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Part 3 – Children missing from home

What to do if a child has gone missing from home

If a parent or carer or other family member reports that their child has gone missing, they should be advised to report this information to the police. If a professional is concerned about a missing person, it is recommended that they contact the police. However reasonable steps should first be taken to attempt to establish the whereabouts of the child/young person prior to reporting the matter to police. This may include attempts to contact family and friends, checking social media and checking places they are known to go.

  • If a child may be at risk of immediate harm, dial 999
  • If you are worried about a child who you think might be missing, you should call 101

Parents/carers and other professionals and agencies involved should then work together to respond to the incident in a timely way to locate the child as quickly as possible.

Managing the return

While the child is still missing, plans should be put in place across relevant agencies to ensure that the return is managed effectively. This will be especially important for those children who are considered as high risk, are being harmed and/or are frequently reported as missing. In particular, in planning for their return, consideration should be given to:

  • how the child will be dealt with on the first contact
  • appropriate accommodation for their return should the place from which they went missing not be safe
  • how the child should most appropriately be debriefed

If it is considered that the place where they live is no longer appropriate, the location to which they are to be returned should be considered at an early stage. It might be necessary to consider options such as an emergency placement to cover the initial period following their return.

Once the child has returned the police should be notified at the earliest opportunity.

Police Safe and Well Check

This is carried out by the police as soon as possible after the child has returned. Its 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 a reasonable decision should be taken with regard to the frequency of such checks. This will mainly apply to children missing from care who are likely to have other people responsible for their welfare to check this. Every effort should be made to visit those children missing from home on every occasion.

Return interview

South Gloucestershire Integrated Children’s Services will endeavour to ensure that a return interview takes place within 72 hours of the child being located or returning from absence. These interviews will be conducted by trained staff within Preventative Services following notification from ART

The return interview is an in depth interview carried out by an independent person who is trained to carry out these interviews and is able to follow up any actions that emerge. A pro forma is used to ensure consistency. Many children who go missing need to build up trust with somebody before they will discuss in depth the reasons why they decided to go missing. 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 (his/her medical condition should be discussed and any need for medical attention assessed)
  • understand and try to address the reasons why the child ran away
  • try to prevent it happening again

Due to the research that tells us that children who are at risk of CSE will usually go missing at some point, workers undertaking RHI should always consider whether the information being shared with them leads them to believe there is a risk of CSE for that young person.  Where this is the case, workers should consider whether completing the SERAF (sexual exploitation risk assessment tool) would be beneficial to further inform their assessment. This consideration should be based on:

  • Whether a SERAF has recently (max last three months)  been completed and the information contained within it covers the FYPS workers concerns about risk.
  • Whether there is a lead professional (LP) involved who would be better placed to complete the SERAF in light of the information the preventative workers have gathered as part of the RHI.  In this circumstance, the PS worker should recommend this as part of their conclusion of the RHI. NB. Where the LP is a social worker it is the expectation that the social worker takes responsibility for the completion of an updated SERAF.
  • Whether there is no LP and as such the assessment of CSE risk falls to the PS worker undertaking the RHI.
  • The worker is so concerned about information being shared, that it is necessary to help the worker think about immediacy of need for action.

In all cases where PS workers complete a SERAF, they must ensure that they complete the professional analysis section as this will assist the LP/ART in making an informed decision about next steps.

The same independent person will undertake further return interviews with the same child if possible.

Appendix 2 shows the process to be taken in referring for a return interview.

Missing from a private foster home

Most private fostering arrangements will be settled and supportive environments. However, some children may have ‘entered’ a private fostering arrangement in an attempt by a family to address difficulties in the relationships within the family. These issues may be unresolved and the child may in some circumstances be more vulnerable to going missing from the private foster home. It is important that these children receive the same prompt and comprehensive response as children missing from home and from care.

Where a child has been reported missing from a ‘private foster home’, there may already have been a referral to children’s social care (in respect to the private fostering arrangement). All children in private foster care whom the local authority have been made aware of, will already have an allocated social worker. The child will be receiving social worker visits, at a minimum, every six weeks (or 12 weeks if they have been in the private fostering arrangement for over 12 months) and there will also be a private fostering assessment in place.

Where a report of a missing child reveals that they have been living in a private fostering placement which was not known to the local authority, a referral must be made to ART in respect of the private fostering arrangement. The social work assessment will also need to look at the fact that the child has been reported as missing from their private fostering arrangement.

When a social worker for a child in a private fostering arrangement receives a referral/notification that the child has gone missing a review of the child’s needs should be arranged immediately. This will ensure that the placement is still able to meet the child’s needs and arrange for any necessary further support to the carers and child. This review should also involve the private foster carer’s social worker.

Where there are concerns that a child may be at risk of or suffering significant harm in a private fostering arrangement immediate action to safeguard the welfare of the child may be required.

Support for 16 and 17 year olds

As 16 and 17 year olds have greater independence from their parents and carers and can choose to leave home, it may be necessary to involve other services such as housing officers in the assessment of their needs. South Gloucestershire must provide accommodation for any ‘child in need’ within their area who meets the criteria in section 20(1) of the Children Act 1989. Local authorities must also provide accommodation for a ‘child in need’ who is over 16 and whose welfare is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they do not provide him or her with accommodation (section 20(3).

The Judgement of the House of Lords in May of 2009 (The Southwark ruling) sets out the responsibilities of housing and children’s services, in relation to 16-17 year olds who present to a local authority as homeless.

When a 16-17 year old presents as homeless, the Southwark ruling states that it should be children’s social care rather than housing who undertake an assessment.