed in foster care or residential care in the Lincolnshire Local Authority area and repeat patterns of RMC occur, for foster placements the SAFE Team will contact the Local Authority that placed the child, for residential placements the residential homes will do that. This will be in order to seek reassurance from the Local Authority that they are working to safeguard the child from any future incidents of RMC. This process is the same for Looked After Children from Lincolnshire who are placed Cross Boundary.

See Appendix 3: Process for Notification of Missing Children and Young People, Appendix 4: Return Interview Pathway for Looked After Children Place Outside of Lincolnshire and Appendix 6: Return Interview Pathway for Missing Children and Young People.

Support for young people who are going missing and their families is available through a Runaway Helpline, which is a free, confidential service.

Call or text: 116000
Email: 116000@missingpeople.org.uk

Total Voice has been commissioned by Lincolnshire County Council to provide the Children's Rights and independent Advocacy Service. This applies to all Lincolnshire children whether looked after or not.

Child Sexual Exploitation Helpline

Call: 116 000, Its 24/7 confidential and free to call.


12. Media Strategy

In some cases, particularly where a missing child is felt to be especially vulnerable, it may be necessary to publicise via the media. Each case is to be treated on its own merits. Such an approach is not routine but is usually a response to very serious concerns for the child's safety. Either carers or the Police may suggest such an approach. Normally, such decisions to publicise will be jointly made, and where appropriate, in consultation with parents and Children's Services. However, for operational reasons primacy over such decisions must lie with the Police. Authorisation should be by Senior Investigating Officer, ratified by Duty Gold Commander.

The Police may also utilise the website facility of the Missing Persons Bureau (MPB) (see MPB website: to publicise the absence of the child or young person.

Text Safe provides Police forces a way of proactively texting a missing person's mobile phone with a message from Missing People about our services. This lets the missing person know that we care for their safety and want to help and encourages them to get in touch, thus contributing towards statutory safeguarding requirements and duty of care to young people.

If the case falls within the criteria for 'Child Rescue Alert' then any decision to publicise the case is likely to be urgent and will rest with the Police, in accordance with nationally agreed procedures by the appointed Senior Investigation Officer (SIO) and then ratified by a Chief Officer.


Appendices

Appendix 1: Flowchart for Child who has Run Away or is Missing from the Community

Appendix 2 : Flowchart for Children Looked After Who Run Away or go Missing from Care

Appendix 3: Process for Notification of Missing Children and Young People

Appendix 4: Return Interview Pathway for Looked After Children Place Outside of Lincolnshire

Appendix 5: Referral for Return Interview

Appendix 6: Return Interview Pathway for Missing Children and Young People

End