South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures
South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures

4.5.5 Practice Guidance for Children/Young People Missing from Home/Care and Education in Torbay

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter details actions that should be taken by all agencies when any child is missing from home or care.

It covers:

  • Children who go missing in Torbay who are not previously known to services;
  • Children who go missing from Torbay and are subject to Early Help, Child In Need or Child Protection plans;
  • Children who are Looked After by Torbay, living in Torbay;
  • Children who are Looked After by another authority, living in Torbay;
  • Children who are Looked After by Torbay, placed in another authority.

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

Working Together to safeguard children and related statutory guidance (2015)

Statutory Guidance on Children who go Run Away or go Missing from Home or Care (January 2014)

Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation (2009)

Care Planning Regulations 2010/2011

Care Planning Regulations 2015

AMENDMENT

This chapter is new from May 2016 and replaces the previous chapter.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Principles
  3. Definitions
  4. Practice and Protocols – for All Groups of Children
  5. Longer Absences (24 hours +) – for All Children
  6. Information to be Provided to the Police when Reporting Missing
  7. Informing the Press
  8. Recording
  9. Planning for Return
  10. Independent Return Interviews
  11. Oversight and Monitoring Trends
  12. Missing Persons Strategy Meetings

    Appendix A: Missing Children Risk Assessment

    Appendix B: Minutes of 72 hour Missing Persons Meeting (and subsequent weekly meetings)

    Appendix C: Information to be provided to the police upon reporting a child missing (taken from www.paceuk.info/)

    Appendix D: Protocols (flowcharts) for Children Missing from Home or Care in Torbay. These can all be found in the Documents Library.


1. Introduction

The reasons for children going missing are varied and complex and cannot be viewed in isolation from their experiences in care or at home and any other circumstances affecting their lives.

A child or young person who goes missing can be a symptom of them ‘testing’ boundaries in line with emotional and behavioural development.

However, missing persons episodes can also be of greater significance to some children, and can be an indicator of issues that require safeguarding activity.

Children/young people who go missing from home/care can invariably find themselves in situations where they are at risk of harm.

At times, children who are missing can also place others at risk.

Every “missing” episode should, therefore, attract proper attention from all of the carers and professionals involved with the child and those professionals, in turn, must work together to ensure a consistent and coherent response is given to the child’s circumstances.

Early identification of potential issues, risk assessment and planning is essential throughout our work with vulnerable children and their families. There are many different issues to consider when a child is at risk of, or has gone missing.

Where there is identification of a child who is at risk of going missing, a missing persons risk assessment (Appendix A: Missing Children Risk Assessment,) should be completed as fully as possible, and be ready to use should a missing event occur.

There is an expectation that risk assessments and planning should involve children, young people and their families unless there is an exceptional circumstance. This will ensure that they also understand the processes to be followed and the potential consequences of their behaviour. In some cases, negotiated boundary setting needs to occur with the young person and their family to develop resilience and sustained change for the young person and their family.

The Police and Children’s Services are partners in managing "missing" episodes. However, all practitioners from all agencies are in a position to identify children/young people who are at risk of running away and will have vital information (no matter how seemingly insignificant) that can assist during a missing person episode.

It is therefore important that staff in all agencies work together. This joint protocol has been developed to assist in this and combines aspects of different agencies procedures in relation to missing persons so that where these overlap or interface, respective actions and responsibilities are clear. This protocol relies on continued and coherent communication during and after the missing person’s episode, with a shared responsibility as corporate parents.   


2. Principles

The following principles underpin the protocol and procedures:

  • The swift recovery and safe return of the child is the primary aim of this protocol;
  • Children going missing must be responded to through multi agency partnership working. Action must always be taken when a child is absent or missing; this includes active searching, information sharing and ongoing risk assessment to guide decision making about plans for that child’s safety;
  • 16 and 17 years are also vulnerable, and should be considered equally under this protocol;
  • Children who go missing are also at increased risk of being harmed by others and sexual exploitation;
  •   “Streetwise” is not a term that should be used in relation to children/young people;
  • Children who repeatedly go missing will not be ‘dismissed’ as problematic, but will be viewed with additional vulnerability;
  • Continued assessment and ascertaining the young person’s wishes and feelings where possible, throughout the missing episode should take place; with consideration of the ‘child’s world’ at the centre of planning;
  • Every missing child who returns to home or care will be offered a return interview by an independent person;
  • Engagement, support and clear messages to the child, their families and carers about missing protocols should occur at every possible stage of a case.


3. Definitions

Unauthorised Absence

Some children/young people absent themselves for a short period from home/placement and their whereabouts has been known by those who are responsible for their care. These children are not necessarily considered to be at risk and are often testing boundaries. Sometimes children/young people stay away for longer than agreed either on purpose or unwittingly. This kind of boundary testing is well within the range of normal teenage behaviour and should not come within the definition of “missing” for this purpose of this protocol.

Children who fall within the category of “unauthorised absent” must be the subject of a continuous risk assessment whilst they remain absent. During their absence circumstances may change and parents, carers and agencies need to be in a position to respond accordingly.

If children are deemed ‘absent’ parents (i.e their location is known), carers and relevant professionals should take all reasonable and practical steps to establish a safe return home. There will be an expectation that parents/carers will take action to return their child.

Missing from Home (Children who are not Looked After)

A child will be deemed “missing” from home when the child’s location is unknown to those responsible for their care.

There is an expectation that parents/guardians will apply their own judgement with regards to the circumstances of the child/young person's missing episode.

If, in their opinion, the absence is more than "boundary testing", then they will alert the Police. The Police will apply their risk assessment to the report and act/notify agencies accordingly.

A failure to report a child missing from home may be deemed by agencies as the person with Parental Responsibility not effectively exercising their duties within the best interest of the child/young person.

Therefore, failure of parents/carers in reporting their child missing should attract professional exploration, and safeguarding procedures if necessary.

Missing from Care (foster care or residential care)

For the purpose of this protocol a child/young person (i.e. a young person under the age of 18 years) is to be considered “missing” if they are absent from their placement without authority, and their whereabouts are not known.

There must be careful consideration, and multi agency decision making about whether a child who is Looked After is reported to be ‘absent’ or ‘missing’. Any risk management plans should be recorded clearly on the child’s file.

Children Missing from Education

For the purposes of this protocol, a child is missing from education if they have not attended, or have left their educational setting, and their whereabouts are not known by the school or parents/carers.

Children who are missing from education are also vulnerable to being groomed and exploited.


4. Practice and Protocols – for All Groups of Children

All reports to the police for all children will be risk assessed to determine whether the child is ‘absent’ or ‘missing’.

This assessment should be frequently reviewed for the duration of the episode.

Notifications at the beginning and end of each ‘absent’ or ‘missing’ episode will be sent to Children’s Services and Checkpoint for review and auditing; and to ensure that all children are offered an independent interview whether they have been missing or absent.

Absent Children

When children are deemed to be ‘absent’ from home or care, the police will not take action to locate them.

However, any other involved professional should offer support and guidance to the child’s parents/carers to ensure that all efforts are made to end this episode.

Those Missing From Home

When the police have received a report from a parent/carer, and have assessed that this child is missing (and not ‘absent’), the police will take action.

The primary aim of the Police is to:

  1. Locate the child/young person;
  2. Assist the safe return of the child to their home and undertake ‘safe and well’ checks;
  3. Establish and investigate cases of criminality with regards to individuals who are suspected to have committed a crime against a child/young person. 

The police will send the missing and found notifications to Torbay Safeguarding Hub.

The Safeguarding Hub will notify the Missing and CSE Co-ordinator, along with Checkpoint Runaways Worker.

If the child is open to Children’s Services through a Child In Need or Child Protection Plan, the notification will also be sent to the allocated Social Worker and Practice Manger to review and take appropriate action. 

It is expected that the allocated Social Worker, supported by their Team Manager, will take action to locate the child and support the family and other agencies in planning a safe return as swiftly as possible.

If a missing person’s risk assessment has been completed, this must be passed to the police without delay. All agencies must provide information the police to assist the search.  

For children who are receiving a service from the Early Help service, notification will be sent to the Early Help Co-ordinators for review and notification to the lead professional for action.

For missing episodes that are beyond 24 hours, please see the ‘Longer Absences’ section of this protocol.

Children Missing From Care (Fostering or Residential)

Placement planning for every child who is becoming Looked After or who is already Looked After must include consideration of missing person’s episodes alongside sexual exploitation and any other type of exploitation.

The placement risk assessment and planning documents should highlight areas of concern and vulnerability within the child’s Looked After Care Plan, and should be reviewed after every new event.

The child’s plan should include details of how:

  1. Advocacy will be offered to the child;
  2. Independent return interview will be offered to the child. 

If the child declines these services, this must be noted on their files and plan.

Where there is identified risk of that child going missing, a missing person’s risk assessment should be completed at the onset of the placement, along with a sexual exploitation risk assessment if necessary. These should be placed on the child’s file, and copies sent to carers and relevant professionals.

Agreement should be made during the placement planning process about who will report the child missing, and who else needs to be notified at the beginning and end of missing episodes (i.e parents). This includes arrangements for out of hours reporting.

The child’s Independent Reviewing Officer plays a central role in ensuring that the child’s care plan meets their needs and addresses the identified risks. The IRO should be notified of any missing persons episodes by the Social Worker and the CSE/Missing Coordinator.

When the police have received a report from a parent/carer, and have assessed that this child is missing (and not ‘absent’), the police will take action.

The primary aim of the Police is to:

  1. Locate the child/young person;
  2. Assist the safe return of the child to their home and undertake ‘safe and well’ checks;
  3. Establish and investigate cases of criminality with regards to individuals who are suspected to have committed a crime against a child/young person. 

The police will send the missing and found notifications to Torbay Safeguarding Hub.

These notifications will be sent to the child’s allocated Social Worker and Team Manager for review and action. The Safeguarding Hub will notify the Missing and CSE Co-ordinator, along with Checkpoint Runaways Worker.

Where there is a question about whether the child is ‘absent’ or ‘missing’, confirmation will be sought through discussion between the Team Manager and the police. The reasoning for any decision needs to be clearly recorded on the child’s file.

When the child is returned to placement, there is an expectation that they will be offered an independent return interview from Checkpoint within 72 hours. (Children’s Society).

A Child Looked After statutory visit should also be arranged as soon as possible to review the child’s placement and care plan.

The child’s Independent Reviewing Officer will be kept updated at all stages of a missing person’s episode by the Social Worker and/or Team Manager.

For missing episodes that are beyond 24 hours, please see the ‘Longer Absences’ section of this protocol.

Children Looked After placed outside of Torbay

All of the above apply.

When considering placement options, the Social Worker and Team Manager, will consider the geographical location of the placement to ensure that risks to the child are reduced and not complicated even further.

Discussions with the placement provider, and where necessary, the local authority where you the child is being placed should occur to gain an insight into local hotspots, themes and potential risks.

It is the responsibility of the placing authority to make arrangements for advocacy and independent return interviews.

Through discussion with the placement provider and the local authority, identification of advocacy and independent return interview services must take place. Arrangements for these must be written into the child’s care plan.

Notification to the local authority where the child is placed, along with services that will be used in that area, must take place without delay. The ‘local offer’ from that local authority should be placed on the child’s file when received.

Torbay’s Police Missing Persons Safeguarding Officer (MPSO) will make contact with their counterpart in that area in order that police intelligence can be shared in relation to that child.

Children Looked After placed in Torbay from other areas

When Torbay receives a notification of a child being placed from another area, a ‘local offer’ letter will be sent from the Safeguarding and Reviewing Service.

Where there is an identified risk of that child going missing, or being at risk of child sexual exploitation, the Missing and CSE Co-ordinator will make contact with that child’s Social Worker to ascertain the child’s care plan and any risk management plans that are in place.

The Local Authority will be asked how they intend to meet the child’s needs for advocacy and independent return interviews.

If there are concerns about any children being placed in Torbay where their needs may not be met, or where their risks may not be managed, this will be escalated to the Head of Service for the Safeguarding and Reviewing Unit.

Children Missing From Education

There are 2 groups of children who need to be considered ‘missing from education’ and reported as such.

Group 1: Children who do not attend school

If a child has not attended school, all efforts will need to be made to make contact with the child’s parents/carers to ascertain their whereabouts. This includes home visiting where necessary.

If the child’s parents/carers advise of their whereabouts, this needs to be managed through attendance procedures.

If the parents cannot confirm the child’s whereabouts, the child will be reported ‘missing from education’ by the school. The parents/carers will need to be notified of any report being made.

Group 2: Children who leave school premises without authorisation

If a child leaves school premises without authorisation, all attempts must be made to locate the child and return them to school.

Contact must be made with the child’s parents/carers to update them of the situation and the efforts made to locate the child.

If the parents can verify the child’s location, all attempts must be made to return the child to school. If the parents cannot verify the child’s location, the school will report the child ‘missing’, and notify the parents.

Notification to the police and the child’s parents should take place immediately if the child returns.

The police will send the missing and found notifications to Torbay Safeguarding Hub.

The Safeguarding Hub will notify the Missing and CSE Co-ordinator, along with Checkpoint Runaways Worker.

If the child is open to Children’s Services through a Child In Need or Child Protection Plan, the notification will also be sent to the allocated Social Worker and Practice Manger to review and take appropriate action, with support as required from the CSE/Missing Coordinator.

For children who are receiving a service from the Early Help service, notification will be sent to the Early Help Co-ordinator for review.

For missing episodes that are beyond 24 hours, please see the ‘Longer Absences’ section of this protocol.


5.Longer Absences (24 hours +) – for All Children

If the child has been missing for 24 hours, a strategy discussion should take place between a Team Manager in Children’s Services and the police, and be recorded as such on the child’s file.

This discussion should include the identified risks to the child; confirmation of what action has already been taken; what further action is needed and arrangements for the child’s return when located.

If the child has been missing for 24 hours, written notification should also be sent to the Head of Service and Assistant Director, along with details of the strategy discussion that has taken place.

If the child has been missing for 72 hours, a missing person’s strategy meeting should be convened and chaired by a Team Manager; to consider whether the child is at risk of, or has experienced significant harm. The minutes of this meeting will be recorded using Appendix B: Minutes of 72 hour Missing Persons Meeting (and subsequent weekly meetings). Updates will be provided to the Head of Service and Assistant Director. Police will also escalate accordingly.

If the child is missing for 7 days, a further strategy meeting will take place, chaired by a Head of Service, in consultation with the Assistant Director. The minutes of this meeting will be recorded using Appendix B: Minutes of 72 hour Missing Persons Meeting (and subsequent weekly meetings). Written updates will be provided to the Assistant Director. Police will also escalate accordingly.

Missing Persons strategy meetings will then take place a minimum of every 7 days until the child has returned, chaired by a Head Of Service in consultation with the Assistant Director. The minutes of these meetings will be recorded using Appendix B: Minutes of 72 hour Missing Persons Meeting (and subsequent weekly meetings).


6. Information to be Provided to the Police when Reporting Missing

See Appendix C: Information to be provided to the police upon reporting a child missing of this protocol for information that should be provided to the police by the reporting person; or by relevant professionals as soon as possible.


7.  Informing the Press

It is for the Police to advise the media in relation to a child/young person’s missing circumstances. This may be arranged at a local level, by direction of the Duty Inspector (or nominee). 

A decision to publicise by press and/or television will always be made in consultation with Children’s Services and with prior warning in order to allow those with parental responsibility to be informed.

This must be considered at the 72 hour missing person meetings and any subsequent meetings held.

A photo and profile of the child will need to be provided to the police from Children’s Services in order for media coverage.


8. Recording

Throughout the processes outlined within this protocol, a full record must be kept of all actions taken and messages received or given. 

This recording should be made within the carer’s logbooks (both for residential and foster care providers), with a duplicate entry on the child/young person’s file (PARIS electronic case note). 

The placement risk assessment, missing persons risk assessment must be imported into the child/young person’s electronic case file under external documents on completion.

All incidents of absences and missing person’s episodes are to be recorded within child’s/young person’s PARIS electronic data base ICS chronology.


9. Planning for Return

If a child falls within this protocol, the Social Worker, Team Manager, Residential Home Manager or foster carer, parents, and the Police, where appropriate, should commence contingency planning for when the child/young person is located.  Such plans should include:

  • Will the child/young person return to the previous placement?
  • How will he/she be transported there?
  • Do the Police wish to interview the child/young person before he/she is returned to his/her placement?
  • If the child/young person returns to their placement of their own accord, they will still be offered an appointment with an independent person from Checkpoint.

If secure escorting services are required, this will only be sanctioned by the Assistant Director or Director of Children’s Safeguarding.

This will be subject to a risk assessment and considered alongside what is in the child/young person’s best interest. If services are required by the Emergency Duty ‘Out of Hours Service’ then this is to be sanctioned using the same principles.


10. Independent Return Interviews

Independent return interviews for all children who have been reported absent or missing in Torbay will be offered an independent return from Checkpoint within 72 hours; even when the child has returned of their own accord.

For children placed out of the area, it is the Social Workers responsibility to ensure that this is arranged with a local service in the area where the child is placed, notifying their Team Manager and Missing and Child Sexual Exploitation Coordinator when these have been received.

The purpose of the independent return interview is to ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings, explore the reasons for the missing episode, identify any possible home/placement centred difficulties, identify any additional support needs or risk factors.

Where there are safeguarding concerns, or the child makes a disclosure, child protection procedures will be implemented without delay.

Children will be informed of Checkpoint’s Confidentiality Policy and will be notified that written reports will be sent to the relevant professionals.

All missing persons interviews will be sent to the Safeguarding Hub, Police Missing Persons Safeguarding Officer and the Missing Persons and Child Sexual Exploitation Co-ordinator for oversight.

All missing person’s interviews will be loaded on to the child’s social care record. Where the child has an allocated Social Worker, it will be their responsibility to ensure that these are loaded and any required actions are taken.


11. Oversight and Monitoring Trends

A multi agency meeting will now be held every Monday morning, attended by:

  • Missing and Child Sexual Exploitation Co-ordinator;
  • Checkpoint Missing Persons Worker and/or Manager;
  • Police representative;
  • Health (safeguarding) representative;
  • Education (safeguarding) representative.

This meeting will review all of the missing and absent children to ensure that notifications are working, action is being taken, and that learning occurs from return home interviews.

This meeting will also monitor, record, and report on any themes, trends, locations or groups of concern and recommend action accordingly. It will also ensure that the missing person data set is robust and accurate.

This meeting will report its findings back to the Missing and Child Sexual Exploitation Forum (MACSE) on a monthly basis, and to any sub group as required. 

This meeting can also escalate cases where there are concerns about risk, safeguarding, or frequency of missing person’s episodes through safeguarding procedures.


12. Missing Person’s Strategy Meetings

Should any individual child, regardless of their legal status, be reported missing more than 3 times in 3 months, a missing persons meeting will need to be convened through safeguarding procedures.

Even if a child is not a repeat missing person, but there is a single missing episode where safeguarding concerns are present, a strategy meeting will need to be convened through safeguarding procedures.

This meeting will need to consider:

  • The nature and context of the missing persons episodes, including the child’s views from independent return interviews;
  • Any associations (child or adult) that the child has and whether they pose a risk to that child (vulnerabilities and protective factors);
  • Whether the child poses a risk to any other person (vulnerabilities and protective factors)
  • What action can be taken to disrupt any identified risk;
  • Whether threshold is met for a Section 47 enquiry in relation to any of the information gathered.


Appendices

Click here to view Appendix A: Missing Children Risk Assessment

Click here to view Appendix B: Minutes of 72 hour Missing Persons Meeting (and subsequent weekly meetings)

Click here to view Appendix C: Information to be provided to the police upon reporting a child missing

Appendix D: Protocols (flowcharts) for Children Missing from Home or Care in Torbay. These can all be found in the Documents Library.

End