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3.4 Missing Children


This chapter must be read in conjunction with Safeguarding Children Board Protocols for Runaway and Missing from Home and Care Procedures for the area where the home is located.


Advocacy and Independent Visitors Procedure

Restrictive Physical Intervention Procedure

Delegated Authorities and Notifications Procedure


ACPO Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2013)

Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home or Care (DfE, January 2014)


In July 2017, Section 1, Definitions, was updated with a link to the College of Policing’s definition of missing and absent.


  1. Definitions
  2. Culture
  3. Planning and Prevention
  4. Leaving Without Consent
  5. Immediate Actions if a Child is Absent or Missing
  6. Procedure
  7. Risk Assessments, Monitoring and Notifications
  8. Prolonged Periods of Absence or Being Missing
  9. Children/Young People Who Go Missing During an External Activity or Holiday
  10. Returning Children
  11. Upon Return of the Child
  12. Recording, Notifications and Review

    Appendix 1: Assessing Levels of Concern Guidance

1. 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 (e.g. 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.

For the College of Policing definition of missing and absent click here

The police classification of a person as ‘Missing’ or ‘Absent’ will be based on on-going risk assessment.

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’.

2. Culture

Children are less likely to abscond, become missing or absent themselves without consent where they feel secure and safe, able to express their feelings and wishes, make appropriate choices and develop positive relationships with the staff and their peers, which are free from bullying.

Children should feel that their plans are being progressed, that they have a positive future and that staff are working to support, advice and listen to them.

They should also have a clear understanding of expectations upon them, the routines of the home and house rules; to this end, they should know whether it's acceptable, or not, to leave the home without permission or consent and they should be counselled and informed of the risks that are posed to them if they become missing, abscond or absent themselves, of the agencies that may be able to help them, such as the Children's Rights Director or Childline - and of the consequences.

If homes are experiencing high levels of absence, absconsions or incidences of children being missing, managers should 'take stock' - they should undertake a formal review of the culture and strategies being used in the home and take steps to reduce the incidents.

3. Planning and Prevention

All children must have a Placement Plan which takes account of any likely risk of the child Absconding, Missing or Absent without Consent. If there are known/likely risks, the Placement Plan should incorporate measures to reduce or prevent the child becoming absent, and information that would help facilitate the location of the child should they go missing. The Placement Plan should include a strategy to minimise the risk.

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.

If the Registered Person considers that a child is at risk of harm, (persistently missing from their placement) they must contact the local authority to request a review of the child’s Care Plan. The home should have an Escalation process in place if the local authority takes no action.

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.

If at any point a child/young person becomes Looked After, and there is information to suggest that they might go missing, their care plan should:

  • Describe the degree of risk of the child/young person going missing;
  • Detail the level of supervision and support the child/young person will receive;
  • Detail the parents’ views on what action should be taken if the child/young person goes missing;
  • Assess the likely level of risk to the child/young person if they go missing;
  • Include a risk assessment and action plan to minimise the opportunity for them to go missing.

Consideration should be given as to what discussion there should be with the child/young person about the actions that will be taken if they go missing.

Children/young people should be made aware of the policy both through discussion and written information, as appropriate, given their age and understanding.

All children / young people should be given clear information about:

  • Times of going out and returning;
  • Who to tell about where they are going;
  • How to seek help if they are unable to get back for the agreed time, whether this has happened accidentally or on purpose.

At the request of the child or where there are concerns about a child who frequently becomes absent or missing, the Home Manager may consider raising concerns with the Child's Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) or arranging a meeting with the child and the social worker to discuss the reasons for the child going missing, identify any strategies that may reduce the risk.

Slough Borough Council has an agreed protocol with Thames Valley Police regarding young people who are absent without permission. It identifies allocated areas of responsibility and a timeline for actions including if a media strategy is needed (see Section 11, Upon Return of the Child below).

It is advisable that all information required for a Police 'Misper' form should be completed for all children, at the point of admission. It should include a physical description, places they may frequent, and any identified areas of increased risk.

The Child's Placement Plan should be reviewed after any period of absence (or repeated occasions of absence) not identified previously.

Mallards has a detailed and structured procedure in the event of a young people being absent. (see Section 6, Procedure below).

4. Leaving Without Consent

If a child indicates that they propose to leave the home without consent, staff should remain aware that a child might want a staff member to stop them or at least give them a good excuse for not going. Restrictive Physical Intervention Procedure.

It is crucial that staff always show care and concern, even if they are sure that a child is going to run away. It is important to make a point of showing care and concern both for the child's benefit and for other children in the group. However, staff are responsible for taking all reasonable steps to prevent children from leaving, especially if it will result in the child or others being placed at risk.

As a last resort, this can include the use of physical restrictions such as the locking or bolting of door to restrict the child's movement* or Physical Intervention, if this is immediately necessary to prevent significant harm or serious damage to property. However, the use of such interventions may only be used as a last resort, if they are immediately necessary and the harm or damage to property is likely in the predictable future; in any case, the restrictions or interventions must be proportionate and must be compliant with Restrictive Physical Intervention Procedure. Staff must also consider the individual Placement or behaviour management plans for individual children, which may state that specific strategies must be used.

*Doors may not be locked or bolted to restrict children's movement unless the home's Mallards Statement of Purpose contains a policy on when and how the strategy may be used and staff have received training on the use of it.

5. Immediate Actions if a Child is Absent or Missing

In the absence of any agreed Strategy the following must apply if it is apparent or suspected that a child is absent or missing. In such circumstances, staff should take what actions are immediately necessary to recover the child, in the context of risks posed to the child or others.

5.1 Immediate Actions

If it is safe to do so, staff should undertake enquiries locally and with the other children as to the whereabouts of the young person to establish that s/he is absent. This may include a thorough check of the local area and the home and may include contacting people who know the child or going out to look for them. If the child has become absent during an activity away from the Home, staff should conduct a search of the vicinity, if it is safe to do so.

Searches beyond the local vicinity may only be undertaken with the approval of the manager.

If staff are satisfied that the child is absent, absconded or missing but they are aware or suspect the whereabouts of a child, they should consult a Manager with a view to recovering the child. This may include attempting to communicate with the child on his or her mobile phone, searching for the child and/or obtaining information from others about the possible whereabouts of the child.

5.2 Recovering the Child

Any actions taken to recover the child and return them to the home must focus on promoting the child's welfare and must take account of their care or legal status, age, understanding and level of risk posed to the child or others. If children are found but refuse to return to the home, staff must consult the manager (who should consult the child's social worker) or, in an emergency/where the child or others are seriously at risk, call the Police. The use of physical interventions, such as Restraint should not be used unless there is an immediate risk of significant harm, serious damage to property, as a last resort and if staff are confident that such interventions will work/de escalate the situation and make the child safe; if this outcome is not likely, they should withdraw and immediately consult their manager or the Police.

6. Procedure

The residential unit for children and young people in the Borough, Mallards, has a written step-by-step procedure for action to be taken when a young person goes missing from the unit. In summary, this states:

  • Following a thorough search of the unit to ensure the young person is not on the premises, staff should inform the young person’s social worker (or the duty social worker if they are not available);
  • Inform the police;
  • Complete the Missing Persons Recording and Investigation Aide Me moire;
  • Inform the Emergency Duty Team, if out of hours;
  • Inform the young person’s parents - where appropriate;
  • Inform the Home Manager - by text, if out of hours;
  • Enter information on ICS system.

As with a child/young person placed in foster care, the child/young person’s social worker will consult their manager and will liaise closely with the residential unit staff as to the action that they should take.

7. Risk Assessments, Monitoring and Notifications

Having established the child is absent, missing or absconded, an assessment should be carried out to determine the level of risk that is posed to the child i.e. if the risk is 'Low', 'Medium' or 'High' Risk.


Missing children/young people will be classified by the police as either ‘Missing’ or ‘Absent’ after a risk assessment has been carried out by police call handlers-please be aware that this does not mean that local procedures on notifications are in anyway altered. Please remember, in order to promote the safety of the absent/missing person, you are required to support the police call handlers by offering them all the information that you have available; for more detail see: ACPO Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2013).

This assessment and any re-assessment must be recorded.

The first assessment must be conducted once it is established the child is absent or missing, then as per tables below.

7.1 Assessing Risks/Who to Notify

Low Level Concern

For Guidance on Assessing Risks see Appendix 1: Assessing Levels of Concern Guidance, if the child is assessed as Low Risk:

Notifications: There is no requirement to notify the Police, social worker or parents.

Review of Risks: every 2 hours or as circumstances changes; if the child is absent/missing, in this category, for a total of 6 hours s/he automatically becomes Medium Risk

Medium Level Concern

For Guidance on Assessing Risks see Appendix 1: Assessing Levels of Concern Guidance, if the child is assessed as Medium Risk:

Notifications: The Police, social worker and parents may be consulted or verbally notified, for information, but there is no requirement to notify them formally.

Review of Risks: Every 2 hours or as circumstances change. If a missing child remains in the Medium Category for a total of 6 hours s/he automatically falls into High Level Category.

High Level Concern

For Guidance on assessing Risks see Appendix 1: Assessing Levels of Concern Guidance.

Notifications: If there is a High Level of Concern:

  • The Police in the area where the child became absent must be formally notified;
  • The social worker must be notified as soon as practicable. The social worker should decide whether to notify the parent(s) and, if so, who should do so;
  • If the child has absconded from lawful detention, the Youth Offending Team (YOT) must be notified.

7.2 Information Sharing and Recording

When notifying/informing the Police (in the area where they have become absent e.g. if on an activity away from the Home), Social Worker or others e.g. Youth Offending Worker/Team, it is vital to provide information about the circumstances and risk factors that led to the notification; but it is also important to discuss possible strategies for finding and recovering the child safely. Agreement should also be reached about others who may need to know the child is Absent or Missing e.g. the child's parents.

It is advisable that all information required for a Police 'Miser' form should be completed for all children, at the point of admission The child's Placement Plan should be reviewed regularly and after any absence, but they will require the following information:

  1. A description of the child, possibly a photograph;
  2. When the child was last seen and with whom;
  3. A recent photograph of the child;
  4. Family addresses;
  5. Other addresses of people the child may make contact with;
  6. Any previous history of the child going missing;
  7. The name and address of the child's GP and Dentist.

The Police, social worker and others notified must then be updated as circumstances change and when the child returns.

Staff must record the incident on the following and update these records as circumstances change or decisions/actions taken:

  • Daily Log;
  • Child's Daily Record/File;
  • Absconding Monitoring File: with copies of Aide-Me moire, Fax Sheet and Return Sheet;
  • Young people’s unit register.

8. Prolonged Periods of Absence or Being Missing

Any unauthorised absence lasting for 8 hours should continue to be reported to the Home Manager by the staff on duty at the home. The Home Manager will inform the Corporate Parenting Manager.

Any unauthorised absence lasting 24 hours will be reported to the Assistant Director, Children and Families, by the Corporate Parenting Manager.

The Corporate Parenting Manager will report the young person to the Missing From Care Department. The Department is part of the National Missing Persons Help line, a charity which provides a service to members of the public when a person goes missing. It has a comprehensive national database of missing persons and case workers experienced in providing support, practical advice and assistance to families, carers and social workers.

Missing from Care Department
Telephone: 020 8392 4527
Fax: 020 8392 4529

Also, the Home should consult/update the Police and Social Worker/YOT Worker every day for the first 7 days, or as new information is available, to review the Strategies that can be adopted to find/return the child.

After 72 hours, the Police will notify the UK Missing Persons Bureau.

If the child is still absent after 7 days, the Corporate Parenting Manager and child's Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) must be notified/consulted to decide what actions to take e.g.

  1. The convening of a Strategy Discussion;
  2. Use by the Police of their powers to recover the child, for example, placing a child in Police Protection;
  3. An application for a Recovery Order;
  4. An application for a Secure Accommodation Order;
  5. The use of publicity.

9. Children/Young People Who Go Missing During an External Activity or Holiday

The person in charge will:

  • Notify the local police in the area and the force covering home address;
  • Notify the child/young person’s social worker or Emergency Duty Team if out of hours;
  • Notify the Group Manager as soon as practicably possible;
  • Institute a local search if staffing levels permit.

The senior residential manager will be responsible for ensuring the general procedures in relation to a missing child/young person are followed.

The Home Manager and the person in charge of the party will decide within 24 hours of the absence whether the party should return to the home before planned time.

Ongoing communication regarding the missing child/young person will be maintained between the home and the police local to where the absence occurred.

10. Returning Children

If a child's whereabouts become known, staff should consult the Social Worker and Police about the most appropriate way to return the child to the home or care.

Any actions taken should preferably be with the co-operation or by negotiation with the child.

Also see Section 5.2, Recovering the Child.

10.1 Recovery Order

A Recovery Order can be made if a child has been unlawfully taken or kept away from the responsible person, or has run away or is staying away from the responsible person; or is missing. It can be considered in a number of circumstances. Examples may include:

  • Where a birth parent takes a child away from a contact session without permission;
  • Where a young person has run away and is believed to be being ‘hidden or harboured’ by another person, for example someone with whom they are believed to be in a sexual relationship.

A Recovery Order directs any person who is able to, to produce the child on request; authorises the removal of the child. It requires any person with information regarding the child’s whereabouts to disclose such information, if asked, to the Police or a Court and authorises the Police to search specified premises for the child.

The application may be made by a person with parental responsibility under a Care Order or Emergency Protection Order or a designated officer within Children’s Social Care. Any person authorised under the Recovery Order must produce some duly authenticated document showing he is authorised if so asked.

Authorisation for a Recovery Order must be given by the Group Manager (Children’s Services) following a strategy meeting.

11. Upon Return of the Child

The Police, Social Worker/YOT Worker and others notified of the absence must be informed when the child returns.

Mallards has a procedure and recording system for young people returning after being absent without permission. The information recorded is shared with the social worker and is retained on file for future reference and for identifying any patterns or traits not apparent from single episodes of absence.

The child must be welcomed back and must have the opportunity to talk about the reasons for leaving.

At the request of the child or where there are concerns about a child who frequently becomes absent or missing, the home's manager should consider arranging a meeting between the child and the Social Worker to consider the reasons for the child going missing.

If the social worker is unable to see the child, an independent professional or the manager of the home may meet the child on the social worker's behalf.

The Police may wish to carry out a 'Safe and Well' check, to check for any indications that the child has suffered harm; where and with whom they have been; and to give them an opportunity to disclose any offending by, or against, them. However, where the child goes missing frequently, the Police are unlikely to see them every time they return. However, a reasonable decision will be taken with regard to the frequency of such checks.

An Independent Return Interview should be carried out by an independent professional (e.g. 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.

12. Recording, Notifications and Review

12.1 Recording

For details about recording the initial incident (when the child is reported as absent/missing) see Section 6.2, Information Sharing/Recording.

Throughout, staff must update the following records:

  • Daily Log;
  • Child's Daily Record/File;
  • Absconding Monitoring File;
  • Young people’s unit register.

12.2 Notifications

When the child returns, all those notified of the absence must be informed.

If the child was involved in prostitution or sexual exploitation, the Regulatory Authority must be notified.

If there is a pattern of persistent incidents or the circumstances gave rise for serious concern, the Home's Manager must notify the child's Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO).

12.3 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 consider a review of the Placement Plan and related Risk Assessments.

Appendix 1: Assessing Levels of Concern Guidance

Section 1: Indicators/Categories of Risk

There is additional guidance in Section 2: Other Factors that Should be Considered.

A child is automatically High Risk in the following circumstances
These are risks/indicators that should be considered when assessing other children, who do not automatically fall into the High Risk Category
  • If the child is Remanded or otherwise Lawfully Detained, s/he is absconded;
  • The child's death may occur;
  • The child may be at risk of serious injury or harm, e.g. from adverse weather conditions or the child's inability to stay safe;
  • The child requires essential medication/medical attention;
  • The child is likely to suffer Significant Harm;
  • The child may come into contact with a person who may pose them a risk. The child may be injured, including self injury, and require medical attention;
  • There is a warrant for the child's arrest;
  • The child may commit a violent or criminal offence;
  • The child may be abducted;
  • If the child's name is on the list for a child subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  • The child is subject to Police Protection;
  • The child is subject to an Emergency Protection Order or Recovery Order.
  • Any guidance agreed within the child's Care Plan or Placement Plan;
  • Vulnerability due to age;
  • Particularly vulnerable (e.g. Learning/Physical disability, on child subject to a Child Protection Plan);
  • In need of regular medication (e.g. diabetic);
  • Previous history of being missing;
  • History of self harming;
  • Possible involvement in crime;
  • Health, including mental health;
  • Weather (e.g. severe cold or heat), or geography (e.g. remote area);
  • Dependency on drugs and/or alcohol;
  • Known vulnerability of the child, raising concern that they may have been led into danger, including sexual exploitation;
  • Known associates that give rise to heightened concerns over the missing child's safety (e.g. associates known to be involved in criminal activities);
  • Degree of risk to the public;
  • Recent significant events, contributory factors and the child's state of mind at the time of the absence;
  • Time of day/night;
  • Legal status.

Section 2: Other Factors that Should be Considered

The following should be considered alongside Section 1: Indicators/Categories of Risk

Age and level of understanding Age and level of understanding Age is a factor, but not alone. Also consider level of understanding, ability to make informed decisions, the child's ability to operate in urban or rural environments, social and life skills, disability etc. The more able the child is, the less concern staff should have.
Number of Absences Consider the number of times the child has absented him/herself and from what situations. For example, children who have absented themselves from similar accommodations and returned safely may be of less concern than those who are not known to staff or who do not normally absent themselves.
Behaviour whilst absent

Consider what the child does or is suspected to get involved in whilst absent on previous occasions. Also consider how recent such problems have been. Higher levels of concern should be attributed to those who are known, recently, to have placed themselves or others at risk of significant harm. The factors that may result in higher levels of concern are that the child has previously:

  • Made contact with people who pose a risk to the child;
  • Associate with persons known to Police or social services and considered to be likely to encourage behaviour resulting in higher levels of risk;
  • Been abducted;
  • Self injured or attempted suicide;
  • Committed or been associated with a serious or criminal offence;
  • Been subject to sexual exploitation;
  • Or other serious risks/concerns.
Circumstances on the day

The following are examples of circumstances, which may be considered in deciding the level of concern on the day. The fact that they apply to a child does not automatically mean there is a high level of concern; the decision rests with the manager having considered all the circumstances:

  • Out of character/unusual behaviour prior to disappearance;
  • Absence with no prior indication;
  • Possibility of sexual exploitation or being drawn into offending behaviour.