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Part 4 – Children missing from care

Introduction

When children are missing from their care placements (residential and foster care), it is essential that the professionals and agencies concerned work closely together to respond to the incident in a timely way to locate the child as quickly as possible. The child’s independent reviewing officer (IRO) must be informed of all missing episodes.

Once the child has been located, it will be essential to assess their needs so that they can be referred for appropriate services – which may include independent advocacy and support. It may also be necessary to convene a statutory review chaired by their IRO.

Child’s care plan

Every child in care has a care plan based on a comprehensive assessment of their needs that takes into account their wishes, feelings and aspirations for their future. The care plan informs the decision as to which placement (e.g. foster care or children’s home) will be most suited to meeting the child’s needs. Where children have established a pattern of going missing from placements, their care plan should include a strategy to minimise the likelihood of the child going missing in future and how to respond if they do.

Looked After Child (LAC) Review

All care plans are kept under review. The review meeting (LAC Review), chaired by an IRO, considers the plan for the welfare of the child, monitors the progress of the plan, and makes decisions to amend it as necessary in light of changed knowledge and circumstances. The IRO is also responsible for monitoring the implementation and management of the plan outside of the LAC review.

When children have gone missing from their placements, then their statutory review provides an opportunity to check that their care plan has been appropriately amended to address the reasons why the child was absent and includes a plan (which should be informed by a missing management meeting) to prevent re-occurrence should the child go missing in future. For example, where a child goes missing from their placement to have more contact with their family, then the review provides an opportunity to consider the child’s views about how contact might be managed in future. Similarly, where there is evidence that a child is vulnerable to sexual exploitation, it may be necessary to convene a review (in addition to a strategy discussion or missing management meeting) to consider whether the placement is able to put in place a plan to minimise any risk to the child, or whether it may be necessary to look for an alternative placement in order to keep the child safe. The LAC Reviews provide a check that the placement remains suitable for meeting the child’s needs.

Placement matters

The national minimum standards (NMS) for children’s homes (2011) and fostering services (2011) set out basic expectations about how providers should take into account the needs of the children who rely on their services. The NMS for fostering services and for children’s homes, and the statutory regulations relating to these, require providers to have explicit policies and procedures in place that must be followed whenever a child is missing from their care placement without consent.

These policies are expected to be compatible with South Gloucestershire’s missing from home, care and school protocol. Standard 5 of The Fostering Services: National Minimum Standards (2011) specifies the responsibilities of fostering services and foster carers in relation to children who go missing from care. It is expected that fostering services and foster carers follow local guidance and procedures and take appropriate action to find children who have gone missing.

Standard 5 of the Children’s Homes: National Minimum Standards (2011) specifies the responsibilities of children’s homes and the staff employed within each children’s home in relation to children who go missing from care. It is expected that children’s homes and staff follow local guidance and procedures and take appropriate action to find children who have gone missing.

Communication

Whenever a child goes missing from a children’s home or foster home, the foster carer or the manager on duty in the children’s home will ensure that the following individuals and agencies are informed:

  • the local police
  • the authority responsible for the child’s placement. Notification is likely to be by phone in the first instance followed up by email/written confirmation. It is not enough just to notify the child’s social worker. The registered manager of the children’s home or the fostering service must be responsible for ensuring that the accountable manager in the local authority has received the notification that a looked after child is missing and has initiated the appropriate actions
  • Parents and any other persons with parental responsibility must be informed as soon as possible that their child is missing unless there are good reasons connected with the child’s welfare for this to be inappropriate. At the point where the responsible authority is informed, agreement must be reached as to which professional will be responsible for informing the child’s parents – this will usually be the child’s social worker. A record must be made as to when parents have been informed, and what information has been given to them

Out of area placements

For some of South Gloucestershire’s children in care, an appropriate placement may be one outside of South Gloucestershire. In these cases, South Gloucestershire Children’s Social Care should make sure that these children have access to all the services they need. Providers of care for children living outside of South Gloucestershire have a similar responsibility for making sure that the children they care for are able to make use of appropriate local services. Information about these services must be recorded in the placement plan that should match the information about the child’s needs included in their care plan. In the case of a child being reported missing to the police the carer should inform the child’s social worker and ART in order to ensure that a return interview can be offered on their return. Where young people are placed outside of CUBA (Counties that used to be Avon) this will be offered by telephone.

Action to be taken when children go missing from care

It is expected that all foster carers and residential workers will take all the steps a reasonable parent would take if a child they are looking after fails to return home when expected. This will include, calling friends (and family where appropriate) and checking known locations (when safe to do so). This is part of the assessment of risk that the carers need to present to the child’s social worker or EDT in order that a decision is made jointly about the necessity (or not) to report the child as ‘missing’ to the police. Where a decision is made to report the child ‘missing’ the carer should provide the police with all of the details of the enquiries they have made. Where there are believed to be specific issues of risk to the carer in checking locations, contacting people or returning the child to placement, the carer should discuss this with the social worker/EDT and where necessary the police should be contacted and asked for their assistance.

Where children do not return to placement when expected and are refusing to return and the carer is able to establish their whereabouts, the child should NOT be reported missing to the police unless:

  • The circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the young person may be subject of a crime or at risk of harm to themselves or others
  • Where children are not reported as missing, their absence should still inform the child’s social worker/EDT as soon as possible so that these incidences can be logged as the child may subsequently go missing. All periods of absence should be kept under review by the carer, social worker/EDT in order that consideration can be given to whether there has been a change in possible risk factors that would warrant the child subsequently being reported as missing

Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) who go missing from care

Whilst not exclusive to this group of children, UASC may have additional vulnerability factors that must be considered for any missing episode – the risk of being trafficked and the risk of being radicalised. Any period of absence for a UASC must therefore be risk assessed immediately so that appropriate safeguarding measures can be undertaken. Where there is a concern that there is risk of trafficking or radicalisation for a UASC, the PREVENT and trafficking guidance should be followed alongside the safeguarding procedures.

The links to the trafficking guidance can be found on the South Gloucestershire icon of the South West Child Protection Procedures and PREVENT can be found on the South Gloucestershire LSCB website.

Return of the child

When a child has been missing from their care placement, Children’s Social Care will ensure that plans are in place to respond promptly once the child is located. If the child is located, but the professionals involved are unable to establish meaningful contact with the child, perhaps because they are under duress or being harboured, then the accountable staff will need to consider whether it is appropriate to apply to the court for a recovery order.

When the child has been located, children’s social care will be responsible for making the decision about whether they should be returned to their placement children’s social care will also ensure that they have taken full account of the circumstances that led to the child going missing from their placement to avoid the child being returned to an abusive environment.

The police must be notified at the earliest opportunity that the child has returned.

Return of the child to their placement

It is the responsibility of the carer to notify the child’s social worker and police of a child’s return. The carer should also record the circumstances of the child’s return and any reasons given by the child for being away from the placement.

When a child is found or returns to their placement, the carer will need to reassure the child of their commitment to them, as well as expressing their concern for the child’s safety. The child might need to have the opportunity to talk to a person independent of the placement, ideally prior to returning to the placement. It will be essential to assess their needs so that appropriate services and additional support can be provided.

Police Safe and Well checks and return interviews

The same processes as described in Part 3 – missing from home will be applied to those missing from care.