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1.5.2 Children Missing from Care or Home


London Child Protection Procedures, Children Missing from Care, Home and School Procedure


This chapter was updated in August 2015 when links were updated and information about the Multi Agency Sexual Exploitation meeting added.


  1. Principles
  2. Definitions - Missing and Unauthorised Absence
  3. Additional Guidance and Associated Procedures
  4. Missing from Home

    Appendix 1: Missing Child Risk Assessment Record

    Appendix 2: Children Missing from Care and Home Return Questionnaire

1. Principles

This policy should be read as guidance, which cannot anticipate every situation. Parents, Police, Children’s services, Foster Carers and other placements and any other agency should use their professional judgement to take any action that is deemed necessary to protect the safety of the child/young person based on an assessment of risk for each individual child/young person.

Children and young people who go missing from home or care may place themselves and others at risk. The reasons for their absence are often varied and complex and cannot be viewed in isolation from their home circumstances and their experiences of care. Every missing episode should attract proper attention from the professionals involved with the missing child or young person and they must collaborate to ensure a consistent and coherent response is given to the missing person on their return.

2. Definitions - Missing and Unauthorised Absence

The category of missing is critical to the clarification of roles and immediate action. Police are the lead agency for the investigation of missing children. When a child/young person is considered missing the Police should be notified as soon as possible and be provided with information to assist their assessment of risk and their investigation. Appropriate application of the risk assessment process by other agencies should allow the Police to be confident that any child/young person reported to them as missing fit the agreed criteria.


Within this policy the term “missing” refers to children and young people up to the age of 18 who have run away from their home or care placement, have been forced to leave, and/or whose whereabouts are unknown. They will be considered missing until they are located and their well-being or otherwise established.

Unauthorised Absence

Some children and young people absent themselves from home or care for short periods and then return, often their whereabouts are known or may be quickly established through contact with family or friends or are unknown but the child/young person are not considered to be at risk. Sometimes children and young people stay out longer than agreed as a boundary testing activity which is within the range of normal teenage behaviour. These children and young people would not normally fall within the definition of missing, since if a child/young person’s whereabouts are known then they cannot be missing. Unauthorised absences must be carefully monitored as the child/young person may subsequently go missing.

3. Additional Guidance and Associated Procedures

Redbridge have introduced a Multi-Agency Sexual Exploitation Meeting (MASE) process which should be referred to in all cases of sexual exploitation (see Multi-Agency Sexual Exploitation (MASE) Meeting Guidance).

The London Child Protection Committee, London Procedure for Safeguarding Children Missing from Care, Home and Education provides guidance on assessing risk, describing staff/agency actions.

It should be read in conjunction with London Child Protection Procedures and supplementary procedures:

“Statutory Guidance on Children who run away and go missing from Home or Care“ updated in January 2014.

3.1 Planning and Prevention

The aim of this policy is to identify vulnerable children and young people as early as possible so that risk factors can be identified and addressed and any protective factors in the child/young person ’s life strengthened. Through early intervention, further and more serious outcomes for the child/young person may be prevented. The policy will provide a framework for tracing the missing person, support needs on their return and ensure that episodes are recorded systematically to ensure the information can be used to prevent further incidences.

Professionals should make themselves aware with the current body of knowledge about children who go missing. The DfE Statutory Guidance provides research information, case studies and practice information.

Intervention at an early stage in a child or young person’s “missing” career is likely to be most effective as going missing can be associated with a gradual detachment from adult authority. Child and young people at risk of going missing are likely to become disengaged from agencies and may become hard to reach. Children and young people need to know about the dangers of running away and where they may get help if they are considering it. 

Schools, youth and community resources may become aware that a child or young person is at risk of running away. These concerns may be addressed within the service that has identified the risk but it is likely that a multi-agency response may be required. With consent of the young person and their parents a CAF should be considered and information shared with the “Team Around the Child” to formulate a plan to address the significant factors identified.

Information is shared on a regular basis between Police and Children and Families Service Staff to enable detailed individual patterns and risks to be identified, to include: incidences of missing episodes, individuals who have been missing, incidents that have generated a Case Conference or professionals meeting. 

4. Missing from Home

Children and young people living at home who go missing are often known to services. There is an expectation that parents/carers will report child/young person missing to Police, failure to do so may prompt further enquiries under Child Protection procedures.

Before contacting Police parents and carers are expected to undertake the following basic measures to try and locate their child/young person if considered safe to do so:

  • Search bedroom / house / outbuildings / vehicles;
  • Contact known friends and relatives where the child or young person might be;
  • Visit locations that the child or young person is known to frequent, if it is safe to do so.

When contacting Police parents/carers should provide the following as a minimum:

  • Child/young person’s name and DOB;
  • Where, when and who they went missing with;
  • Description of child/young person and clothing;
  • Recent photograph;
  • Medical history;
  • Time and location last seen;
  • Any previously identified risks or additional vulnerabilities;
  • Details of efforts to locate the child/young person.

The Screening Team Manager reviews the child’s case history on the Protocol system to see if the child has gone missing before or if there have been any safeguarding concerns at home in the past or issues of sexual exploitation. If an assessment is required, the contact will progress to a referral and be passed to one of the duty social work teams. If an assessment is deemed not appropriate at that time the Screening Manager will task the contact to one of the screening workers to provide information and advice.

  • Contact the police missing person’s desk and ascertain if the child has returned. If the child has returned ascertain if the police have conducted the de-brief and if any safeguarding issues were identified by the police;
  • If the child is still missing feedback to Team Manager to consider a Strategy Meeting (required if child is missing more than 28 days);
  • If no issues identified, close case. If issues are identified feedback to Team Manager for further consideration.

If a child or young person goes missing from home and it is considered that they are at risk of significant harm, are subject to a Child Protection Plan or Section 47 Enquiry then the London Child Protection Procedures should be followed. Additional actions required include:

The Screening Team will create the contact details and will be assessed by a Team Manager. The Team Manager will decide if the episode is either unauthorised absence or missing and will direct which “Missing Child Record” should be completed. The decision making throughout will be informed by the Risk assessment tool. Risk indicators could include:

  • The age of the young person;
  • A previous history of child protection concerns;
  • Repeat pattern of running away over a short period of time;
  • It has been identified that a young person has been harmed or been involved in significant risk taking behaviour;
  • Alcohol or substance misuse;
  • Young person has a disability or learning disability;
  • History of mental health issues involving CAMHS;
  • Significant parental vulnerability such as mental illness, learning disability, alcohol or substance misuse.

4.1 The Return

When a child/young person is found by Police they will notify the parent and provide information and advice. Parents or Carers must inform the Police if they find the child/young person or they return of their own accord. A “Safe and Well” interview will be undertaken by Police. If there are concerns about the child/young person’s physical health, sexual activity or drug use consideration should be given to a medical, this should include emergency contraception if required.

If the child/young person identifies significant concerns about their safety in the “Safe and Well” interview the child/young person should be referred to the Child Protection and Assessment Team or if out of hours to the Emergency Duty Team, (EDT). If it is felt the child/young person is not able to safely return home consideration should be given to temporary alternatives within the extended family or social network with parental consent. If no such temporary alternatives can be identified there should be consideration of providing offering accommodation under Sec 20 Children Act 1989, parents should if possible consent to such arrangements. If parents do not consent, there is no alternative arrangement and the child/young person is thought to be at risk of Significant Harm appropriate emergency legal action by Police or the Children and Families Service may have to be considered. A child/young person should not be left in a Police station for a protracted period of time.

16 and 17 year olds are not necessarily at less risk if they run away from home or go missing. Their decisions about how and where to live must be taken into account but balanced with their vulnerability and support needs. The Southwark ruling confirmed that children’s social care must consider their responsibilities under the Children Act 1989 towards these young people and not routinely pass them to the local housing authority.

On completion of a “Safe and Well” interview Police will update the missing person report and notify the Children and Families Service. A further Contact Record will be created and the risk will be re-assessed by a Team Manager and a decision made about whether an Assessment might be required. The “Missing Child Record” will be updated with the details of the child/young person’s return.

4.2 Return Interviews

Following the Police Safe and Well interview a Return Interview should be offered to the child/young person within 72 hrs of notification of their return, by the Children and Families Service. A Return Interview is a more in depth independent interview carried out by someone who is able to follow up any actions that might emerge and will be informed by identified risk factors. The interview and actions that may follow from it should:

  • Identify and deal with any harm the child/young person has suffered, including harm that may have not been disclosed in the Safe and Well interview, to include the child/young person ’s health and any need for medical attention;
  • Understand and try to address the reasons why the child/young person ran away;
  • Try to develop strategies to prevent it happening again.

Return Interviews should be offered if one or more of the following apply to the child/young person:

  • Has been missing for over 24 hrs;
  • Has been missing on two or more occasions;
  • Has engaged (or is believed to have engaged) in criminal activities during their absence;
  • Has been hurt or harmed whilst they have been missing (or this is believed to be the case);
  • Has known mental health issues;
  • Is at known risk of sexual exploitation; and/or
  • Has contact with persons posing a risk to children.

The Return Interview should be incorporated into an Assessment if one was required.

For those children/young people missing from home who have an allocated Social Worker within CSC consideration should be given as to whether the familiar SW is better placed, through an established relationship with the child/young person, to undertake the Return Interview. This may not always be appropriate for example if a child/young person’s missing episode is related to aspects of the current care plan or the child/young person  indicates they do not wish to talk to the allocated SW. In these circumstances the Return Interview should be undertaken by either another SW or mentor.

The Return Interview may highlight the need for additional support.

If the Return interview identifies a risk of significant harm this must be discussed with a Team Manager immediately who will decide if enquiries under Sec47 Children Act 1989 are required. In addition if a child/young person refuses a Return Interview, risks of significant harm should also be considered in consultation with a Team Manager. If there are no identified risks of significant harm referral to currently involved agencies or additional community based services who may be able to engage with the child/young person should be considered.

Appendix 1: Missing Child Risk Assessment Record

Click here to view Appendix 1: Missing Child Risk Assessment Record.

Appendix 2: Children Missing from Care and Home Return Questionnaire

Click here to view Appendix 2: Children Missing from Care and Home Return Questionnaire.