In all missing persons cases it is advised that you first contact the police and file a missing persons report, listen to the police advice given and act accordingly.
Children who go missing from Children's Services care invariably place themselves, and often others, at risk. The reasons for their absence are varied and complex and cannot be viewed in isolation from their home circumstances and their experiences of care. Every "missing" episode should, therefore, attract property attention from the professionals involved with the child and those professionals, in turn, must collaborate to ensure a consistent and coherent response is given to the child on his/her return.
The Police are frequent partners of Children's Services in managing "missing" episodes and it is, therefore, important that staff in both agencies work together. The following protocol should assist in this and combines aspects of Children's Services and Police procedures in relation to missing persons such that, where they overlap or interface, respective actions and responsibilities are clear.
For these purposes, a child (ie. a young person under the age of 18 years) is to be considered "missing" if he/she is absent from his/her place of residence without authority to a degree or in circumstances where the absence causes concern for safety of the child or there is potential danger to the public.
Absences which cause concern are those where staff or carers have no indication that a child is likely to return within a short space of time or where there is immediate concern for the child's safety.
Clearly some children absent themselves for a short period and then return: often their whereabouts are known. They are not considered at risk and usually they are testing boundaries. Sometimes children stay out longer than agreed either on purpose or unwittingly. This kind of boundary testing activity is well within the range of normal teenage behaviour and should not come within the definition of "missing" for this protocol.
In assessing the significance of a child's absence, all staff will apply the above definition and, in addition, take the following into consideration:
- guidance already agreed and incorporated within the child's care plan
- the age of the child
- the legal status of the child in care
- previous behaviour patterns
- state of mind/perceived risk
- group behaviour
- whether the child is perceived as running to someone or running from a situation
In responding to and managing an individual child's absence from care, both Social Care and Health and Police staff should beware of dismissing the potential significance of multiple abscondings by a young offender. Often such young people are immediately labelled as "the problem" and insufficient consideration is given to considering why they are persistently absenting themselves.