Missing children

Definition of ‘missing’
A child (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

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. It should not come within the definition of 'missing'.

Children missing from care

Absences which cause concern are those where staff or carers do not know that: 

  • a child is likely to return within a short space of time
  • there is immediate concern for the child's safety

Children who go missing from Children's Services care can place themselves and others at risk. The reasons for their absence may be varied and complex and cannot be viewed in isolation from their home circumstances and their experiences of care. Every 'missing' episode should be given the proper attention from the professionals involved with the child. Professionals must work together to ensure a consistent response is given to the child on their return.

The Police are frequent partners of Children's Services in managing 'missing' episodes. It is important that staff in both agencies work together. The following protocol should assist in this. It combines aspects of Children's Services and Police procedures in relation to missing persons. Where they overlap or interface, respective actions and responsibilities should be clear.

In responding to and managing a child's absence from care, Social Care and Health and Police staff should not dismiss the potential significance of multiple abscondings by a young offender. Young people are often immediately labelled as 'the problem'. Insufficient consideration is sometimes given to considering why they are persistently absenting themselves.

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