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9.18 Breakaway Missing from Care Policy


The aim of this chapter is that children and young people feel secure and safe during their stays at Breakaway and that Breakaway minimises the risk of children and young people going missing.

This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Berkshire LSCB Child Protection Procedures.

This chapter was added to the manual in July 2014.


  1. Policy
  2. Procedure

    Appendix 1: Missing from Care Recording Form

1. Policy


This policy recognises that children who go missing from Breakaway place themselves at risk of Significant Harm due to their age, learning difficulty / physical disability.

The reasons why children go missing from care are varied and complex and are likely to reflect their learning disability, home circumstances and experience of care. 

The circumstances of each episode of a child / young person going missing must be fully assessed as must the overall picture of a series of such episodes. 

The care and support provided to the children / young people and the security of the building minimises the risk that they will go missing.

This policy seeks to reduce the risk to children by the way in which ‘Missing’ episodes are managed, both in terms of understanding the child’s behaviour and in developing preventative strategies.


For the purposes of this policy ‘child / young person’ describes a child / young person from 6 to 17 years of age. A child/young person is to be considered ‘missing’ from the Breakaway building / grounds, absconds whilst out in the community, if on a group activity and breaks away from the group and becomes ‘lost’, where the absence causes concern for their safety or there is potential danger to the public.

Absences which cause concern are those where staff or carers have no indication that a child / young person is likely to return within a short space of time or where there is immediate concern for the child / young person’s safety. The degree of concern will be determined by the age of the child / young person, level or learning difficulty / physical disability and past history, if any, of absconding or periods of missing from care.

Some children / young people may abscond for a short period and then return, often their whereabouts are known. They are not considered at risk and usually they are testing boundaries.

2. Procedure

During the assessment period of receiving a child / young person into the care of Breakaway, the allocated Keyworker will ensure that the child / young person’s past history is known and is recorded in their ‘This is Me’ (Care Plan) and Risk Assessments are put in place which will be shared with all staff, parents / carers and will be uploaded onto the child / young person’s case file on ICS.

In assessing the significance of a child’s / young person’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 / young person’s ‘This is Me’ (Care Plan);
  • The age, level of understanding, level of learning / physical disability of the child / young person;
  • The legal status of the child / young person;
  • Previous behaviour patterns;
  • Emotional state of child / young person / perceived risk;
  • Whether the child / young person is perceived as running to someone / somewhere or running from a situation. 

Preventing a Child / Young Person Going Missing

If at any point information is received to suggest a child / young person might go missing, their ‘This is Me’ (Care Plan) must:

  1. Describe the degree of risk of the child / young person going missing;
  2. Detail the level of supervision and support the child / young person will receive during their stay;
  3. Assess the likely level of risk to the child / young person if they go missing;
  4. Include a risk assessment to minimise the opportunity for them to go missing;
  5. Detail the parents’ views on what action should be taken if the child / young person goes 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 at Children’s Meetings, written information, as appropriate, given their age and understanding.

Responding to an Incident where a Child / Young Person is having a Short Break at Breakaway

Breakaway 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, prompt, thorough search of the unit to ensure the child / young person is not on the premises; staff should inform the child / young person’s social worker (or the duty social worker if they are not available);
  • Inform the child / young person’s parents / carers;
  • Inform the police;
  • Inform the Emergency Duty Team on 01344 786535 if out of hours;
  • Inform the Manager (contact details in Business Continuity Procedure / Address Book);
  • Complete the C / YP’s Missing from Care Reporting Form;
  • Record in Missing from Care Log Book;
  • Inform the Assistant Director (contact details – 01753 690901).

Information to be Made Available to the Police

When informing the police that a child / young person is missing, the following information should be made available immediately:

  • Full name, age, and a description of the child / young person and what they were wearing;
  • Where the child / young person was last seen and with whom;
  • When they last had medication and when it is next due (if applicable);
  • Mood, behaviour;
  • Level of understanding i.e. no awareness of danger;
  • The degree of learning difficulties / physical disability;
  • Family address as may be trying to get home.

Subsequently, if the young person remains missing, it will be helpful to supply to everyone concerned:

  • A recent photograph;
  • Any previous history of absconding;
  • The name and address of the child / young person’s GP;
  • Any circumstances which increase the risk to a child / young person should be drawn to the attention of the police.

Informing the Press

It is for the Police to inform the media regarding a child/young person missing from the care of the Local Authority. This may be arranged at local level, by direction of the Director (or nominee). A decision to publicise by press and / or television will only be made in consultation with Wellbeing - Children’s Services and with prior warning, in order to allow the parents to be informed.


Throughout the process identified within this policy, a full record must be kept of all actions taken and messages received and given. This recording should be made in the Missing from Care log book found in the Policies and Procedures folder along with this policy in the main office and the C / YP Missing from Care Reporting Form under forms in Breakaway drive.

All messages received and given to be put on ICS by the Shift Leader / Manager / Assistant Manager as is the Missing from Care Reporting Form.

The Missing from Care logbook will be monitored by the Manager of Breakaway, Head of Service and Regulation 33 Visiting Officer.

All Absences from Breakaway Give Rise to Concern

All children / young people who access Breakaway, due age, vulnerability due to their learning difficulty / physical disability give rise to concern, therefore, the Assistant Director and the Duty Inspector on call (Police), or their nominee would have been informed as soon as the child / young person went missing. The Assistant Director and Duty Inspector on call will then decide on further action and consider the need to inform the Divisional Crime Manager (Police).

Possible actions are a risk management meeting, or a strategy meeting if there are grounds for a Section 47 Child Protection Enquiry. These will be decided following consultation with the Assistant Director and the Duty Inspector on call.

Any unauthorised absence lasting for 8 hours should continue to be reported to the Assistant Director by the Manager/Assistant Manager / Shift Leader or the Manager of the allocated Social Worker

The Assistant Director will report the child / young person to the Missing from Care Department. The Department is part of the National Missing Persons Helpline, 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

Planning for Return

The Manager or Assistant Manager, in consultation with the child’s parents / carers and the Police, where appropriate or where possible, should commence contingency planning for when the child / young person is located. Factors to consider (usually following a longer absence) are:

  • Determining the most appropriate way to ensure child / young person is ‘listened to’;
  • How best to ensure the child / young person has access to rights and advocacy services;
  • Identifying ways in which the child / young person can meaningfully participate in the plan;
  • Whether the child / young person will continue to receive short breaks at Breakaway or whether alternative respite may be preferred / more suitable;
  • Whether the Police wish to interview the child / young person, depending on level of understanding, before he/she is returned to Breakaway / home;
  • Who will be an appropriate ‘Person’ to talk to the child / young person after his / her return to Breakaway/home, more than likely the child / young person’s Social Worker.

The Police will co-operate in the plans developed by Breakaway to return a child / young person.  

Transportation of a child / young person back to Breakaway / child / young person being transported home will be agreed at the time between the Police, Breakaway, Parents / Carers / Social Worker.

Risk Assessment Meeting

The same level of consideration must be given to all children / young people who go missing from care. Each missing episode should be subject to the same level of assessment, even in situations where the child / young person absconds frequently. It is important to recognise the potential seriousness of this behaviour.

When a child / young person is going missing repeatedly the child / young person’s Social Worker, Breakaway Manager and the Police must consider the need for a Risk Management meeting. The decision about when to hold a meeting will be made on the basis of:

  • The child’s / young person’s age and maturity;
  • Previous behaviour patterns;
  • State of mind / perceived risk;
  • The effectiveness of strategies to prevent further episodes.

The Risk Management meetings should involve the child / young person’s allocated Social Worker and their Manager, the Manager of Breakaway, the child / young person’s parents / carers and any other relevant professionals. The Social Worker / their Manager should chair this meeting.

The purpose of the meeting is to increase the understanding of the child’s / young person’s behaviour:

  • Ensure a consistent and coherent response by parents / carers and all involved agencies;
  • Clarify the role of each agency;
  • Put strategies in place to prevent the behaviour.


Should a child / young person’s absence continue, and after all professionals and the child/young person’s parents / carers have been informed, Breakaway Manager / Assistant Manager will inform all Breakaway staff. The child / young person’s school will also be informed in case they have any information regarding his / her whereabouts. Any such information must be passed to the Police.

Return of the Child / Young Person

If the child / young person discloses, on their return, that they have been harmed while they were missing (e.g. physically or sexually abused) then this information must be shared immediately with their social worker – if within working hours, or the Police and the Emergency Duty Team if out of hours. In addition, on the child / young person’s return, their medical condition must be discussed immediately and medical attention sought, if this is appropriate. The circumstances of the child / young person’s return will influence who has the discussion with the child / young person in the first instance, e.g. Breakaway Manager / Assistant Manager / Shift Leader, parents / carers, social worker or Police.

If the child / young person has not disclosed any information that needs immediate investigation or attention, they should be positively encouraged to talk about their reasons for going missing reasonably soon after their return. Children and young people should always be advised that they could have access to an independent advocate and support and should they indicate that this is what they want then the C / YP’s keyworker to contact the relevant services.

If the child / young person returns on their own, the Manager / Assistant Manager / Shift Leader must inform the Police and the C / YP’s social worker if within working hours or the Police and the Emergency Duty Team if out of hours as soon as they have returned. It is a requirement that an independent person (usually a police officer) visits the child / young person to ensure their safety, once they have returned. However, if it is late at night and the child / young person needs to go to bed, it may be more appropriate for them to do so in the morning. This visit needs to take place within 48 hours of the child’s return. It will more than likely be that the child / young person rather than coming back to Breakaway will have gone home.

The child / young person’s parents and any other professionals informed of their absence should also be advised of the child / young person’s return as soon as reasonably possible.

The child’s / young person’s Social Worker must visit the child as soon as possible and, at the outside, within 72 hours of their return. 

Children / Young People who go Missing during an External Activity 

The Manager / Assistant Manager / Shift Leader will:

  • Notify the local police;
  • Notify the child / young person’s parents / carers;
  • Notify the child / young person’s Social Worker or Emergency Duty Team if out of hours;
  • Notify the Assistant Director;
  • Other children / young people on the activity to be returned to Breakaway as soon as possible;
  • Institute a local search if staffing levels permit.

Children / Young People who are Abducted

The Manager/Assistant Manager / Shift Leader will:

  • Notify the local police;
  • Notify the child / young person’s parents / carers;
  • Notify the child / young person’s Social Worker or emergency Duty Team if out of hours;
  • Notify the Assistant Director;
  • If on an external activity other children / young people / staff to return to Breakaway as soon as possible.

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

Longer Absences

In the unlikely event that a child / young person is missing for 7 days, a strategy meeting must be held, attended by the relevant Team Managers of SBC and Divisional County Manager (Police), or his / her nominee, together with other appropriate staff from both agencies. At this meeting these Senior Officers should elicit a clear statement of the actions being taken in respect of the absence and should satisfy themselves that all that should be done is being done.

A missing child / young person should be reported to the Police National Missing Persons Bureau 14 days after going missing by the Divisional Family Unit.

The Assistant Director – Wellbeing should formally review all cases where children / young people have been absent for six months or more and should satisfy themselves on the actions taken to recover the child / young person.

Whilst the child / young person remains absent, their case should be identified as open and should be reviewed at six monthly intervals by an officer at Assistant Director Level. The child/young person should continue to have an allocated Social Worker as the channel for day to day communication.

All Police missing persons files will remain “live” until the person is traced or until the Divisional Commander is satisfied all lines of enquiry have been exhausted. They will then take the decision to file or otherwise and inform Children’s Services of the action taken.

Where the Divisional Commander has made the decision to file, the divisional Family Unit will be responsible for bringing forward the file on persons who remain missing for review by the Divisional Crime Manager 12 months after the file date.

Appendix 1: Missing from Care Recording Form

Click here to view Appendix1: Missing from Care Recording Form