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7.2.24 Responding to Children and Young People who are missing from Placement


  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions
  3. Unauthorised Absence
  4. Missing Persons
  5. Absconders
  6. Assessing the Situation
  7. Responding to an Incident
  8. Recording
  9. Procedures on Return
  10. Return Interview Guidance
  11. Missing During External Activity Of A Residential Home
  12. Longer Absences
  13. Children Placed In Independent / Voluntary Residential Establishments

    Appendix 1: Newcastle Missing Reporting Processes Flowchart

1. Introduction

This procedure and guidance is applicable to all looked after children, in residential as well as fostering placements.

Young people who go missing from Children’s Social Care placements may place themselves and others at risk. The reasons for their absence are both varied and complex and cannot be viewed in isolation from their home circumstances and experience of care.

Every “missing” episode should therefore attract proper attention from the professionals involved with that young person. Those professionals must ensure a consistent response is given to each missing from care episode.

The safety and welfare of the child or young person is paramount and nothing in this protocol should compromise this aim. However, reporting to the Police should not be an automatic process.

The Police are partners of Children’s Social Care in managing “missing” episodes and it is important that staff in both agencies work together.

This protocol combines aspects of Children’s Social Care and Police procedures in relation to missing persons.

2. Definitions

There are various different terms which are used in relation to missing children.

Statutory Guidance on Children who Run Away or go Missing from Home or Care (January 2014) uses the following definitions:

Missing Child: A child reported as missing to the police by their family or carers.

Missing from Care: A Looked After child who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be (for example school) and their whereabouts are not known.

Away from Placement without Authorisation: A Looked After child whose whereabouts are known but who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the police.

Young Runaway: A child who has run away from their home or care placement, or feels they have been forced or lured to leave.

The Police (Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2013)) categorise children as either Missing or Absent.

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 is not at a place where they are expected or required to be.

The police classification of a person as ‘Missing’ or ‘Absent’ will be based on on-going risk assessment. Note that Absent within the police definition would not include those defined as Away from Placement without Authorisation above: a child whose whereabouts are known would not be treated as either ‘Missing’ or ‘Absent’ under the police definitions.

Police will not be sent to cases where children / young people are defined as being ‘absent’. Instead the onus will be on care providers to take steps to locate the child/young person, with monitoring by the police and escalation to ‘missing’ if there is a change to the circumstances that has increased the level of risk. It is expected that all reasonable steps should be taken by care providers to locate the child/young person prior to making a report to the police. Where they remain absent, and the care provider feels that they may be at risk of harm, then a report should be made to the police.

Police will attend reports of ‘missing’ children/young people.

3. Unauthorised Absence

This would be a child or young person for whom there are no immediate concerns regarding their safety or welfare, after the agreed risk assessment has been carried out.

Clearly some young people absent themselves for a short period of time and then return: often their whereabouts are known. They are not considered at risk and usually they are testing boundaries. Sometimes young people stay out longer than agreed either on purpose or unwittingly. This kind of boundary testing activity is well within the range of teenage behaviour and should not come within the definition of “missing” for this protocol.

4. Missing Persons

A child or young person who is resident in the Registered Children’s Home or placed with carers, who has not returned at the time their carers, reasonably expected them to, and who is immediately vulnerable through age or risk factors.

Clearly some young people absent themselves for a short period of time and then return: often their whereabouts are known. They are not considered at risk and usually they are testing boundaries. Sometimes young people stay out longer than agreed either on purpose or unwittingly. This kind of boundary testing activity is well within the range of teenage behaviour and should not come within the definition of “missing” for this protocol.

5. Absconders

An absconder is a child or young person who is subject to criminal proceedings and who are on remand and/or subject to bail conditions and whom the Police may arrest without warrant.

Looked After Children who are absent without the permission of the responsible person and who are either, a Ward of Court, subject a Care Order or Emergency Protection Order may be compelled to return to Local Authority care.

6. Assessing the Situation

In assessing the significance of a young person’s absence, staff should consider these definitions and in addition take the following factors into consideration, using them as indicators of low, medium or high-risk concern.

  • Guidance already agreed and incorporated within the young person’s Child Plan, placement agreement or assessment reports;
  • The age of the young person;
  • The legal status of the person in care (e.g. Emergency Protection Order, remanded, curfew conditions etc.;
  • Previous behaviour patterns (such as a history of absence and quick return);
  • The child’s state of mind/perceived risk (Is child likely to self-harm? Does child see risks in a balanced way?);
  • Group behaviour at the time of the absence;
  • Whether the young person is perceived as running to someone or running from a situation;
  • Any physical or learning disabilities the child may have which increase the risk to them;
  • Any other particular circumstances at the time of the incident.

A risk assessment form should be completed at the time the young person changes placement and updated at every review and more frequently if this is felt to be necessary. For those children placed with foster carers, information will be available on the placement agreement form for all young people. However, if the young person has been missing previously a risk assessment form will be completed.

Where there are Child Protection concerns relating to a child and / or where the child has gone missing from the placement or from any previous placement, the Placement Plan must include information agreed between the local authority and the placement provider about the day-to-day arrangements put in place to keep the child safe.

The child’s Looked After Review should be brought forward in the following circumstances:

  • Where the child is, or has been, persistently absent from the placement;
  • Where the Home, parents or area authority are concerned that the child is at risk of harm;
  • Where the child so requests, unless the Independent Reviewing Officer considers that the review is not justified.

In responding to and managing an individual young person’s absence from care both Children’s Social Care and Police staff should be aware of dismissing the potential significance of multiple absences by a young person. There is a danger that such young people are immediately labelled as ‘a problem’ and insufficient consideration is given to considering why they are persistently absenting themselves.

7. Responding to an Incident


Prior to each placement social work staff, foster carers and residential care workers must consider and discuss the risks of the young person absenting him/herself. Where it is appropriate the discussion should include the following topics and should be recorded on a risk assessment form:

  • The likelihood of the young person going missing;
  • The level of support/supervision offered to the young person;
  • The parent’s advice on what action they feel should be taken if the young person goes missing (Do they wish to be notifies of absences and at what times of the day/night?);
  • The level of risk presented if the child does go missing;
  • Role of significant others e.g. grandparents.

The young person should be given a copy of this protocol and have it explained to him/her what actions will be taken if he/she absents him/herself without permission. This should be done at a pace and manner appropriate to the child’s level of communication.

Institutional Abuse

Any persons or agency receiving a report from a child or young person that they went missing because of abuse within a children’s home or via a carer, must immediately refer this information to the local Children’s Social Care for consideration under Child Protection Procedures and appropriate action must be taken to protect the child concerned and other children as necessary.

Monitoring School Attendance: Children in Residential Placements

The homes registered manager in conjunction with the care team should monitor each child’s school attendance. Where there is continued absence or a worrying pattern of absence then the registered manager should initiate a review of the child’s risk assessment, Personal Education Plan and Child Plan.

Notification of Absence

When a young person absents him/herself without permission, it is necessary to initiate procedures, which encourage the child to return as quickly, and safely as possible end ensuring the young person is treated positively on their return.

Before notifying the police, parents and placing authority at any stage, staff and foster carers should ensure they have taken all of the reasonable and practical steps that a good parent would take to establish the whereabouts or destination of the child have been exhausted, only then should the child be reported as ‘missing’.

Wherever possible, staff will physically search the locality for the child. However, in cases where there is a need to provide ongoing supervision for other young people in their care it may not be appropriate for staff to search for the young person.

The following procedure for responses should then be followed:

Children’s Social Care Response

Children’s Social Care staff will need to review and refer to the young person’s risk assessment to decide the point at which to report the child or young person to the Police.

The risk assessment will take account of the fact that child/young persons may be absent for a variety of reasons. For example, they may return late from a permitted absence or may be known to have taken “time out” to cool down after an argument.

Following a review of the risk assessment any child/young person going missing for the first time, will be reported as a missing person (or absconder) without delay.

Any child or young person under the age of fourteen years will be reported as a missing person (or absconder) without delay with due regard to their circumstances.

Any child or young person fourteen years or over and under eighteen years, who fails to return at the agreed time may be allowed two hours in which to return. If they fail to return for a further six hours they will be reported as a missing person or absconder unless the Missing from Placement Risk Assessment indicates that they should be reported earlier.

Children’s Social Care staff will assess the implications of the particular child or young person’s absence in the light of their knowledge of previous behaviour and their age and circumstances. They will take into account any risk factors assessed at the time of the placement (recorded in the placement agreement) and gather any other relevant information. In updating the Risk Assessment, Children’s Social Care staff will refer to and follow any relevant practice guidance.

The child or young person will be defined and recorded on Children’s Social Care records as on “Unauthorised Absence” until the point at which the ongoing Missing from Placement Risk Assessment triggers a report to the Police. Prior to this all reasonable effort should have been made to locate the child.

Details of all relevant information, including hard copies of the placement agreement/risk assessment, will be handed to the Police by Residential staff or foster carer when reporting the child or young person to them as either missing person or absconder. Staff to record any log number the Police allocate.

The Emergency Duty Team (EDT) to be informed of anticipated risk of young person going missing. Details should be provided of the placement plan for the return of the young person.

EDT should be advised of any child or young person who has been reported missing or who remains missing. Details should be provided of the placement plan for the return of the young person.

The child’s parent/carer, social workers and Team Managers (if appropriate) should be informed of the child or young person’s absence without delay, missing or absconding. Notification also to be sent to the child’s social worker or Team Manager along with a copy of the updated risk assessment. At the latest this should be the next day and the electronic record updated.

The child’s Independent Reviewing Officer should also be informed if the child has run away or is missing from the placement.

The social worker to respond to this notification by communicating with the children’s home/foster carer.

After 12 hours and every 12 hours subsequently residential staff/foster carer to review the child’s missing status and consult/update further with parents / Police / Emergency Duty Team / social worker and Care Team as appropriate.

Where a child has been missing for 72 hours, the relevant Team Manager must be informed and a Strategy Discussion will take place.

Where a young person persistently goes missing, perhaps with other children from the same care placement, or where there is a worrying pattern of absence then the manager responsible for the children’s home or Fostering Service should convene a multi-agency risk management meeting which should include the review of:

  • Child/Care Plan;
  • The risk assessment;
  • Relevant current practice within the placement.

The Police Response

The Police will respond in accordance with their local police procedures. A child or young person who is defined as an absconder can be arrested and returned. The Police may return a child or young person who is missing or on “Unauthorised Absence” either with the child or young person’s agreement or through further legal steps involving, where relevant, Police Protection.

Should the Police Officer have any concern that the child or young person’s safety or welfare is at risk. They will report this to the appropriate Police Department in accordance with the local police procedures. The Police may also refer directly to Children’s Social Care any child or young person for whom there are no Child Protection concerns.

As a result of any child protection concerns, the Police Child Protection Unit will be involved and may request a Strategy Meeting/Strategy Discussion under their Newcastle SCB Safeguarding Children Board Procedures Manual Strategy Discussion/Meeting Procedure.

A child or young person found by the Police who is refusing to return and whose circumstances do not warrant Police Protection and where there is no power of arrest (children accommodated under Sec 20 Children Act), will be reported to Children’s Social Care as soon as possible to consider further options.

With regard to such a child or young person, Children’s Service or the child or young person’s parents may also seek legal intervention to recover the child or young person.

At the point of return an Officer will visit the child/young person. This will be done automatically after a child’s first missing episode. Where possible, the young person to be seen alone (or in the presence of their social worker if there are issues about the age or gender of the child or young person).

Visits following subsequent ‘missing’ episodes should be arranged after liaison with the child’s placing authority, and may more appropriately be carried out by the child’s social worker or a person independent of the home to consider the reasons for the absence (see Section 6, Missing Children and Young People Protocol, NSCB).

Emergency Duty Team

EDT to be advised of children and young people missing from placements if action is required from them.

The EDT will return children and young people from the Police Station to their appropriate placements.

When a child or young person has been located (out of office hours), EDT to assess the situation and make arrangements to return the child to placement. Following a risk assessment, young people who have become stranded or are missing from placement may be provided with finances to use public transport or a taxi provided to return them to placement. EDT will liaise with the out of authority EDT as necessary.

Where children are accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 and parental responsibility is solely held by either or both parents, consultation with the latter should take place where possible if there is a refusal from the child to return to the agreed placement.

8. Recording

Throughout the process identified in this protocol, including the child’s return, a full record must be kept of all actions taken and messages received/given. This recording should be made within the homes logbook and the young person’s file. foster carers should also record in their diary. They should also share information with the child/young person, social worker or the Team Manager to enable a record to be made on ICS.

The records should clearly include details of where the young person was found, any reasons the child has given for going missing and any actions taken in light of those reasons. This information is important for any future missing from care episodes.

Emergency Duty Team to maintain information on missing young people on ICS. Additional email to the child/young person’s social worker should be considered to share critical information.

9. Procedures on Return

When a missing person returns to their placement, the Police and EDT will be notified immediately by residential staff/foster carer. This will allow the Police to complete their missing person enquiry and, if this is the child’s first ‘missing’ episode, to interview the child as a matter of course.

After subsequent ‘missing’ episodes it may not always be necessary for a Police Officer to visit and speak with the same young person unless there are concerns about the child’s welfare. The Police will however contact the relevant person who will speak to the child about their absence so that they can make a record of this.

When a child or young person returns they will be welcomed and supported by the workers / carers. The child / young person’s physical / medical condition should be sensitively discussed and a discreet offer made to arrange medical attention if appropriate.

All relevant parties to be informed without delay (or in accordance with previously agreed arrangements), including: the child’s parents, the child’s social worker and where appropriate the Team Manager and Service Manager.

The field social worker will respond to the fax / phone indicating their young person has returned by communicating with the home / foster carer.

An Independent Return Interview should be carried out by an independent professional (for example a social worker, teacher, health professional or police officer, who does not usually work with the child and is trained to carry out these interviews). Children sometimes need to build up trust with a person before they will discuss in depth the reasons why they ran away.

The person conducting the interview should usually be independent of the child’s placement and of the responsible local authority. An exception maybe where a child has a strong relationship with a carer or social worker and has expressed a preference to talk to them, rather than an independent person, about the reasons they went missing.

The responsible local authority should ensure the Return Interview takes place, working closely with the host authority where appropriate. Contact should be made with the child within 72 hours of them being located or returning from absence, to arrange an Independent Return Interview in a neutral place where they feel safe.

Where a Looked After Child has run away they should have the opportunity to talk, before they return to their placement, to a person who is independent of their placement about the reasons they went missing. The child should be offered the option of speaking to an independent representative or Advocate.

In all cases, the child/young person’s field or residential social worker will attach a report of the missing incident to the child’s risk assessment document. This document should be reviewed and updated following each ‘missing’ episode. Information gathered following an episode may inform a decision to call a Strategy Meeting.

Where a child goes missing from a children’s home and there is concern for their welfare, or at the request of a child who has been missing, the residential social worker / home’s manager should arrange a meeting between the child and the Placing Authority in private to consider the reasons for the child going missing. The home should also consider, with the Placing Authority, what action should be taken to prevent the child going missing in future. Any concerns arising about the placement are addressed, as far as possible, in conjunction with the Placing Authority.

Relevant officers in both Children’s Social Care and the Police should regularly scrutinise records of children missing from placement to ascertain whether there are patterns of children or young people going missing which raise concerns, either for individual children/young people or for a specific unit/carer.

Concerns for an individual child or young person should be discussed with the child or young person’s field/residential social worker who will determine whether the child or young person should be offered a meeting with a Police Officer from the Public Protection Unit and a member of the Children’s Social Care staff.

Should that meeting raise concerns about possible abuse, the Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board Procedures should be implemented.

Concerns in relation to establishments should be brought to the attention of the relevant Children’s Social Care Manager, a Strategy Discussion held and the Newcastle SCB Procedures Manual, Investigating Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse Procedure implemented if appropriate.

10. Return Interview Guidance

As part of the return interview the issues that should be considered, and any actions that follow from it should include:

  • Understand and try to address the reasons why the child or young person ran away;
  • And identify and actions that might prevent it happening again;
  • Identify and deal with any hurt or harm the child/young person has suffered - including harm that might not have already been disclosed (perhaps as part of Safe and Well Check undertaken by the police);
  • Consider if the child/young person should be seen by a GP or other appropriate health service;
  • Consider if the child/young person is known to be at risk of sexual exploitation;
  • Consider if the child/young person has or is believed to have engaged in criminal activity;
  • Consider if the child/young person has had contact with persons who may pose a risk to children;
  • Consider if the child/young person may have any mental health issues.

Recording of Return Interviews within CareFirst

A record of the return interview should be recorded within CareFirst as follows:

  • Add new activity, with a class of 'visit/interview' and type of 'Missing Return Interview';
  • Then record within the 'Details of Activity' the discussion with the child/young person which should be based on, but not limited to, the issues set out above;
  • The details of the discussion should then be expanded on as an observation.

11. Review

If a child is, or has been, persistently absent without permission from the Home and/or the Manager considers that the child is at risk of harm, the Manager will ask the placing authority to review the child’s Care Plan. The Manager will consult the child’s social worker/YOT Worker and Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) with a view to reviewing the Care Plan.

If it is decided not to review the Care Plan, the home's manager should still review the Placement Plan.

12. Missing during External Activity of a Residential Home

The person in charge of the external activity will:

  • Notify the local Police in that area and record the allocated log number;
  • Notify a senior member of staff/the manager in the home;
  • Institute a local search.

The senior person on duty will be responsible for ensuring that the general procedures in relation to a missing young person are followed.

Ongoing communication regarding the missing young person will be maintained between the Home and the Police local to where the absence occurred.

13. Longer Absences

Whenever a young person is missing for 28 days, a strategy meeting should be held attended by appropriate senior staff from both Children’s Social Care and the Police. At this meeting these senior officers should elicit a clear statement of the actions being taken in respect of the absence and should satisfy themselves that all that should be done is being done.

By definition, a young person reported missing from a local Authority home will be categorised by the Police as requiring special consideration and on receipt of the message switch circulation, the Police National Computer (PNC) Bureau will automatically update the Police National Missing Persons Bureau.

The Head of Children’s Social care should formally review all cases where young people have been missing for six months or more and should satisfy him/herself of the actions taken to recover the young person. Children and young people reported as missing or as absconders will be reviewed by the PPU on a regular basis.

Whilst the young person remains absent, his/her case should be identified as “open” on ICS, and should be reviewed at 6 monthly intervals.

Children’s Social Care and Police Liaison

The nominated Police Officer within the Community Policing Team will visit the residential homes on a regular basis.

The homes managers and other relevant managers will attend the quarterly Police/Children’s Social Care Liaison Meetings. These quarterly meetings between Police and Children’s Social Care managers at operational level will facilitate the scrutiny of records collated by both services, to ascertain whether there are any discrepancies and obvious patterns of children going missing which raise concerns, either for individual children or for specific establishments/carers

The Missing from Placement reports will be a ‘standing’ agenda item at these liaison meetings.

All records of children and young people missing from care within the area will be forwarded by the relevant to the Children’s Social Care Senior Manager whose responsibility includes recording missing from care incidents and reporting to the Director of Children’s Social Care and councillors on this issue.

14. Children Placed In Independent / Voluntary Residential Establishments

The monitoring and reporting procedures of children missing from such placements require discussion and clarity prior to the child being placed.

These must be included in the contractual agreement.

Appendix 1: Newcastle Missing Reporting Processes Flowchart

Click here to view Appendix 1: Newcastle Missing Reporting Processes Flowchart.