RUNNING AWAY FROM CARE AND HOME
RUNNING AWAY FROM CARE AND HOME
SOUTH YORKSHIRE RUNAWAYS JOINT PROTOCOL RUNNING AWAY FROM CARE AND HOME April 2008 1
FOREWORD 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 occasion.
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. 2
This protocol has been agreed by: Name/Agency Signed Date Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes South Yorkshire Police 20.2.08 Alan Jones Chair Sheffield LSCB 1.4.08 Alan Jones Chair Barnsley LSCB 1.4.08 Judith Dodd Chair Rotherham LSCB 30.1.08 Judith Dodd Chair Doncaster LSCB 30.1.08 Dan Dean Chair Safe@Last Board of Trustees 2.3.08 Please note – signatures have been removed for security purposes A signed master copy is held by Joyce Thacker, Chair of the South Yorkshire Runways Action Partnership, Rotherham MBC, Children and Young People’s Services Acknowledgements 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. www.safeinthecity.org.uk 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. 3
Contents Page Page 1.
Introduction ... ...
The Purpose of the Protocol
Local Safeguarding Children Boards
Training 5-10 2. Definitions ... .
The Designated Named Manager for Young Runaways 11-12 3. Principles . 13 4. Multi Agency Working . 14 5. Roles of Specific Agencies ... ...
Flowchart for ALL agencies and for ALL children and young people
ALL Agencies and Voluntary Organisations
Children and Young People’s Services
Local Authority Children’s Social Care Services
Longer Term Absences
Children and Young People Running Away from Care
The Return Interview 15-32 6.
Bibliography . 33 7. Glossary of Terms ... 34 8. Useful Resources and Contacts . 35-36 9. Appendices . .
A – Risk Assessment B – Missing Person Protocol C – Social Exclusion Unit: Services for Runaways – An Action Plan D – Complaints Procedures 37-54 4
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:
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 person.
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 procedures.
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 Yorkshire
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. 6
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
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
Deterioration of physical and mental health
Missing out on education
Forced marriages Longer-term risks include:
Long-term drug dependency
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 7
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 information:
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 unless:
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 individual.
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. 9
Training 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 care”.
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. Missing 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 issues.
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 procedures.
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 parenting".
Monitoring policies and performance relating to children missing from home. 11
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. 12
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 2004).
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 available.
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 (2007).
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 Identify child/young person is missing Police follow own Protocol No Further Action Own/other Agency Service Provision Undertake agency specific/Common Assessment Framework including contact with other agencies and Child Protection List check Contact Police Refer to other agencies as appropriate Please remember the sharing of information is CRUCIAL to ensure the safeguarding of children and young people. 15
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 public. 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 nonattendance 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 others.
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. 16
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 possible.
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. 17
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 follow.
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 Health staff should follow the procedures on page 16 for “All agencies and voluntary organisations”.
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. 18
Housing Housing staff should follow the procedures on page 16 for “All agencies and voluntary organisations”. 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 should:
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.
Police 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 community.
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 to suggest that the person is likely to selfharm or attempt suicide?
What are the indications?
Any notes left (obtain for Police)
Any previous attempts, what were they, when did they occur and where? 2. Is the person suspected to be subject to a crime in progress, e.g.
Full details of abduction are required - vehicles, suspects
Names and address of witnesses 3.
Is the person vulnerable due to age, infirmity or any other factor?
Age of the person
Other vulnerability 4. Are there inclement weather conditions that would seriously increase risk to health, especially where the missing person is a child?
What clothing is the person wearing?
Are they likely to seek shelter? 5. Does the child need essential medication/treatment not readily available to them?
What is the medication, what is the dose, how regularly is it taken, when was the last time the medication was taken?
Possible effects on the person if the medication is not taken 6. Does the child have any physical illness, disability or mental health problems?
Full details of any health issues
G.P name address and telephone number 20
FACTOR YES NO DETAILS 7. Do you believe that the person may not have the ability to interact safely with others or in an unknown environment?
Full details required
Learning difficulties - to what extent
English not preferred language 8.
Has the person been involved in a confrontation immediately prior to disappearance? Or subject to bullying?
Full details including names and addresses of witnesses
Check with friends/school 9. Brief details of state of mind/demeanour when last seen N/a N/a Record details 10. Previously disappeared AND suffered or was exposed to harm? Subject to child protection plan?
What harm occurred?
Any person(s) that may have caused harm/exposed the person to harm.
Are they still in contact with that person - if so should the contact be happening/is it supervised/what are the arrangements?
11. Is the behaviour out of character and likely to be an indicator of their being exposed to harm?
Have they been missing before?
Are they often late home?
Any after school activity/school friend they may be visiting?
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 public.
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 category.
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. Media 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 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 appropriate.
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. 23
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 conference. 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 procedures. 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 “missing”. 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 service.
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. Missing 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 document.
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 returns. 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. 27
Managers and parents or those with parental responsibility should be informed as appropriate.
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 authority. 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. 28