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Introduction

This Guidance identifies the procedures to be followed when a child is reported missing or absent from home or a care placement.  It seeks to lay out responsibilities and expectations for both police and other agencies. A flowchart outlining the process is contained in the appendices. Going missing and being absent should be recognised as a wider safeguarding issue; as a symptom of other problems or issues.  Missing is one of the key indicators of child sexual exploitation.


Definitions

Child: A young person under the age of 18 years.
Looked after: A child is looked after if s/he is ‘in care’ by reason of a court order, or if s/he is provided with accommodation for more than 24 hours by agreement with his/her parents, or with the child if s/he is aged 16 or more.
Accommodated: A child is accommodated if the Minister looks after him/her with the voluntary agreement of his/her parents, or with the child if s/he is over 16 years of age.
Missing: Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character, or the context suggests the person may be the subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another.
Absent: A person not at the place where they are expected or required to be
Absconded: When a child has gone missing who is subject to legal orders such as secure orders. Police must be made aware of the order under which the child has been placed in the residence and the expiry date of the order for the child.  An absconder would normally be treated as ‘missing’.
CAMHS: Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service.


Children’s Service Responsibility

Care Plan

The care planning process should consider all potential risks to a child, including an assessment of the potential for them to go missing. Missing episodes prior to the child becoming ‘looked after’ need to be taken into account during this assessment.  It may be appropriate for Children’s Service to share relevant information with the Police at this stage.

Individual Risk Assessment

Individual risk assessments are an essential part of the care plan and will enable staff/carers to be clear what the risks are for the particular child and/or the risk they pose to the public. An evaluation of the whether the child is likely to run away should be based on information about their:

  • Individual circumstances, including family circumstances;
  • Motivation for running;
  • Possible destination; and
  • Recent pattern of absences.

If the child has gone missing from foster care and a risk assessment has not been completed in advance, the foster carer must contact the child’s social worker/duty social worker or Emergency Duty Team (if out of hours), who will assist with completion of the risk assessment and advise on reporting the child to police.

Determine whether the child is ‘absent’ or ‘missing’

It is important that parents and carers make an initial assessment of whether the child is ‘missing’ or ‘absent’.

Missing is “anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character, or the context suggests the person may be the subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another”.

The child should be considered missing where the child’s location or reason for absence is unknown and/or there is cause for concern for the child because of their vulnerability or there is potential danger to the child or to the public.

Each case must be decided on merit and a formal missing person report to the Police may be actioned earlier in some circumstances than others.

If, however, the child is not where they are expected to be but does not meet the criteria for ‘missing’, they may be considered as ‘absent’. Absent is defined as “A person not at the place where they are expected or required to be”. This could, for example, be where a child has stormed out after an argument or has failed to return at the agreed time.

In determining the type of absence, reference should be made to the parent or carer’s knowledge of the child and patterns of behaviour and the child’s individual risk assessment and care plan if applicable. The fact that the child may have gone missing on a number of previous occasions does not reduce the risk and a decision must be reached on a case by case basis.

Report to the Police

All incidents, whether ‘absent’ or ‘missing’, should be reported to the Police, but the responsibility for managing an absence lies with the parents, staff of the care home or foster carer. There is an expectation that parents, staff or foster carers will make reasonable enquiries to locate the absent child and encourage them to return to where they should be.

The rationale for reporting the child as absent, rather than missing, must be recorded in writing and the incident reviewed regularly in light of any enquiries made or information received. The Police must be informed of any developments.


Police Response

Initial Recording

Police will record the incident on the Viewpoint System and create a log. The following information will be required:

  • Personal details of the child;
  • Description of the child and their clothing;
  • Details of when the child was last seen;
  • Any previous history of absconding/absenteeism and circumstances of where found;
  • Any factors which increase the risk to the child.

The log will be classified as ‘absent’ or ‘missing’ according to information received from the informant and an Initial Risk Assessment will be conducted to identify an appropriate grade of response. See Appendix 2: Initial Risk Assessment for a list of questions that will be asked by Police at this stage.

All incidents (absent and missing) will be referred to a Uniform Supervisor.

Child Reported Absent

The Supervisor (usually a Sergeant or Inspector) will review the log together with any other known information about the child (e.g. previous absences or incidents of missing). The Supervisor may contact the informant and discuss the case to establish whether there are any other risk factors which may affect the initial assessment. If it is agreed that this incident will be treated as an absence, there is an expectation that parents, residential staff and foster carers should continue to make reasonable enquiries to locate the child. It may be appropriate for the Police to initiate some enquiries, but this will not be treated as a formal missing person enquiry, nor recorded as such. A written record should be kept of the rationale for the decision to treat the incident as an absence and of any enquiries made.

Parents, residential staff and foster carers will continue to regularly review the circumstances in the light of any enquiries made or information received, and inform the Police of any developments. Appropriate review period(s) will be agreed between the Police, parents and residential staff/foster carers. The Police will detail this on the log, which will be used to record all subsequent reviews and discussions with parents and carers.

The person(s) responsible for the child will continue to make reasonable enquiries and attempts to locate and return the child to the home, care home/foster placement. This may include contacting by mobile phone, searches of the immediate area, visiting locations known to be frequented and making enquiries with family and/or associates.

If enquiries are successful and the child is located, the Police must be informed immediately. Every effort should be made to have the absent child return to the place of residence without Police involvement, unless there are safety issues.

If the child has not been located after the agreed review period, a further discussion will take place between the Police supervisor and the informant to assess any additional information and agree the next course of action. This could, in some circumstances, lead to a further review period (where, for example, the child has been in contact and is known to be safe and well but has not yet returned to their place of residence). If the child has not been located after 6 hours and is not known to be safe and well the child will be reported and recorded as a missing person.

Child Reported as Missing

A child will be reported as missing if the initial or any subsequent risk assessment dictates that they fit the criteria, or a child originally reported as absent has not been located at the end of the agreed review period(s). Carers must without delay inform:

  • The Police;
  • The parents and those who have parental responsibility;
  • The social worker or accountable team manager;
  • If out of hours, the Emergency Duty Service (and the social worker and accountable team manager the next day).

A Police officer will attend the home address or care placement and take full details of the missing child and the circumstances of the incident. Further information may be required, if not already recorded by Police, including:

  • Next of kin details;
  • Family addresses;
  • Known associates and addresses frequented;
  • Name and addresses of the child’s GP and dentist.

A further, more detailed, risk assessment will take place

The officer will undertake a number of initial enquiries. This will include a search of the child’s room and other areas of the house and grounds. The purpose of the search is to establish whether the child is hiding, but also to gather other information that may provide an insight into why the child has gone missing or where they may be. The officer may wish to speak to other residents and will require a photograph of the child, unless a recent one is already held in Viewpoint.

A record of the incident will be created in Viewpoint, and the information gathered will be used to make an assessment of the level or risk posed to (or by) the missing child. The grade of assessment will inform the level of Police response to the investigation.

Risk Level Definition Operational response
Low risk No apparent threat of danger to either the subject or the public.
  • Search the location from where the child was reported missing;
  • Limited enquiries such as checks to see if the person is in Police custody, or in hospital.
Medium risk The risk posed is likely to place the subject in danger or they are a threat to themselves or others.
  • A wider range of enquiries will be considered which may include searching other locations, house to house enquiries, CCTV, enquiries with other known associates, advice from Police search advisors etc.
High risk The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the subject is in danger through their own vulnerability or mental state, or may have been  the victim of a serious crime; or there are substantial grounds for believing that the public is in danger.
  • All of the above enquiries will be considered and conducted urgently. Consideration will also be given to deploying additional Police resources (search teams, search dogs,), checks on mobile phones, computers etc.

The Police officer will advise the reporting party of the risk level and provide contact details.

A report to the Police does not absolve the parents or care placement from any further need for making enquiries, but it is important to liaise with the Police over areas of responsibility. Any relevant information should be reported to the Police immediately, including any contact made by or with the missing child.

Forensic Samples

In some incidents of missing it will be necessary for the Police to collect forensic samples to comply with national guidance and assist in the search for the child. A Scenes of Crime Officer may attend the address and collect a suitable personal item in order to obtain a DNA sample. Every effort will be made to return the item when the child is located.

Informing the Media

The Police have a responsibility for advising the media regarding children missing from home but decisions will be based on a number of factors, including the level of risk, relevant information and the time the child has been absent. Decisions to publicise will always be made in consultation with the carers, Children’s Service and the parents where relevant.

Responsibilities for the Investigation

A Police officer or officers will be assigned to make initial enquiries at the direction of a Uniform Sergeant or Inspector. The Duty Inspector retains ownership and management of the enquiry, and the progress of the investigation will be reviewed at least every 24 hours during the child’s absence. If the child remains missing for more than 48 hours, or information is received that increases the risk level, a Detective Inspector will become involved in reviewing and setting direction for the case.

The Police will also have a Missing Person Co-ordinator (MASH Detective Sergeant) who will have responsibilities in relation to the investigation, particularly if the child is frequently absent or missing, or there is particular cause for concern. The Missing Person Co-ordinator will regularly review all incidents to ensure relevant referrals are being made to MASH and effective safeguarding practices implemented, including the instigation of Multi-Agency Strategy Meetings where required.

Police Powers

Police powers are limited and difficulties can arise when missing children are found but do not want to return to their placement.

Where there is a reasonable cause to believe a child under 16 could suffer significant harm, the Police can take the child into Police Protection under the Children (Jersey) Law 2002. The child can be removed to suitable accommodation, which could include the home from which the child originally went missing. The social worker or if out of hours the emergency duty social worker will make the assessment as to suitable accommodation and place the child.

There may be occasions when a child is found in a location that may be considered unsuitable but where there would not be legal grounds for taking them into Police protection. Liaison will be required between the Police and parents, carers or Children’s Service to identify steps that need to be taken to safeguard the child’s welfare. This may involve consideration of any possible offences being committed.

Any child unlawfully at large from a secure unit may be liable to be detained.


Longer Absences

A meeting will be called to develop a strategy whenever a child is missing for a period longer than 48 hours, based on the assessment and the child’s individual circumstances. The meeting will involve:

  • The accountable manager from Children’s Service;
  • The DI PPU;
  • The registered manager of the children’s home or fostering service;
  • Parents/carers.

If this time period expires on a weekend or bank holiday then on-call personnel should be involved.

All parties will review the action taken up to this point and satisfying themselves that all possible steps are being taken to locate and return the child. A plan for the return of the child should be identified so that all parties are clear what steps are to be taken when the child is located.


Child Returned

Once the child has returned the Police will carry out a return interview to establish that the child is safe and well, to identify information that could be relevant should the child be reported missing again, and to establish whether the child has been involved in, or the victim of, criminal activity whilst missing. This is carried out as soon as possible after the child returns.

It may be appropriate that the child be given the opportunity for a more in-depth interview with someone independent of their family; this will be arranged by the CSE operational Group which will decide on which agency or person is the most appropriate to carry out the return interview or their placement at a later time. This will take place as soon as practicable.

Any interested party informed of the child’s absence should be advised of the child’s return without delay.


Preventative Measures

Frequent absences or incidents of going missing, or indicators of particular risk, such as contact with a person who poses a risk to the child, should be addressed via a multi-agency meeting. The meeting should be attended by:

  • The Police Missing Person Co-ordinator;
  • A representative of Children’s Service (of sufficient seniority to be able to take authoritative decisions about the steps needed to protect the child);
  • The registered manager of the children’s home or the manager of the fostering service if the child is looked after;
  • The child’s social worker;
  • The parent/carer if appropriate;
  • Other relevant agencies as appropriate e.g. representatives from Youth Service, YES Project, NSPCC, CAMHS.

Information Sharing

It is essential that Police and Social Services share information about children who go missing from home or care.

If a child placed in care is identified as being at risk of going missing then it may be appropriate to share information with the Police immediately by contacting the Missing Person Co-ordinator.

During a period of absence or an incident of missing, it will be agreed how often the person reporting will be contacted by Police to keep them informed of developments. The person reporting will also inform the Police immediately if any relevant information is received that either affects the risk posed by or to the child, or which could result in the child being located and returned.

When a child is recorded as missing an automated reminder will be sent to the officer to submit a Child Protection Notification which will be forwarded by the Missing Person Co-ordinator to the MASH. This will include personal information about the child and brief circumstances of how and when they went missing. If the child is a looked after child then it will be the responsibility of the MASH to inform the Independent Safeguarding Service (ISS) of the missing episode.

In addition, the States of Jersey Police will supply a statistical report every quarter to the Safeguarding Partnership Board identifying the number of children who have gone absent/missing from home or care and the number of incidents reported. Data will be categorised by age, gender, where they were absent/missing from and locations where found This information can also be used to identify themes or areas of concern. Underpinning detail can be provided on request.


Appendices

Appendix 1: Missing From Home or Care Process Flowchart

Click here to view Missing From Home or Care Process Flowchart

Appendix 2: Initial Risk Assessment

Absent or Missing

1. What is the specific concern in this instance?
2. What has been done so far to trace this individual?
3. Is this significantly out of character?
4. Are there any specific medical needs?
5. Are they likely to be subjected to crime?
6. Are they likely to be the victim of abuse?
7. Are they believed to be at risk of Sexual Exploitation?
8. Are they likely to attempt suicide?
9. Do they pose a danger to other people?
10 Is there any other information relevant to their absence?

This risk assessment is used to inform the level of response to a report of absent or missing.

Call-back after delay:

  • Is there any new information?
  • Have they been seen by anyone?
  • Have they made contact?
  • Is this behaviour now significantly out of character?

Appendix 3: Return Interview Flow Chart

Click here to view Return Interview Flow Chart.



Amendments to this Chapter

This chapter was updated in June 2015, including when the child has returned it may be appropriate that they are given the opportunity for a more in-depth interview with someone independent of their family arranged by the CSE operational Group which will decide on which agency or person is the most appropriate to carry out the return interview or their placement at a later time. This will take place as soon as practicable.

End.