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5.5 LSCP Joint Protocol for Missing Children and Young People


Contents

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

    Appendix 1: Flowchart for Child Missing in the Community

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

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

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

    Appendix 5: East Midlands Protocol for Missing Children


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, criminal 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 Partnership 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 Partnership 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, see Lincolnshire County Council website, Safeguarding in schools;
  • Increased vulnerability;

Longer-term risks include:

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

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

This protocol is written as guidance only and cannot anticipate every situation. Any professional who has concerns for a missing child should take whatever action is necessary to protect and safeguard the child.

We recognise that children who go missing are extremely vulnerable and exposed to significant risk and as such the joint aim of Lincolnshire Children's Services and Lincolnshire Police is to reduce the number of missing incidents by young people in Lincolnshire.

Children with additional needs such as special educational or learning needs, physical disabilities or emotional health needs are particularly vulnerable when they go missing. Any communication difficulties can make it harder for a child to disclose abuse and they may have few opportunities to disclose. They are also more at risk of sexual or other exploitation.

Each missing incident should be taken seriously and considered as a potential indicator of other on-going issues rather than an isolated incident. Frequent missing episodes should not be treated as a pattern of acceptable behaviour and should be carefully considered as they may be symptomatic of abuse that young person may be exposed to, either within or outside the home. Any person working with a child or young person who goes missing should consider the push/pull factors that lead to missing episodes. These factors should be identified and used to inform safety planning and work to reduce future missing episodes.

Given the vulnerabilities of children who go missing, consideration should be given to what additional support the child or young person may need. An Early Help Assessment and the initiation of Team Around the Child should be considered where appropriate.

The Local Authority will collect data on children reported missing from home or care to identify patterns and to map problems. This should then be used to support joint work to identify patterns of sexual and other exploitation.


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 2018 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:


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 and 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 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 Youth Rehabilitation Order with a requirement to reside as directed by the Local Authority.

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.

Lincolnshire Local Authority also adhered to the East Midlands Protocol for Missing Children (see Appendix 5: East Midlands Protocol for Missing Children) which sets out how Local Authorities in the East Midland region will work together to ensure that children who go missing from care receive the support that they are entitled to and that information is shared appropriately between authorities.


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

6.1 Responsibilities of the Reporting Individual

Before contacting the Police – proactive attempts to locate the child or young person must be made.

When a child or young person is identified as not being at a location they are expected to be at, the reporting individual (for example a parent/care provider/foster carer/social worker/residential staff/teacher etc.) must take proactive steps to trace the child or young person’s whereabouts and keep a record of these enquiries so they can pass on the information. The decision on when to call police in relation to these enquiries should be in line with the recognised risk level – ie if the missing person is believed by the reporting person to be High Risk police should be called and then these enquiries should be made, if the missing person is believed to be Low Risk then all these enquiries should be made before the police are called. In all cases it should be recognised that finding a missing person is not the sole remit of the police and should be a joint effort between police, agencies and other persons involved.

Proactive attempts to locate the child or young person should 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 (i.e. Twitter/ Facebook/WhatsApp etc.);
  • Contacting the missing child or young person’s wider family and friends to ascertain if the child or young person is there or has made contact with them;
  • Contacting local hospitals;
  • Contacting or visiting places of work/education or other locations the missing child or young person frequents.

Additionally, where a child or young person is in the care of the local authority, the reporting Individual should:

Make reference to any risk assessments, Care Plans, Placement Plans or other planning documents in place that refer to the needs of the young person and in particular may detail the management of the risk that the child or young person may go missing.

Where such enquiries do not establish the whereabouts of the child or young person, the reporting individual should report the incident to the Police. For children and young people who reside within Lincolnshire and were last seen in Lincolnshire, including children and young people placed by another Local Authority within Lincolnshire, this will be Lincolnshire Police. Unless, there is deemed a serious concern or risk of immediate harm which would require a 999 response, this should be done through 101. If the child is normally resident in Lincolnshire but has gone missing whilst in another county, this should be reported to that Police force so that initial enquiries can be made in the immediate area. The case may at a later time be transferred to Lincolnshire but that will be a decision for the relevant force to make. It is national Police guidance that any force receiving a missing person report should record an incident and, if the person is missing in their area, carry out the initial enquiries. Reporting persons should not be asked to call Lincolnshire Police merely because the child or young person is normally resident in Lincolnshire.

Where a child or young person is placed in another Local Authority area by Lincolnshire Children’s Services, the contact will be the police force covering the area of their placement if that is the area where they are missing from.

If there has been no need to contact the Police, and the child is in the care of the local authority details of the incident should be recorded in full, according to the appropriate Children’s Social Care protocols and dealt with as part of the existing care plan.

Notifying relevant others of the incident

Where a child or young person is in the care of the local authority, the reporting individual i.e. foster carer or residential home should also ensure that the following are contacted as soon as is practicable after the child or young person is not where they are expected to be:

  • The Local Authority responsible for the child’s placement;
  • If appropriate e.g. delegated responsibility, adults with parental responsibility for the child or young person.

‘Concern for Welfare’

If there is concern for the welfare/safety of a child, they may be reported as a child at risk of harm; for example, where a child is staying over and refusing to leave a house where there is known drug dealing, is in the residence of a known sex offender or is in the residence of an individual who is known to have been assessed a posing a risk of harm to children. In these types of scenarios, the child would not be classed at as missing. There would need to be a concern for the child’s safety and as such reported this way to the Police in a balanced and proportionate way.

Where there is concern that the child is at risk of harm from a known adult offender, contact must be made with the relevant Probation Services. The appropriate agencies within Lincolnshire are the National Probation Service or Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company. If the concerned agency knows the name and contact details of the Responsible Officer (Probation Staff) then they should be notified directly. In the event that this is not known, both agencies are contactable by calling 01522 510011.

 If the location of a missing person is known or can be readily ascertained they are not missing and no attempt should be made to report them missing to police, however if there is a risk to the child or young person at that location then police assistance may be requested to support their safe return – reporting persons should be able to explain what this risk is and what assistance they are requesting when they contact Lincolnshire Police. If a child or young person’s location is known but there is no identified risk or the risk is low then the care team for that person should be contacted and a plan put in place to return them – this could be to allowing them to return under their own steam if this is deemed an appropriate response to the risk.

6.2 Response from Lincolnshire Police

This section of the protocol details the response from Lincolnshire Police to reports of children and young people who are missing. Where a report is made to another Police force, reference should be made to their missing from home or care protocol (it is likely that this is to be found on the Local Safeguarding Children Partnership’s website).

Lincolnshire Police priorities:

The priorities of the police in responding to reports of missing persons are:

  • To ensure that every report of a missing person is risk assessed so that those who may be vulnerable or represent high risk are immediately identified;
  • To investigate reports of missing persons;
  • To adopt a pro-active multi-agency approach in dealing with missing persons in order to safeguard them and to reduce the number of future reports;
  • To support the needs of the family, those close to the missing person, and the community.

Lincolnshire Police Risk Assessment

All reports of missing people sit within a continuum of risk from low with minimal enquiries through to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action.

When Lincolnshire Police are informed of an incident, they will confirm the level on the ‘missing’ continuum they consider to be appropriate. This will be based on an assessment of risk.

The Force Control Room Inspector or Supervisor will determine the initial level of risk based on the information supplied by the reporting person and information held by police. In doing so they will:

  • Take account of the antecedents known about the individual, including any partnership information available to Police;
  • Be cognisant of national best practice and APP guidance;
  • Take account of the presenting circumstances of the current incident and any reasonably foreseeable future risks.

For these reasons it is important that the reporting person is in possession of the history and risk factors surrounding the child or young person. Care should be taken to ensure that the person contacting police has this information to hand

For children in the care of the local authority, staff reporting the incident (including foster carers) should have the Care and Placement Plan to hand. Agencies should ensure that these plans are readily accessible to anyone who may report a child or young person missing. The responses to these questions will be recorded by the call-taker.

The outcomes of the risk assessment will be the guide for the police response and the level of enquiries undertaken. The Police investigation will be carried out in accordance with the Lincolnshire Police Missing Persons Policy. The investigation will be in line with the risk assessment framework as detailed below.

The risk assessment framework used by the Police:

Low risk
The risk of harm to the subject or the public is assessed as possible but minimal.
Proportionate enquiries should be carried out to ensure that the individual has not come to harm.
Medium risk
The risk of harm to the subject or the public is assessed as likely but not serious.
This category requires an active and measured response by the police and other agencies in order to trace the missing person and support the person reporting.
High risk
The risk of serious harm to the subject or the public is assessed as very likely.

This category almost always requires the immediate deployment of police resources – action may be delayed in exceptional circumstances, such as searching water or forested areas during hours of darkness. A member of the senior management team must be involved in the examination of initial lines of enquiry and approval of appropriate staffing levels. Such cases should lead to the appointment of an investigating officer (IO) and possibly an SIO, and a police search adviser (PolSA).

There should be a press/media strategy and/or close contact with outside agencies. Family support should be put in place where appropriate. The National Missing Person Unit should be notified of the case without undue delay. Children’s services must also be notified immediately if the person is under 18.

Where a child or young person is determined to be MISSING

An investigation will commence which will be reviewed on a regular basis. Enquiries will continue as required until the child or young person is located. A Police Supervisor will review regularly the action taken.

6.3 Police Notification to others of a missing child or young person

Notification to the relevant Local Authority for the child or young person

All incidents of children and young people reported as missing to Lincolnshire Police will be reported by the Police to Lincolnshire Children Services who will in turn notify the relevant authority if the child has been placed from outside Lincolnshire. Every Local Authority has different notification pathways based on local arrangements.

Circumstances of Child or Young Person Notification Contact Details
For a child or young person living within Lincolnshire, including those placed in Lincolnshire by another Local Authority.

Tel: 01476 403265

Email: ce-missing@lincolnshire.gov.uk

For a child or young person ‘looked after’ by Lincolnshire and placed in another Local Authority area.

Tel: 01476 403265

Email: ce-missing@lincolnshire.gov.uk

The Local Authority will then ensure appropriate forward communication, including Missing Persons coordinator, allocated Social Worker, Manager and Independent Reviewing Officer.

Notification to other Agency Partners

It is for the relevant Local Authority Children’s Social Care to notify agency partners of the missing episode including any education facilities that the child is involved with.

Notification to the Media

Lincolnshire Police will advise the media and request their assistance (after appropriate consultation with parents/guardians and/or the Local Authority) in certain circumstances, after a thorough risk assessment has been conducted. All appropriate media should be considered to assist in the swift and safe return of the child or young person. When any missing child or young person in Lincolnshire is subject of a media release, Lincolnshire Children’s Services will be notified (via EDT out of office hours)

6.4 When children and young people are found – Location and Return

It is important that there are processes in place for when missing children and young people are located. This is so an understanding can be gained of the reasons for those missing episodes and any issues that may have caused them can be addressed, as well as protecting the child or young person from future harm. The approach of professionals, such as police officers and social workers, towards a child or young person who has been missing can have a significant impact on how the child or young person will engage with subsequent investigations and protection planning. The multiple risks a child or young person maybe open to should be recognised regardless of how often or willingly they go missing. A supportive approach, actively listening and responding to a child or young person’s needs, will have a greater chance of preventing the child or young person from going missing again and safeguarding them against other risks.

Location and Return of a ‘MISSING’ child or young person

When a child or young person who has been reported to the Police and deemed, following risk assessment, as ‘Missing’, returns or is located and returned to a safe place other than by the Police, the Police should be notified as soon as possible by the parent or carer that the episode is over. At the point of reporting a return, parents or carers will be asked if there is anything the Police need to know or act on immediately in terms of the child and young person’s behaviour or welfare. The Police will arrange for a ‘Prevention Interview’ to be conducted.

If a missing child or young person is in the care of the local authority, upon location by police or others, it is the responsibility of the residential staff or foster carers to collect and return the child or young person to a place of safety, unless the circumstances pose a risk to them or to the child or young person.

Where there is no risk to a parent or carer collecting a child or young person, but the logistics make it difficult or impossible for the parent or carer to do so, the responsible Local Authority for the child or young person must be contacted to assist

The use of Police Protection Powers

Where a Police Officer locates a missing child or young person and has reasonable cause to believe that the child or young person would otherwise be likely to suffer significant harm, the Officer may take the child into Police Protection (Sect. 46 Children Act 1989) and return them to a place of safety.

Where a child or young person is located by an agency or individual other than an agent of the police, the following action should be taken:

  • Immediately notify the carer of where the child or young person has been located;
  • Provide details of any concerns to the carer;
  • Agree with the carer an immediate action plan to safeguard the child or young person until such time as the carer can arrange for the child or young person to be collected;
  • Notify the police of the individual’s location and any concerns they may have in order that the police can consider use of Police Protection powers and complete a ‘Prevention Interview’.

Transporting a Found Missing Child

Reporting Persons and agencies should consider the means by which the child or young person will be transported home if located by Lincolnshire Police. This will be especially relevant if the missing person is believed to have travelled outside their local area. Consideration should be given as to how to prevent them going missing on the journey home. Lincolnshire Police will not provide transport unless the officers involved deem that there is a safeguarding need for police to transport rather than another agency. There may be occasions when police deem that the speediest way to resolve police involvement in an incident will be for police to provide transport, however no agency or person should make assumptions that Lincolnshire Police will provide transport. If, whilst the missing child or young person is missing, it is deemed that their current place of residence is inappropriate for any reason then steps should be taken whilst they are missing to identify an alternative in preparation for their location.

6.5 The Police Prevention Interview

Safe and Well Checks for Missing Children and Young People

When a child or young person has been located following an episode deemed ‘Missing’, statutory guidance requires that police will carry out a Prevention Interview (previously known as a Safe and Well check). Lincolnshire Police will carry out a Prevention Interview for all children and young people who have been categorised as ‘missing’, as soon as practicable after they are found and this should be completed within 24 hours of the person being located. Consideration will be given by police to the time of day this will take place and impact a police presence can have at locations such as Children’s Care Homes. The details will be recorded on the Missing Person Report and passed on to the relevant Local Authority.

Objectives of a Lincolnshire Police Prevention Interview

A Prevention Interview requires a Police Officer to physically see and speak to the missing child or young person as soon as practicable after they are found. The police should also speak to the child or young person’s parents or carers to satisfy themselves that the child or young person is safe. A Prevention Interview will be recorded on the Police Missing Person Investigation system and information shared with the Children and Families Service.

The objectives of a Lincolnshire Prevention Interview will be:

  • To determine the reasons why the child or young person went missing and in particular, if they have been subject to violence, exploitation, abuse or bullying;
  • To establish if they have been the victim of, or committed, any crime whilst missing;
  • To discover where and by whom they have been harboured and if any steps can be taken to prevent this in the future such as issuing a Child Abduction Warning Notice;
  • To obtain information which may lead to their early location should they disappear again;
  • To put in place any support and preventative measures to avoid such a recurrence;
  • To establish which school or education setting they attend;
  • To inform the child or young person and their parents and carers, if appropriate, that:
    1. The relevant Local Authority Children’s Social Care has been notified of the missing episode;
    2. They will be contacted by the Local Authority and offered an Independent Return Interview;
    3. Ask whom the child or young person would prefer carried out the Independent Return Interview and obtain their contact details.

Return Interview

When a missing child is found, they must be offered an independent return interview. Independent return interviews provide an opportunity to uncover information that can help protect children from the risk of going missing again, from risks they may have been exposed to while missing or from risk factors in their home.

The interview should be carried out within 72 hours of the child returning to their home or care setting. The interview should be carried out within 72 hours of the child returning home or to their care setting. This should be an in depth interview and will be undertaken by an independent professional, the decision as to who this will be should be informed by the child. In circumstances where the child has not indicated a preference, the Lead Professional/Key Worker for the child will identify who is most appropriate to carry out the interview. Where the child does not have an identified professional/key worker then, an independent worker from the Local Authority will undertake the interview. It is acknowledged that children sometimes need to build up trust with a person before they will discuss in depth, the reasons why they ran away.

The interview and actions that follow from it should:

  • Identify and deal with any harm the child has suffered – including harm that might not have already been disclosed as part of the ‘safe and well check’ – either before they ran away or whilst missing;
  • Understand and try to address the reasons why the child ran away;
  • Help the child feel safe and understand that they have options to prevent repeat instances of them running away;
  • Provide them with information on how to stay safe if they choose to run away again, including helpline numbers.

The interview should be held in a neutral place where the child feels safe. The interview provides an opportunity hear from the child about why they went missing and to understand the risks and issues faced by the child while missing. This could include exploring issues where a child:

  • Has been reported missing on two or more occasions;
  • Is frequently away from placement (or their home) without authorisation;
  • Has been hurt or harmed while they have been missing;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of sexual exploitation or trafficking;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of involvement in criminal activity or drugs;
  • Has contact with people posing risk to children; and/or
  • Has been engaged (or is believed to have engaged) in criminal activities while missing.
Where children refuse to engage with the independent interviewer, parents and carers should be offered the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence of which they may be aware. This should help to prevent further instances of the child running away and identify early the support needed for them.


7. 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. The assessment 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. If the decision not to hold a strategy meeting is made, the reasons for this should be recorded. In any event the repeat missing episodes should be considered within a multiagency forum.


8. 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 missing report must always be noted 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 absconder's 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, absconder's 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 the Service Manager with the designated Safeguarding Lead.

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 Partnership policy guidance and procedures.

Out of Area Placements

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

The LAC Social Worker must ensure that where children/young people who are placed out of county go missing, Children's Services are advised. On Mosaic, a contact needs to be added for a request to complete the Return Interview.

Lincolnshire Local Authority also adheres to the East Midlands Protocol for Missing Children (see Appendix 5: East Midlands Protocol for Missing Children) which sets out how Local Authorities in the East Midland region will work together to ensure that children who go missing from care receive the support that they are entitled to and that information is shared appropriately between authorities.


9. 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 Service Manager/Head of Service 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.


10. Return Interviews: Safety, Assessment and Information Gathering

The ‘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.

Lincolnshire Police will provide Children's Services  with all missing children data, which  will then be recorded on the Mosaic computer system.

When a child is found, they must be offered an independent return interview. Independent return interviews provide an opportunity to uncover information that can help protect children from the risk of going missing again, from risks they may have been exposed to while missing or from risk factors in their home.

The interview should be carried out within 72 hours of the child returning to their home or care setting. This should be an in-depth interview and will be undertaken by an independent Lead professional/Key worker known to the child, as in many cases children need to build up trust with a person before they will discuss in depth the reasons why they ran away. The child will be a part of this decision wherever possible.

If a child is missing from home but does not have a Social Worker a return interview will still be carried out. If concerns are identified during the course of this staff will begin an Early Help Assessment and follow safeguarding processes.

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

When looked after children are placed out of county in foster or residential care and repeat patterns of missing occurs 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 missing occurs, for foster placements Children's Services 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 missing. This process is the same for Looked After Children from Lincolnshire who are placed Cross Boundary.

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

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 Exploitation Helpline

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


11. Media Strategy

Media Releases during Missing Episodes

In some cases, particularly where a missing child is felt to be especially vulnerable, it may be necessary to publicise this via the media and each case is to be treated on its own merits. All appropriate media should be considered to assist in the swift and safe return of the child or young person.

Such an approach is not routine but is usually a response to very serious concerns for the child's safety. Potentially Carers, Lincolnshire Police or the local authority may suggest such an approach.

Normally, such decisions to publicise will be jointly made, and wherever possible in full consultation with parents/carers and Children's Services. However, for operational reasons primacy over such decisions must lie with the Police. Authorisation should be by the Senior Investigating Officer, or Divisional Officers.

Any decision regarding a proposed media release involving a Lincolnshire looked after child (LAC) must be in collaboration and agreement with Lincolnshire Children Services.

Where any decision by Lincolnshire Police to progress a media release is planned, liaison should take place between the communications team within Lincolnshire Police and Lincolnshire County Council. Prior notification of the release should be provided at the earliest possible opportunity to Lincolnshire Children Services via the customer services centre.


Appendices

Appendix 1: Flowchart for Child Missing in the Community

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

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

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

Appendix 5: East Midlands Protocol for Missing Children

End