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ALL WALES PRACTICE GUIDE

Safeguarding children who go missing from home or care

To be used in conjunction with the Wales Safeguarding Procedures

Who is this practice guide for?

This guide is primarily for practitioners working with children (up to the age of 18).

This includes those working in early years, social care, education, health, the police, youth offending and youth, community and family support services (including the third sector) and foster care and residential care.

What is this guide for?

Safeguarding children is a responsibility shared by everyone in contact with children and young people.

The Wales Safeguarding Procedures support individuals and agencies across Wales to understand their roles and responsibilities in keeping children and adults safe. They support a consistent approach to safeguarding practice and procedures.

This practice guide provides additional information about safeguarding children who go missing from home or care. It should be used in conjunction with the Wales Safeguarding Procedures.

Effective safeguarding arrangements in every local authority area should be underpinned by two key principles:

There are some issues which are common across safeguarding practice guides and some which are specific to the safeguarding issue being considered:

Evidence base

The reasons why children go missing are varied, complex and unique to individual children: They may be reacting to an event or change in their lives such as a change in family circumstances or a bereavement. We know that children who go missing from home or care often report problems at home or at the home where they have been placed because they are looked after. They may be unhappy about decisions being made about them by their parents or carers and they may not feel listened to. They may go missing to areas where they have family or connections. They may be experiencing neglect or abuse at home. They may also be encouraged or coerced to go missing by dangerous adults or by other children.

Children in some circumstances are more likely to go missing than their peers: Looked after children are three times more likely to go missing than other children2. Children placed outside their local area are at particular risk of going missing.3 On 31 January 2016, Europol reported that 10,000 unaccompanied children are unac­counted for after arriving in Europe, with many feared to be exploited and abused for sexual or labour purposes.4

It is estimated that 60% of suspected child victims of trafficking in local authority care go missing.5 Almost two thirds of trafficked children are never found.6

We know that when a child goes missing they may be exposed to a range of emotional, physical and sexual risks: They may engage in offending behaviour to survive or because they are being exploited by adults.7 We know that children with multiple missing episodes and those who go missing for prolonged periods are at high risk of child sexual exploitation and/or criminal exploitation and may be trafficked while they are missing.8

What to do when a child goes missing

Reasonable efforts to establish the whereabouts of a child

Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established should be considered as missing until located and their well-being or otherwise confirmed. However, reasonable efforts to locate a child and establish their whereabouts should be taken before a child is reported as missing to the police.

When a child goes missing

A missing person is “Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located and their wellbeing or otherwise confirmed.”9

When a child is found

Approach following an episode when a child has been missing

A proportionate response

If the child is at immediate risk of significant harm contact the Police on 999.

When a child has been reported under section 130, the local authority must consider whether there are grounds for carrying out an investigation under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

APPENDICES

Police continuum of risk for assessing missing persons

No apparent risk (absent)

There is no apparent risk of harm to either the subject or the public.

Actions to locate the subject and/or gather further information should be agreed with the informant and a latest review time set to reassess the risk. Some Police forces do not use this category – check with your force.

Low risk

The risk of harm to the subject or the public is assessed as possible but minimal.

Proportionate enquiries should be carried out to ensure that the individual has not come to harm. Some Police forces do not use this category – check with your force.

Medium risk

The risk of harm to the subject or the public is assessed as likely but not serious.

This category requires an active and measured response by the police and other agencies in order to trace the missing person and support the person reporting.

High risk

The risk of serious harm to the subject or the public is assessed as very likely.

This category almost always requires the immediate deployment of police resources – action may be delayed in exceptional circumstances, such as searching water or forested areas during hours of darkness. A member of the senior management team must be involved in the examination of initial lines of enquiry and approval of appropriate staffing levels. Such cases should lead to the appointment of an investigating officer (IO) and possibly an SIO, and a police search adviser (PolSA).

There should be a press/media strategy and/or close contact with outside agencies. Family support should be put in place where appropriate. The MPB should be notified of the case without undue delay. Children’s services must also be notified immediately if the person is under 18.

Download Child Information Form
N.B. Details contained on this document are subject to regular reviews and updating by document holder


These organisations are there for all children and young people in Wales. Professionals and practitioners should let children know about these organisations and how to contact them.

Meic is the helpline service for children and young people up to the age of 25 in Wales. From finding out what’s going on in your local area to help dealing with a tricky situation, Meic will listen even when no-one else will. They won’t judge you and will help by giving you information, useful advice and the support you need to make a change. You can:

You can contact the Children's Commissioner for Wales Investigation and Advice service which is free and confidential. It’s there as a source of help and support if children and young people or those who care for them feel that a child’s been treated unfairly. You or you parent/carer can:

Childline is a free, private and confidential service where anyone under 19 can access support and advice. The Childline website www.childline.org.uk has information and advice pages as well as tools to help you work through problems yourself. If you want to talk or chat to Childline you can:

If you want to talk to Childline in Welsh see www.childline.org.uk/get-support/

Information for parents and carers on what to do when a child goes missing

Children and young people go missing for a lot of different reasons. Some children go missing because something has happened where they live, at school or with their friends or because they are do not feel that people are listening to their point of view about something.

Some children and young people may be encouraged to go missing by other children or by dangerous adults.

When children and young people are missing they are at risk of serious harm and while most children are returned safely it is important to act quickly when a child is missing.

Steps to take when a child or young person goes missing

  1. Try to contact the child or young person yourself and check with people and at places where you think they might be.

  2. If you can’t locate the child or young person phone the police on 101. Do not wait to contact the police if you have any concerns about the child or young people and you are worried that they may come to harm.

  3. You should give the police all the information you can about what the child looks like, who they might be with, places they go and how they were feeling when they went missing. You must also share any information or worries you have because they have been in danger in the past or because of something that makes you think they are in danger.

  4. If the child or young person has a social worker you should inform social services that the child has gone missing.

  5. If a plan has already been agreed about what to do when the child or young person goes missing you should follow the actions in the plan.

When a child or young person returns home

The police will carry out a ‘Safe and Well Check’ to make sure that the child or young person is ok.

When a child or young persons returns after they have gone missing or is returned by the police it is important to make them feel safe and comfortable.

They might find it easier to talk to someone other than their parent or about why they went missing or about what has happened to them while they have been missing.

If children and young people feel that adults are angry and upset and with them this might encourage them to go missing again or delay them in returning if they do go missing again.

The police will leave a leaflet for your child/the child you care for with information about services they can contact to talk to someone about any worries they have.

Getting help and support

Lots of children and young people and their families need some help and support sometimes.

If you would like some support for your child and family then you can find out about local services by contacting:

Family Point Cymru

www.familypoint.cymru/families-first-wales/

0300 222 57 57

DEWIS Cymru

www.dewis.wales/children-and-families

The police or someone else who works with your child might offer to make a referral to social services so that they can decide if your child has care and support needs and what help they can offer your child and family.

If the police or someone else is worried that your child is at risk of harm they will report this to social services so that they can assess if support needs to be put in place to help keep your child safe.

Information for foster carers and residential carers on what to do when a child goes missing

Children and young people go missing for a lot of different reasons. Some children go missing because something has happened where they live, at school or with their friends or because they are do not feel that people are listening to their point of view about something.

Some children and young people may be encouraged to go missing by other children or by dangerous adults.

When children and young people are missing they are at risk of serious harm and while most children are returned safely it is important to act quickly when a child is missing.

Looked after children are three times more likely to go missing than their peers.

Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and trafficked children are especially at risk of going missing and are less likely to be found after they have gone missing.

Steps to take when a child or young person goes missing

  1. Try to contact the child or young person yourself and check with people and at places where you think they might be.

  2. If you can’t locate the child or young person phone the police on 101 and contact Social Services. Do not wait to contact the police if you have any concerns about the child or young people and you are worried that they may come to harm.

  3. You should give the police an up to date copy of the Child Information Form for the child or young person.

  4. You must also share any information or worries you have because of the way the child was acting or feeling before they went missing or because they have been in danger in the past or because of something that makes you think they are in danger.

  5. You must inform social services that the child has gone missing.

  6. If a plan has already been agreed about what to do when the child or young person goes missing you should follow the actions in the plan.

  7. Agree with social services and the police an arrangement for the return of the child when they are located.

When a child or young person returns to their placement

Certain frontline staff who encounter a potential victim modern slavery or human trafficking have a duty to notify the Home Office under Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 This requirement applies to the Police, Local Authorities, the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters Labour and Abuse Authority. Supporting guidance and resources have been issued in relation to the Modern Slavery Act 2015.


1 https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/major-investigation-and-public-protection/missing-persons/#definition-of-missing

2 The Children’s Society (2011), Make Runaways Safe, p.7

3 https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/appg-absent-inquiry-final-report-may-2016.pdf

4 K. Shavev Greene and F. Toscano, 2016, Summit report: best practices and key challenges on interagency cooperation to safeguard unaccompanied children from going missing https://researchportal.port.ac.uk/portal/files/3591754/report_SUMMIT_Safeguarding_Unaccompanied_Migrant_Minors_1mrt1.pdf

5 House of Commons, Home Affairs Committee (2009) The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK Sixth Report of Session 2008–09, Volume 1 London: House of Commons

6 CEOP (2010) Strategic Threat Assessment: Child Trafficking in the UK London: CEOP

7 Report from the joint inquiry into children who go missing from care, The All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care leavers, (2012) www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/policy-and-lobbying/parliamentary-work/appg-inquiry-children-who-go-missing-or-run-away-c.

8 See 1 above

9 See 1 above