April 2008


All statutory agencies and those within the voluntary and independent sector, together
with our four Safeguarding Children Boards, are dedicated to the protection of all children
and young people and in particular those who are most vulnerable and at risk of harm.

The aim of this protocol is to specifically address and focus each and every person’s
mind on the circumstances and the risk to which each individual child and young person
is exposed. Whether a child or young person goes missing once or a hundred times,
means they have done so for a particular reason. It is important to treat each episode of
running away as a fresh incident and explore the reasons for running on each separate

Children and young people who are in care, whether that be in a residential setting or
with foster carers, are classed as the most vulnerable of young people. When they run
away from home, they are potentially more likely to be exposed to greater dangers. In
addition, children and young people who run away from home are now recognised as
being increasingly vulnerable to harm and risk.

This protocol seeks to set in place procedures that will not only acknowledge the risk to
the child and young person but will engage each agency in sharing the responsibility for
managing the process.

The Children Act 1989, the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Children Act of
2004, and Working Together to Safeguard Children 2006 stress the centrality of the
child’s interest. This protocol is, therefore, endorsed by the below named signatories as
a document that is accepted as being one which will provide clear guidance to managers
and the support for children and young people in vulnerable circumstances.

This protocol has been agreed by:

        Name/Agency                             Signed                        Date

Chief Constable                                                          20.2.08
Meredydd Hughes
South Yorkshire Police
Alan Jones                           Please note – signatures            1.4.08
Chair                                 have been removed for
Sheffield LSCB                          security purposes
Alan Jones                                                               1.4.08
Chair                                A signed master copy is
Barnsley LSCB                        held by Joyce Thacker,
Judith Dodd                        Chair of the South Yorkshire          30.1.08
Chair                                    Runways Action
Rotherham LSCB                             Partnership,
Judith Dodd                              Rotherham MBC,                  30.1.08
Chair                                  Children and Young
Doncaster LSCB                          People’s Services
Dan Dean                                                                 2.3.08
Board of Trustees


The following two protocols have particularly informed our thinking in developing this
South Yorkshire protocol.

•   ‘’Children and young people who go missing or runaway from home or care Protocol’’
    – Greater Merseyside Protocol.

•   ‘’Uniting young runaways services’’ – East London joint Protocol framework for
    agencies supporting children and young people who run away from care and home.

This document has been updated through significant multi agency input including the
Police, Local Authority Children and Young People’s Services, Local Safeguarding
Children’s Boards, Voluntary Sector, Housing, Health, BME and Faith Groups.

Contents Page


1.   Introduction ………………………………………………………………………                             5-10
     • The Purpose of the Protocol
     • Safeguarding Children
     • Local Safeguarding Children Boards
     • Legal Issues
     • Data Protection
     • Training

2.   Definitions ………………………………………………………………………….                            11-12
     • Young Runaways
     • Unauthorised Absence
     • Missing
     • The Designated Named Manager for Young Runaways

3.   Principles …………………………………………………………………………..                            13

4.   Multi Agency Working …………………………………………………………….                        14

5.   Roles of Specific Agencies ………………………………………………………                     15-32
     • Flowchart for ALL agencies and for ALL children and young people
     • ALL Agencies and Voluntary Organisations
     • Children and Young People’s Services
     • Health
     • Housing
     • Police
     • Local Authority Children’s Social Care Services
     • Longer Term Absences
     • Children and Young People Running Away from Care
     • The Return Interview

6.   Bibliography ……………………………………………………………………….. 33

7.   Glossary of Terms ………………………………………….……………...……                        34

8.   Useful Resources and Contacts ………………………………………………..                   35-36

9.   Appendices ………………………………………………………………………... 37-54
     A – Risk Assessment
     B – Missing Person Protocol
     C – Social Exclusion Unit: Services for Runaways – An Action Plan
     D – Complaints Procedures

1. Introduction
This document replaces the previous South Yorkshire protocol ‘Missing from Care’ and is
an update of the June 2005 ‘Running away from care and home ’. The protocol relates
to all children and young people running away or missing from care or home. The
protocol is applicable to the four South Yorkshire authorities of Barnsley, Doncaster,
Rotherham and Sheffield.

The protocol framework is applicable to:

•    Local Authorities
•    Police
•    Other partner agencies throughout South Yorkshire

The purpose of the protocol is to ensure that:

•    All services concerned with the care and protection of children and young people
     work together in accordance with the protocol and procedures.
•    A clear plan is activated whenever children and young people run away/are missing.
•    All appropriate agencies and individuals are notified if children and young people run
     away/are missing and/or return.
•    A clear plan of effective inter-agency action is taken to trace or return children and
     young people who run away/are missing.
•    Appropriate and effective actions are taken when children and young people return
     or are located.
•    Processes are established to track children and young people who run away/are
     missing from other authorities. Any children and young people who have runaway
     (are deemed to be ‘at risk’) should be recorded on the appropriate authority
     ContactPoint system when it is up and running (late 2008). These systems will
     enable identification of other agencies who may be working with the child or young
•    Effective early intervention is achieved to prevent repeat running away and
     associated risks.
•    The Police are appropriately notified of children and young people who go missing or
     run away.
•    Effective monitoring procedures are in place. It is strongly recommended that
     monitoring and tracking of young people at risk is performed via the appropriate
     authority ContactPoint system.
•    Children and young people are positively encouraged to influence the outcome of
     any professional intervention.

    These procedures will sit alongside the South Yorkshire Safeguarding
    Children Board Child Protection Procedures (2007) and your own agency

Running away is a dangerous activity. It is a problem that affects approximately one in
nine young people before the age of 16 years, from a broad range of backgrounds.
Young people who run away or are forced to leave home are young people with a range
of problems. They are:

•   Five times more likely than their peers to have drug problems;
•   Three times more likely to say they are in trouble with the Police;
•   Three times more likely to be truanting; and
•   Seven times more likely to have been physically abused (“Young Runaways” report,
    Social Exclusion Unit (2002)).

•   In 2006, the Police recorded ‘1790’ children aged 16 or under as missing in South

•   Research into running away in South Yorkshire (Smeaton and Rees 2003) found that
    young people themselves reported that:

•   A quarter of young people will sleep rough whilst away from home.

•   18% of young runaways are forced to leave home.

•   Around one fifth of overnight runaways are under the age of 11.

•   Only around 22% of overnight runaways are reported missing to the Police.

•   Only 1 in 8 young runaways approached professional agencies for help.

•   Safe@Last, a South Yorkshire charity targeted at responding to children and young
    people who run away, reported from June 2006 to June 2007 the following numbers
    of young people they worked with:

    •   187 young people in Doncaster

    •   138 young people in Rotherham

•   From April 2007 to June 2007 24 young people accessed the Runaways Helpline.

Most children and young people who run away do not stay away for a long time. Most
remain in their local area and stay with extended family or friends. For these young
people, advice, counselling or support services should help them to return home. Some
runaways, however, are more likely to experience serious problems.

These are:

•   Younger children;
•   Repeat runaways; and
•   Young people running from care.

Risk factors that can contribute to children and young people running away are:

•   Poor parental supervision and discipline/neglect/parenting concerns;
•   Family conflict; sibling rivalry
•   A family history of problem behaviour
•   Parental involvement/attitudes condoning problem behaviour
•   Low income and poor housing
•   Domestic violence/abusive partner/child abuse
•   Parental substance/alcohol misuse
•   Parental mental health/learning difficulty needs
•   Home alone
•   Other child in family with disability (impacting on parenting capacity)
•   Homelessness or unsuitable living environment
•   Victims of crime/bullying/racism/emotional/homophobic abuse
•   Mental health concerns
•   Sexual exploitation

(Extracted from Doncaster Preventative Strategy 2004)

The immediate risks associated with running away include:

•   No means of support or legitimate income – leading to high risk activities
•   Involvement in criminal activities
•   Victim of crime, for example through sexual assault and exploitation
•   Alcohol/substance misuse
•   Deterioration of physical and mental health
•   Missing out on education
•   Forced marriages

Longer-term risks include:

•   Long-term drug dependency
•   Crime
•   Homelessness and sleeping rough
•   Increased risk of self harm
•   Isolation from peer group, siblings and their community
•   Deterioration in academic achievement
•   Deterioration in self care/personal hygiene
•   Social exclusion

In 2002 the Social Exclusion Unit published their report ‘Young Runaways’. This
incorporated key recommendations about the way agencies should respond to the needs
of young runaways. A summary of these can be found in Section 9, Appendix C.

Safeguarding Children

We must always be aware that a child/young person may be running away from an
abusive situation at the place where they live. It is recognised that all those who work
with young runaways may be presented with complex child protection situations. It is
vital therefore that all staff have an appropriate understanding of and access to child
protection procedures, have received appropriate training, are properly supervised and
know where to access advice and support.

All agencies have a responsibility to work together to meet the needs of children
in need of protection whether this be as a result of neglect, emotional harm, sexual
or physical abuse and / or sexual exploitation. When responding to the needs of
young runaways the South Yorkshire Safeguarding Children Board Child
Protection Procedures (2007) are there to inform and guide staff as well as to
protect young people and staff alike. It is important that these procedures are
followed at all times when dealing with child protection issues.

Local Safeguarding Children Boards

Local Safeguarding Children Boards are charged with ensuring children and young
people ‘stay safe from harm’ (‘Working Together’ HM Government (2006)). It is
important that this protocol fits in with the Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCB)
remit and that the monitoring of this protocol is reported to the Board.

Legal Issues

With regards to the disclosure of information, the Crime and Disorder Act (1998) section
115 states the following:

Any person who, apart from this sub-section, would not have power to disclose

•   To the relevant authority; or
•   To a person acting on behalf of such an authority,

Shall have power to do so in any case where the disclosure is necessary or expedient for
the purposes of any provision of this Act.

Data Protection

Staff at the initial point of contact with a young person should:

•   Explain the purpose of information collection
•   Explain that information may need to be shared between partner organisations
•   Seek consent for the sharing of such information.

A young person’s request that information is not shared must be respected

•   Disclosure is in the public interest, including for the purpose of prevention or
    detection of crime, apprehension or prosecution of offenders
•   Disclosure is to protect the vital interest of the young person.

All partner agencies should:

•   Facilitate the exchange of information wherever such exchange is lawful.
•   Deal with personal data in compliance with the provisions of the Data Protection
    Act (including the Data Protection Principles).
•   Ensure their own organisational policies and procedures comply with the Data
    Protection Act.
•   Ensure that collected data is complete, accurate and relevant to the care of an
•   Disclose the minimum amount of relevant information on a strict need to know
    basis only.
•   Notify the data controller of information that is discovered to be inaccurate or
    inadequate for the purpose.
•   Rectify inaccurate or inadequate data and notify all other recipients who should
    also ensure that correction is made.
•   Ensure that shared information is physically secure, and password protected
    where held on electronic systems.
•   Ensure that, as part of their ongoing development, staff are made aware of their
    responsibilities and rights in respect of young person information and in line with
    data confidentiality agreements.
•   Ensure that information is readily available to young people on their rights in
    respect of personal information held including the complaints procedure.
•   Ensure that alleged breaches of confidentiality are investigated under their
    respective agencies complaints procedure, liaising with partner agencies where
    shared information or care is involved.
•   Work together to develop frameworks, procedures and protocols for the sharing of
    personal information and to facilitate partnership arrangements.


Training is essential for all practitioners who work with children and young people to
enable them to respond fully to the protocol. Local Safeguarding Children Boards and
the Workforce Development Teams for Children and Young People’s Services will be
charged with ensuring that appropriate and effective training, maximising the potential of
e-learning, is offered particularly in risk assessments and managing the return interview.

2. Definitions

Young Runaways

The Social Exclusion Unit in their report Young Runaways (2002) used the following
definition of a young runaway:

‘a child or young person under the age of 18 who spends one night or more away from
the family home or care without permission, or has been forced to leave by their parents
or carers’.

This definition will be used in this protocol.

In narrowing this broad definition other terms will be used to categorise young people
who have run away. These are particularly pertinent to children and young people who
have run away from care. For more comprehensive definitions for young people who
have run away from care see Section 5 - “Children and young people running away from

Unauthorised absence from care and absent from home without permission

Absent for a short period of time i.e. less than overnight and after a careful and thorough
risk assessment the absence does not raise concern for their immediate safety or that of
the public.


This refers to children and young people who have gone missing independently from
their families. Where concern is raised about the child or young person’s absence
because their location is unknown; the reason for their absence is unknown; they are
vulnerable and and/or there is a potential danger to the public.

The Designated Named Manager for Young Runaways

The Social Exclusion Unit (Young Runaways 2002) recommended that every Local
Authority and Police Division should have a named manager in charge of runaway’s

•   Each of the four local authorities shall ensure that a designated named manager is
    appointed with responsibilities for managing its "missing from care" protocols and
•   Reporting information about patterns of absence among children and young
    people who run away and are reported missing to the Director of Children and
    Young People’s Services and to Councillors responsible for "corporate
•   Monitoring policies and performance relating to children missing from home.

The named Police posts have responsibility for:

•   Improving links with local services for runaways
•   Developing specialist skills and knowledge about running away
•   Providing a more consistent and efficient response to runaways.

  The South Yorkshire Runaway Action Partnership has agreed that one of its
functions is to share practice across the sub-region and monitor trends affecting
                                 young runaways.

3. Principles

•   The protocol should be flexible and adaptable to current service developments
    around common or single assessment and referral procedures.
•   The safety and welfare of the child or young person is paramount (Children Act
•   Effective partnership working between agencies and between professionals and
    parents is essential in promoting children and young people’s welfare and
    safeguarding them from significant harm. Addressing the needs of young runaways
    is the responsibility of all agencies.
•   Child protection is the responsibility of everyone in the community and all children
    and young people deserve the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
•   Parents, carers or those with parental responsibility should be considered and be
    informed and involved if this is appropriate and in the best interests of the child.
•   Children and young people should be enabled to participate fully in the return
    interview and any subsequent process.

Children and young people who run away may be children in need as defined within S17
of the Children Act 1989, and within the Children Act 2004. It is the responsibility of each
local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area. In line with
the recommendations of the SEU, the Protocol should form part of the Local Authority
Audit of Need and Single Plan. The Protocol aims to be commensurate with
developments in terms of the Children Act and Safeguarding Children. Children and
Young People’s Services are responsible for assessing whether children might be in
need and offering appropriate services. Individual authorities may take varying
approaches to which children should be provided with children in need services,
depending on locally set priorities and the resources they consider that they have

4. Multi-Agency Working

It is the responsibility of everyone to ensure the Police are notified if they believe a child
or young person has run away from home and they have concerns for that person’s
safety and well being.

All agencies have duties and responsibilities to respond to child protection concerns in
line with LSCB and agency child protection procedures. All agencies have duties to
carry out assessment and responsibilities to young runaways. These should be
completed in accordance with the Common Assessment Framework, Children in Need
(CIN) and South Yorkshire Safeguarding Children Board Child Protection Procedures

Local areas also need to plan for runaways as part of their local preventive strategies
(Young Runaways 2002). This reflects the need for all agencies to be working in
partnership with families and each other to help prevent situations where young people
run away from home. Copies of the current local authority runaways action plans can be
found on the local authority websites.

When asked why they had chosen to run away, children and young people identified
three main factors:

•   They had had no one to talk to about their problems

•   They did not know what else to do

•   Young people and their families are not getting support with problems that might
    cause them to run. (Young Runaways 2002).

It is vitally important therefore that agencies work together to address these issues.

For example, the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) suggests that Connexions, the Youth
Service, Schools Education Welfare Officers and Learning Mentors have an important
part to play in affording young people the opportunity to talk about any issues that are
concerning them. Furthermore, schools can be an important source of information about
the supports available for young people, as can voluntary and community projects and
telephone help lines. In addition, the SEU emphasises the need to better target
counselling and advice, better information and wider support services on the young
people that need most help. Gaps in preventive services also need to be identified; this
has manifested itself with the development of Targeted Youth Support Services for the
most vulnerable young people in our society.

5. Roles of Specific Agencies

      Flowchart for ALL Agencies and for ALL Children and Young People

                                person is

                             Contact Police              Police follow own

   No Further                  Framework                   Own/other
     Action                 including contact            Agency Service
                                with other                 Provision
                              agencies and
                             Child Protection
                                List check

                              Refer to other
                               agencies as

     Please remember the sharing of information is CRUCIAL to ensure the
                 safeguarding of children and young people.

ALL Agencies and Voluntary Organisations

A child is/will be classed as unauthorised absence where it is believed that the child
has absented themselves for a short time and are not necessarily considered at risk
(some children test boundaries).

A child will be classed as missing if their location or reason for absence is unknown and
there is a cause for concern because of their vulnerability or their potential danger to the

Both the categories should be reported to the Police, in respect of unauthorised absence
after 6 hours staff should recontact the Police to review the risk. Consideration will be
given to upgrading the young person to missing.

If the location of the child is known they should not be reported to the Police
under either category.

In considering the need to refer to Children and Young People’s Services the following
factors would need to be taken into consideration:

•   The age of the child

•   The number of occasions a child or young person runs away, for example three or
    more occasions in a two-year period.

•   Risk of significant harm, for example because of neglect and/or physical, and/or
    sexual, and/or emotional abuse

•   Legal status of the child

•   Parenting issues e.g. parents misusing substances; persistent school non-
    attendance with parents’ knowledge and/or collusion; domestic violence.

•   Indicators of sexual exploitation

•   Learning difficulties, mental health issues and/or physical disabilities.

•   Behavioural issues, particularly where the child or young person is at risk to self or

Agencies should also refer to local procedures and threshold criteria when considering a
referral for family support.

Where there are child protection concerns the agency child protection procedures must
be followed.

For concerns relating to possible crimes, the Police may also wish to make enquiries in
order to investigate these.

Children and Young People’s Services including Targeted Youth Support

Under the 2002 Education Act, Local Authorities have a responsibility to undertake
functions with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. In recent
years Ofsted have reported that nationally 10,000 pupils are absent from school.
Reasons given for young people missing school are:

•   Fail to register and never enter the education system
•   Cease to attend (unofficial exclusion, withdrawal, abduction, runaway)
•   Transitions (change of address, primary to secondary)

There are clear links to young people missing from schools and those who become
missing persons; it can often be one of the first signs.

It is important that information on children missing from education is shared with the
appropriate persons within both the Local Authority and South Yorkshire Police. This
should be incorporated within the borough plan.

The prime concern should be to ensure and safeguard the young person’s welfare and
safety. Workers will need to be sensitive to the young persons needs but ensure that
support mechanisms are in place and where appropriate, services informed.

If there are any child protection concerns, staff must follow South Yorkshire Safeguarding
Children Board Child Protection Procedures (2007) and report concerns to the
appropriate statutory agencies.

Education staff, including Teachers, Personal Advisers and Youth Workers should follow
the procedures on page 16 for “All agencies and voluntary organisations”.

Local Authorities within South Yorkshire will have differing internal procedures. The
following is an over-arching framework to ensure a quality response for missing children
and young people. Where a worker identifies a young person has run away the following
procedures will apply:

•   One to one discussion with the young person to ascertain as much information as
•   It is important to check the Police are aware of a missing person and do a Child
    Protection List check immediately.
•   Inform your line manager.

•   Assess the young person and situation, including liaison with families, schools
    and other agencies utilising all local and community knowledge. Make Section 47
    or 17 referrals if appropriate.
•   Consider completing a CAF form and informing the CAF Administrator about the
    young person.
•   Continue to liaise with the Police as appropriate.
•   Refer to other agencies if appropriate.
•   Clarify whether the young person wishes to return home and it is safe to do so.
•   If after discussion the young person wishes to return home or to care the worker will
    assist this process, acting as an advocate to ensure their safe return.
•   If the return home is not appropriate or the young person is not willing, the social
    care duty team will be contacted and child protection policies and procedures will
•   Retain the case throughout other agency enquiries or involvement.
•   Continue involvement, monitoring until agreed conclusion.
•   Discuss with line manager before closing the case.

All of the above will be recorded and liaison with the appropriate line manager will take
place throughout this process. The priority for the worker will be to safeguard the young
persons welfare and safety at all times.


Health staff should follow the procedures on page 16 for “All agencies and voluntary

Primary Care and Acute Trusts within South Yorkshire will have differing internal
procedures. The following is guidance to ensure health professionals make an informed
appropriate and safe response for missing children and young people.

•   Children and young people missing from home or care often present themselves
    for health care at a variety of health services venues, e.g. A & E Departments, Walk
    in Centres GP Surgeries or Drop-Ins.

•   Local health service providers should have a designated individual and systems in
    place to respond appropriately to missing child alerts.

•   If a child of young person initially discloses to a health worker that they have run
    away then that health worker needs to follow the agency flow chart on page 15.


Housing staff should follow the procedures on page 16 for “All agencies and voluntary

When a young person presents themselves to the homeless and advice section, a
homeless officer would provide an interview to assess the situation.

If the officer becomes aware that they have runaway or been reported missing they

•   Give the young person the chance to talk about why they ran away.
•   Contact the Police to see if they are reported as missing.
•   The Police would, in certain circumstances, attend the homeless office to interview
    the young person concerned.
•   Contact the local authority duty and assessment team to see if they have any
    knowledge of the young person.
•   Consider whether the provision of advice and information is sufficient to meet the
    young person’s need.
•   If following discussion the young person is willing to return home the officer must
    ensure that they are not returning to an unsafe situation.
•   If returning home is not appropriate, Housing to work closely with Social Care to find
    accommodation with support.
•   To ensure that when developing a young person’s accommodation strategy that
    young runaways are included as a vulnerable group.


New guidance has been developed by Police in the management, recording and
investigation of missing persons. These were written in conjunction with ACPO guidance
published in 2005.

The priorities of the police service in responding to reports of missing persons can be
summarised as follows:

•   To ensure that every report of a missing person is risk assessed so that missing
    persons who may be vulnerable or represent high risk are immediately identified.
•   To investigate reports of missing persons.
•   To adopt a proactive multi agency approach in dealing with missing persons.
•   To support the needs of the family, those close to the missing person and the

Considerations / Risk Assessment

This checklist is intended to act as a guide to decision making when determining the
action needing to be taken when a child is absent from the location that they should be.

          FACTOR                YES    NO                     DETAILS

 1. Is there any information                  •   What are the indications?
    to suggest that the                       •   Any notes left (obtain for Police)
    person is likely to self-                 •   Any previous attempts, what were
    harm or attempt                               they, when did they occur and
    suicide?                                      where?

 2. Is the person                             •   Full details of abduction are required
    suspected to be                               - vehicles, suspects
    subject to a crime in                     •   Names and address of witnesses
    progress, e.g.

 3. Is the person                             •   Age of the person
    vulnerable due to age,                    •   Other vulnerability
    infirmity or any other

 4. Are there inclement                       •   What clothing is the person wearing?
    weather conditions that                   •   Are they likely to seek shelter?
    would seriously
    increase risk to health,
    especially where the
    missing person is a

 5. Does the child need                       •   What is the medication, what is the
    essential                                     dose, how regularly is it taken, when
    medication/treatment                          was the last time the medication was
    not readily available to                      taken?
    them?                                     •   Possible effects on the person if the
                                                  medication is not taken

 6. Does the child have                       •   Full details of any health issues
    any physical illness,                     •   G.P name address and telephone
    disability or mental                          number
    health problems?

FACTOR                          YES    NO                      DETAILS

 7. Do you believe that the                    •   Full details required
    person may not have                        •   Learning difficulties - to what extent
    the ability to interact                    •   English not preferred language
    safely with others or in
    an unknown

 8. Has the person been                        •   Full details including names and
    involved in a                                  addresses of witnesses
    confrontation                              •   Check with friends/school
    immediately prior to
    Or subject to bullying?

 9. Brief details of state of    N/a    N/a    Record details
    mind/demeanour when
    last seen

 10. Previously                                •   When?
     disappeared AND                           •   What harm occurred?
     suffered or was                           •   Any person(s) that may have caused
     exposed to harm?                              harm/exposed the person to harm.
     Subject to child                          •   Are they still in contact with that
     protection plan?                              person - if so should the contact be
                                                   happening/is it supervised/what are
                                                   the arrangements?

 11. Is the behaviour out of                   •   Have they been missing before?
     character and likely to                   •   Are they often late home?
     be an indicator of                        •   Any after school activity/school friend
     their being exposed to                        they may be visiting?
     harm?                                     •   Have they made any preparation -
                                                   what have they taken?
                                               •   What were they intending to do when
                                                   last seen - if catch bus/train etc.
                                                   which one, what time and what was
                                                   the destination?

A child will be classed as missing if their location or reason for absence is unknown and
there is a cause for concern because of their vulnerability or their potential danger to the

A child will be classed as unauthorised absence where it is believed that the child has
absented themselves for a short time and are not necessarily considered at risk (some
children test boundaries).

Both the above categories should be reported to the Police, in respect of unauthorised
absence after 6 hours staff should recontact the Police to review the risk and
consideration will be given to upgrading to a missing person.

If the location of a child is known they should not be reported to the Police under either

Action to be taken

1. Attempt to locate – contact friends/school etc., check bedroom and known locations
   where person attends.
2. Establish if the child is subject to a care order, court order or contact order and who
   has parental responsibility.
3. Contact the Police after completing above questions determine if missing or
   unauthorised absence

Action Following Assessment

The first officer attending has responsibility to make all immediate relevant enquiries.
That officer will circulate details on the Police National Computer and on the local
database. The officer will carry out a search of the missing person’s address. Enquiries
will continue as required until the child or young person is located. A supervisor will
review action taken daily.

Contacts with relevant agencies will be made and all information recorded.


The Police will advise the media and request their assistance after appropriate
consultation with parents/guardians and/or the local authority in certain circumstances
after a thorough risk assessment has been conducted.

Return of the Child or Young Person

Once located the Police will inform the parent, guardian or Children’s Social Care.

See Return Interview procedures on page 31.

Longer term missing children and young people will be dealt with in accordance with
Force policy and this protocol.

See also: Appendix C Young Runaways on Page 52 point 16.

Local Authority Children’s Social Care Services

Many young people who run away from home are likely to be in need and may be
entitled to services provided by the local authority or by voluntary/independent agencies
acting on its behalf. When considering the needs of young runaways reference must be
made to the Common Assessment Framework/or the “The Framework for Assessment
for Children in Need and their Families” (2000) dependent on the level of need identified.

The following procedures apply when staff from the local authority section responsible for
Children’s Social Care services becomes aware that a missing child or young person is:

•   Subject of a Child Protection Plan
•   Subject to a Section 47 (S.47) enquiry
•   Subject to Private Fostering Arrangements
•   A looked after child who leaves or is removed from a placement when that has not
    been agreed in the care plan
•   Subject to an interim or full care order, or
•   Where professionals with a responsibility for the child’s welfare agree that there are
    concerns for their safety and well being if they are not located.

In these circumstances staff from the local authority section responsible for Children’s
Social Care services must inform:

•   The Police.
•   The manager of the Safeguarding Unit if the child or young person is on the CP List.
•   All local agencies who may know the child or young person to obtain any information
    that may help the Police Officer undertaking the missing person investigation to trace
    the child or young person.
•   All those with parental responsibility and extended family members as necessary and
•   Legal services if a child or young person is subject to court proceedings.

If, following the above procedures, the child has not been traced within 48 hours, a
strategy meeting should be held within 5 working days of the date of the child/young
person going missing. Members of the meeting will need to consider:

•   If the young person is thought to have travelled to another area whether to circulate
    their details to other local authority and other agencies in that area.
•   Notifying national authorities and agencies including social security, the benefits
    agency and child benefit agency
•   If there is cause to believe that the child/young person may be removed from UK
    jurisdiction any legal measures to be taken.

Further to the strategy meeting held in respect of a child or young person missing more
than 48 hours, a review child protection conference must be brought forward for any child
with a child protection plan, remaining missing for 7 days or more.

A strategy meeting should be called if a child or young person has been missing three
times or ore within a one month period. The Missing Person Officer should be informed
of the meeting and be invited where appropriate.

When the child is located a strategy discussion between the agencies involved should
take place within the same working day to consider:

•   Any immediate safety issues and whether to start a S.47 enquiry.
•   Who will interview the child if not part of a S.47 enquiry.
•   Who needs to be informed of the child’s return (both locally and nationally).

As a result of a S.47 enquiry, normal child protection procedures will be followed.

After a missing period, a child or young person should be visited by their Social Worker.
The child/young person should be offered a return interview to be conducted by the
Social Worker, an independent professional/agency or the child or young person’s choice
of alternative professional.

The aim of the interview is to provide an opportunity for the child or young person to
discuss any concerns away from parents and/or carers.

If a child or young person has a Child Protection Plan, Children’s Social Care must
consult with Core Group members to consider the effectiveness of the current Child
Protection Plan and decide and record whether to hold a review child protection

If the child or young person is looked after, arrangements must be made to enable them
to talk to a professional independent of their placement.

The Social Worker, in consultation with their team manager, must decide and record
whether to bring forward the next looked after child review. Other concerned agencies
are also entitled to request that the care plan be reviewed.

Information about children and young people missing from care must be reported to the
designated senior manager responsible for the missing from care protocols and

Longer Term Absences

Whenever a child or young person is missing for 7 days a strategy meeting must be
convened. This meeting should be chaired by a senior manager from the Safeguarding
Unit and attended by the Police District Operations Manager (or nominee) and relevant
managers within the local authority, including the designated manager for missing
persons. For children and young people missing 7 days or more consideration should be
given to notifying the national missing persons helpline and whether a media statement
is warranted.

Should the child/young person remain missing then strategy meetings should continue to
be held on a regular basis to review the actions taken and decide on future action. It
should be remembered that there is a continuum of action involving staff at different
levels within organisations.

Thus the strategy meeting will be the latest of a series of meetings held prior to that
which have also considered plans to locate a missing child/young person. Also, these
are maximum time scales and actions should always be taken within these time scales if
considered appropriate.

Children and Young People Running Away from Care

Unauthorised Absence

This category is critical to the clarification of the roles of the Police and Children and
Young People’s Services. Clearly some children absent themselves for a short period of
time and then return. Such children may be testing boundaries and are not necessarily
considered to be at risk.

The risk to all children whose whereabouts are unknown requires immediate risk
assessment, and only when the risk assessment process identifies the child as missing
should notification be made to the Police. In all other cases the child should be referred
to as being “unauthorised absence”.

Children who fall within the category of “unauthorised absence” must be the subject of
continuous review whilst they remain absent. During the absence the circumstances
may change and local authority staff need to be in a position to respond accordingly. In
this phase the local authority should take all reasonable and practical steps which a good
parent would take to establish the whereabouts or destination of a child, or the location of
any persons with whom he or she is likely to be associating and arrange for those places
to be checked.

If the location of a child is known or suspected then it is the responsibility of the relevant
carers to attempt to ensure the safe return of the child or young person. However, if
there are thought to be specific issues of safety of the public or public order difficulties
involved in returning the child, an action should be agreed between Police and Children’s
Social Care staff. These circumstances would mean the child should be categorised as

In the instance of any child or young person having an unauthorised absence of more
than six hours, consideration must be given as to whether to classify them as missing.
The risk assessment should be used to assist in situations such as this. Where the child
or young person has not returned and not been seen over the 24 hour period by the
Social Worker or relevant social care staff, he or she must be reported as missing.
In responding to and managing an individual child’s absence from care, both local
authority staff and the Police should beware of dismissing the potential significance of
multiple unauthorised absences by the child.

Often such children are labelled as the ‘the problem’ and insufficient consideration is
given to identifying the real reason(s) why they are absenting themselves.

If the running away/going missing of a child or young person is causing specific concern,
e.g. by its frequent repetition or indicators of particular risk such as contact with e.g. a
person posing a risk to children, there should be a meeting to discuss the combined
response to such incidents and concerns. This meeting should be classed as an
Incident of Specific Concern and attended by:

•   A representative of the Police.
•   A representative of the local authority responsible for the child’s care of sufficient
    seniority to be able to take authoritative decisions about the steps needed to
    locate and protect the child.
•   The registered manager of the children’s home or the manager of the fostering
•   Where the child is not placed within the boundary of their responsible
    authority - a representative from the authority in which the child is currently living
    – perhaps from the local team responsible for child protection.
•   Other relevant agencies – e.g. representatives from the Youth Offending Service,
    Drugs Action Team, CAMHS service etc.


A child shall be deemed to be “missing” when their location or reason for absence is
unknown and there is cause for concern because of their vulnerability or their potential
danger to the public.

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. However, some young people who are particularly vulnerable may require a
higher level of supervision. It is important therefore, that an agreement is made, at the
time of placement, between the Social Worker and the placement provider, about the
procedure for notifying the local authority when the young person stays out overnight.

In assessing the significance of a child or young persons absence, all staff must ensure
that their practice considers the following principles:-

•   The safety of the child is the prime aim.
•   As a corporate parent, the local authority has a duty to care for the well-being and
    safety of the child. This involves locating and returning the child.
•   Child protection procedures will be observed in respect of children under 18 years
    where sexual exploitation may be a factor. Also where a child is known to be at an
    address known to be unsafe.

•   Appropriate agencies locating and returning the child will be the objective.
•   Notification to the Police will only take place in clearly defined circumstances as
    detailed in the Section “Risk Assessment”.
•   Risk assessment will take place locally in accordance with guidance given in the
•   The Police will act and take a missing person report for any child reported as missing
    to the local Police.
•   The categories of “missing” listed within this document will determine whether a
    report is made to the Police.
•   Initial reports of missing children by the local authority will comply with these jointly
    agreed protocols.
•   Every “missing” child who returns to the care of the local authority will be interviewed.
    This will normally be conducted by an independent person not involved with the line
    management of the home or foster home and may be the child’s Social Worker. The
    local authority will ensure that here are a range of options to consider when the child

As a corporate parent, the local authority has a duty of care to all children and young
people who are looked after. This involves locating and returning the child or young
person to a safe and suitable environment.

Each children’s home must have written procedures that must be followed when a child
is missing. These must be compatible with the protocols for responding to missing
persons agreed between the police and the local authority in the area where the home is
located and with the “National Minimum Standards and Regulations for Children’s
Homes and Fostering Services Regulations (2002)“.

Planning and assessment of young people in care by staff and carers should include a
risk assessment of whether the child or young person may run away from their
placement. This should be revised and updated regularly.

The child or young person should be told what will happen if any child runs away,
including their right to be interviewed by an independent person on or prior to their return,
and be given a choice as to who that may be. They should be given information leaflets
and contact details of advocacy services or other services they can access or that can be
accessed on their behalf.

When a child or young person runs away or is missing:

•   Every effort should be made to locate the child.

•   Staff and carers will assess risk and decide on the category of absence.

•   Reports should be made to the local police station appropriate to the risk
    assessment and category of absence.

•   Managers and parents or those with parental responsibility should be informed as

•   Staff and carers should record accurate and up to date notes of actions taken and
    messages received or given.

The child/young person’s Social Worker, in liaison with their line manager, should either
arrange a strategy meeting within 5 working days if the child or young person remains
missing (see above), or a planning meeting if the child/young person refuses to return
(within an agreed time scale) or persistently goes missing and/or encourages other
children or young people to run away with them.

If children are placed away from their home authority the registered manager of their
children’s home or the manager of the fostering service will need to inform the Social
Worker and the team manager accountable for the child’s care in their responsible local

The manager of the children’s home will ensure that local protocols are followed and
advise the ‘home’ authority of the action to be taken. (Details of these should have been
supplied and a risk assessment undertaken either before or at the point of admission to
the home).

Senior managers including the designated manager for missing persons must be
informed if a child or young person has not returned within 24 hours.

Ofsted should be informed of absences in line with national standards.

Planning for return

Whenever possible prior to the return of a looked after child or young person whose
absence falls within the definition of ‘missing’, their Social Worker, in consultation with
managers, carers, parents, the Police and relevant voluntary/independent agencies,
should commence planning for when the child is located. These plans should include:

•   Will the child or young person return to their previous placement?
•   How will she/he be taken to the placement?
•   Do the Police wish to make further enquiries before the child or young person returns
    to the placement?
•   Who will be the appropriate "independent person" to talk to the child or young person
    after her/his return?
•   Is it appropriate to apply for a recovery order?

Normally the Social Worker and/or the relevant carer will make arrangements with regard
to transportation, where appropriate the Police will assist in this. In difficult cases the
Police will co-operate in the plans developed by either agency to return the child.

Occasionally, however, especially if a child is over 16 years and being ‘looked after’, the
Police may have limited powers to enforce a return if the child resists and is not
apparently at risk.

In such cases, prior discussion should take place between Police and Children’s Social
Care services with regard to the powers available to either agency to enforce a return.

Return of looked after children and young people running away from care

When a child or young person who runs away from care returns:

The child or young person’s carer/children’s home staff will notify the child’s social
worker, parents, the Police and any others informed that the child or young person ran
away, of the child or young person‘s return without delay.

The carer/children’s home staff should ensure that on the child’s return, his/her medical
condition is discussed with the child or young person immediately, and his/her parents as
appropriate. Medical attention will be given or arranged if necessary.

The child or young person should be told that someone independent of their placement
could speak with them about why they ran away. This interview should take place prior
to them returning to the placement if possible.

When they return, usually the allocated Social Worker will speak with the child or young
person but it should be made clear that they can also choose to speak to an independent
professional. Senior staff at the children’s home are responsible for ensuring the child or
young person is offered an independent return interview. For children in foster care the
child’s Social Worker should ensure this opportunity is offered.

For concerns relating to possible crimes, the Police may also wish to make enquiries in
order to investigate these.

All persons involved in the return of a child have a duty to listen to that child and note any
allegations that may be made. Any allegations made will be responded to in line with
agency child protection procedures.

Missing During External Activity

Children or young people who go missing while on a holiday or during out-of-borough
activities must be reported as missing by the senior member of staff who is responsible
at that time for the child or young person, to:

•   Arrange a search in the area where the child went absent
•   The Police where the child went missing
•   The Police in their home area
•   The registered manager of the children’s home/senior management
•   Notify the Youth Offending Team if the child or young person is on remand

•   Notify the emergency duty team if out of hours.

The registered manager of the children’s home/senior manager will be responsible for
ensuring the general procedures in relation to a missing child are followed.

The registered manager of the children’s home/senior manager will decide within 24
hours of the absence whether the party should return.

Ongoing communications between the home and the Police local to where the absence
occurred will be maintained through the period of absence.

The Return Interview

One of the central factors in ensuring a safe and proactive return is the effectiveness of
the return interview.

Significant numbers of young people under the age of 16 are reported missing by their
carers. They return or are returned with little opportunity to explore the underlying
causes of their running.

The Social Exclusion Unit clearly identifies that runaways, particularly the most
vulnerable, should be provided with timely and sensitive interviews after running away to
identify any longer term needs (Young Runaways 2002). The return interview should
ideally be done by the professional agency or person that the child or young person has
identified with. If the child or young person is incapable of making that decision then the
person with parental responsibility will make the decision for them.

The purpose of the return interview is to:

•   Give the child or young person the chance to talk about why they ran away.

•   Assess need including risk of future running away. This assessment should take the
    form of the Common Assessment Framework.

•   Help the young person to find ways of dealing with their problems.

The assessment should consider:

•   Whether the provision of advice, information and support from the interviewing
    agency is sufficient to meet the young person’s needs.

•   Whether it is appropriate to link the child and/or family to an alternative service such
    as family support or drug and alcohol services.

•   Whether a referral to social care is required.

Child protection issues may come up in the return interview. It is important that
agencies work together within clear child protection and confidentiality
procedures and these should be endorsed by South Yorkshire LSCBs.

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