Missing Children

1. Principles, Planning and Prevention

1.1 Principles

  • The Fostering Service must ensure that you are  fully aware of and know how to implement this Missing procedure, and know that this procedure must be implemented alongside the relevant local Runaway and Missing from Home and Care Protocol from the local Safeguarding Children Partnership and the responsible authority's policy in relation to children going missing. You will also be  made aware of the care and support you  should provide to children in your  care to help to reduce missing episodes, and of the steps you should take if children in your  care do go missing;
  • The care and support you provide to children minimises the risk that they will go missing and reduces the risk of harm should the child go missing. Children must be  helped to understand the dangers and risks of leaving the foster home without permission and be made aware of where they can access help if they consider running away;
  • Children who do go missing from their foster homes will be protected as far as possible and must be responded to positively on their return;
  • Children who go missing will experience well-coordinated responses that reduce the harm or risk of harm to them. There will be a clear plan of urgent action in place to protect them and to reduce further harm or risk of harm;
  • You should be  aware of, and know not to  exceed, the measures you can take to prevent a child leaving without permission under current legislation and Government guidance. This Missing procedure is updated accordingly as that legislation and Government guidance changes. This procedure provides links to the relevant Statutory Guidance for ease of access for you;
  • You and the Fostering Service will take appropriate action to find children who are missing, including working alongside the police where appropriate, and to protect children who are absent from the foster home without consent, but whose whereabouts are known;
  • If a child is absent from the fostering home and their whereabouts are not known (i.e. the child is missing), you should act in accordance with this Missing procedure and with the local Runaway and Missing from Home and Care (RMFHC) protocols and procedures applicable to the area where the foster home is located;
  • Where children placed out of authority go missing, the Fostering Service will  follow the local RMFHC protocol, and comply with, and make you  aware of, any other processes required by the responsible authority, specified in the individual child's care plan and in the RMFHC protocol covering the authority responsible for the child's care; 
  • Where a child goes missing and there is concern for their welfare, or at the request of a child who has been missing, the Fostering Service will arrange a meeting in private between the child and the responsible authority to consider the reasons for their going missing. The Fostering Service will  consider with the responsible authority and with you what action should be taken to prevent the child going missing in future. Any concerns arising about you as the foster carer or the placement will be addressed, as far as is possible, in conjunction with the responsible authority;
  • The Fostering Service will liaise with and challenge the responsible local authority as appropriate (for example when an independent return home interview is not offered or arranged by the local authority) and will take appropriate steps to escalate concerns;
  • Parents, if it is appropriate, are made aware of incidents when the child has been or is missing.

1.2 Definitions

There are various different terms which are used in relation to missing children:

Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing From Home or Care (January 2014) uses the following definitions:

  • Missing Child:

    A child reported as missing to the Police by their family or carers;
  • Missing from Care:

    A looked after child who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be (e.g. school) and their whereabouts are not known;
  • Away from Placement Without Authorisation:

    A looked after child whose whereabouts are known but who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the Police;
  • Young Runaway:

    A child who has run away from their home or care placement, or feels they have been forced or lured to leave.

The Police, as the lead agency for investigating and finding missing children, will respond to children and young people going Missing or being Absent based on on-going risk assessments in line with current guidance and the College of Policing definition of missing and absent. The police will prioritise all incidents of missing children as medium or high risk.

The police definitions of 'Missing' and 'Absent' are:


Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another'.



A person is not at a place where they are expected or required to be (and there is no apparent risk)'.

1.3 Planning and Prevention

All children must have a Placement Plan which takes account of any likely risk of the child going missing. The Placement Plan should incorporate measures to reduce or prevent the child becoming absent, and information that would help facilitate the location of the child should they go missing.  As part of the referral, placement and ongoing planning process, consideration must be given to the risk of the child becoming missing. If there is a risk, a plan must be drawn up to reduce or prevent it. See also Section 1.4, Specific Risks.

The care plan and the placement plan should include details of the arrangements that will need to be in place to keep the child safe and minimise the risk of the child going missing from their placement.

  • The Care Plan – should include strategies to avoid unauthorised absences and/or a child going missing. It should also include strategies to reduce the duration and risks associated if the child does have unauthorised absences/go missing;
  • The Placement Plan – should include strategies for preventing the child from taking unauthorised absences/going missing;
  • A pre-incident risk assessment should be completed for all children for whom there is concern that they may run away. Distance from home, family and friends should be considered as a risk factor;
  • The child should be provided with advice about access to an independent Advocate and the child's views taken into account;
  • Statutory reviews should consider any absences and revise strategies to prevent repeat absences and/or missing incidents and the care plan should be revised accordingly.

Where a child already has an established pattern of running away, the Care Plan should include a strategy to keep the child safe and minimising the likelihood of the child running away in the future. This should be discussed and agreed as far as possible with the child and with you.

Where there are Child Protection concerns relating to a child and/or where the child has gone missing from the placement or from any previous placement, the Placement Plan must include information agreed between the placing authority and the Fostering Service about the day-to-day arrangements put in place to keep the child safe.

You should be proactive in providing a foster home which promotes a feeling of security that aims to minimise the likelihood of the child going missing. You  will work with children to educate them about the risks of going missing, help them where possible to identify trigger points and give them other alternatives in these particular circumstances. Your competence and support needs in responding to missing from care issues should be considered as part of your regular appraisal and supervision.

You  should know when to try to prevent a child leaving the home and should do so through dialogue, but you should not try to restrain the child should they be intent on leaving, or in any other circumstances, unless it is necessary to prevent injury to the child or others, or serious damage to property.

On a day to day basis, you should be alert to signs or indications that a child may be likely to run away or become missing. If you suspect that this may happen, you should take any actions already agreed with the Supervising Social Worker and the child's social worker, or do what you reasonably and safely can to reduce or prevent the child from leaving - this includes circumstances where a child is refusing to return to the home.

If the risk increases, you should contact the Supervising Social Worker or, if out of hours, the on-call social worker for advice.

If there is a serious risk e.g. the child is behaving in a violent manner or threatening to damage property, you should contact the Police, then contact the Supervising Social Worker at the first opportunity.

1.4 Specific Risks

The planning process for each child, including the likelihood of them becoming missing, must take account of any specific risk factors for each child. These risk factors include, but are not limited to, the following:


Some looked after children may be unaccompanied asylum seeking children or other migrant children. Some children in this group may have been trafficked into the UK and may remain under the influence of their traffickers even while they are looked after. Trafficked children are at high risk of going missing, with most going missing within one week of becoming looked after and many within 48 hours. Unaccompanied migrant or asylum seeking children, who go missing immediately after becoming looked after, should be treated as children who may be victims of trafficking. Children who have been trafficked may be exploited for sexual purposes.

The location of the child should not be divulged to any enquirers until their identity and relationship with the child has been established, if necessary with the help of police and immigration services.


Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation. Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know - for example a family member, friend or professional. Groomers may be male or female. They could be any age. Many children and young people don't understand that they have been groomed, or that what has happened is abuse.

Children can be groomed for the purpose of sexual abuse as well as other forms of exploitation including involvement in criminal and extremist activity. Children who are missing are more vulnerable to being groomed and may also go missing as a result of being groomed.

Protecting Children at Risk of Radicalisation

Children and young people can suffer harm when exposed to extremist ideology.

Going missing is a risk factor in relation to radicalisation:

  • A child may go missing because they have already been radicalised;
  • A child's risk of being radicalised might increase because they are missing and are spending time with people who may seek to involve them in radical/extreme activities. The risk is heightened whilst they are missing, because the protective factors of family or care are not available to them.

Children at Risk of Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

A common feature of CSE is that the child or young person does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation.

Going missing is a significant risk factor in relation to sexual exploitation:

  • A child may go missing because they are being sexually exploited;
  • A child's risk of being sexually exploited might increase because they are missing and are spending time with people who may seek to involve them in sexual exploitation. The risk is heightened whilst they are missing because the protective factors of family or care are not available to them.

Children at Risk of being Drawn into Offending Behaviour

Children and young people who go missing from care also need safeguarding against the risk of being drawn into offending behaviour by gangs or criminal groups.

2. Action to be Taken if a Child is Missing

2.1 In All Cases

If a child is missing, you must contact the Supervising Social Worker or the fostering manager, unless there is an immediate serious risk to the child or others, in which case, you should contact the Police first. If the incident occurs out of normal office hours the On-Call/Out Of Hours Duty Social Worker/Manager must be contacted.

The Supervising Social Worker/Duty Social Worker or fostering manager will come to a decision about the actions that should be taken.

The social worker should decide whether to notify the parent(s) and, if so, who should do so.

When a child does go missing this is described in the Fostering Regulations as a 'Notifiable Event' and by law this requires the Fostering Service to monitor and review all incidents of this nature. It is therefore a requirement that you inform the Supervising Social Worker in the event that the child in their care leaves without permission. See Significant Events and Notifications – When I need to tell other people about things Procedure.

At no time should you pass any information to the press. All information should only be shared between the local authority, Police and the fostering manager.

2.2. Police Risk Assessment

The police classification of a person as 'Missing' or 'Absent' will be based on on-going risk assessment. A child whose whereabouts are known would not be treated as either 'Missing' or 'Absent' under the police definitions.

It is important to note that foster carers or others reporting a child missing to the police should not make the judgement themselves as to whether a child is missing or absent – this decision will be made by the police on the basis of the information provided. A child who is Absent may be at risk for example of child sexual or criminal exploitation, involvement in drugs, gangs, criminal activity, trafficking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation or radicalisation, and Police Risk Assessments should take account of those situations and may need to change the category to Missing.

Where a child is recorded by police as being absent, the details will be recorded by the police, who will also agree review times and any on-going actions with you  or another person reporting the absence. All persons recorded by police as Absent are monitored on the police system. Monitoring is ongoing and subject to regular reviews to ensure risk levels do not change. Where information comes to light which introduces any risk to that person, then the case may be re-categorised as 'Missing' and a police investigation started.

One of the overriding principles of 'Absent' is that police are able to focus resources more effectively, in accordance with the police risk assessments of 'Absent' and 'Missing' incidents. A child who is Absent may still be at risk for example of child sexual or criminal exploitation, involvement in drugs, gangs, criminal activity, trafficking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation or radicalisation, and the Police risk assessment should reflect this.

The police will prioritise all incidents of Missing children as medium or high risk.

A Missing child incident would be prioritised as 'high risk' where:

  • The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the child is in danger through their own vulnerability; or
  • The child may have been the victim of a serious crime; or
  • The risk posed is immediate and there are substantial grounds for believing that the public is in danger.

The high risk category requires the immediate deployment of police resources. Police guidance makes clear that a member of the senior management team or similar command level must be involved in the examination of initial enquiry lines and approval of appropriate staffing levels. Such cases should lead to the appointment of an Investigating Officer and possibly a Senior Investigating Officer and a Police Search Advisor. There should be a media strategy and/or close contact with outside agencies. Family support should be put in place. The UK Missing Persons Bureau should be notified of the case immediately and local authority children's services should also be notified.

A Missing child incident would be prioritised as 'medium risk' where the risk posed is likely to place the subject in danger or they are a threat to themselves or others. This category requires an active and measured response by police and other agencies in order to trace the missing person and support the person reporting. This will involve a proactive investigation and search in accordance with the circumstances to locate the missing child as soon as possible.

Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provides police with powers to enter and search a premises such as for the purposes of saving life and limb or to arrest  a person who has committed an offence.

The police can use the powers under Section 46(1) of the Children Act 1989 to remove a child into police protection, for up to 72 hours, if they are likely to suffer significant harm. Early and effective sharing of information between professionals and local agencies is essential for the identification of patterns of risky behaviour. This may be used to identify areas of concern for an individual child, or to identify 'hotspots' of activity in a local area.

2.3. Actions when the Whereabouts of a Child are Not Known

Whenever the whereabouts of a child are not known, preliminary checks should be carried out to see if the child can be located. For example, if a child was supposed to have returned home from school but has not arrived within the normal journey time, checks could include finding out if there are transport delays, phone calls to the child, phone calls to the school to see if the child has been delayed etc. If these initial checks do not succeed in locating the child or there are still concerns that, despite contact being made with the child they are at risk, the individuals and agencies listed below should be informed.

It is clearly important that a deadline is set at the outset of these initial checks so that they don't continue beyond a reasonable timeframe. What timeframe is reasonable should be based on an assessment of the risks relating to the individual child. In some cases, there might be particular reasons to be worried for the child's safety immediately and the  agencies detailed below should be contacted straight away – this in conjunction with on-going attempts to contact the child and find out why they aren't where they are supposed to be.

The individuals and agencies who should be contacted by the Fostering Service when a child is missing or they are away from placement without authorisation:

  • The local police;
  • The authority responsible for the child's placement – if they have not already been notified prior to the police being informed; and 
  • The parents and any other person with parental responsibility, unless it is not reasonably practicable or to do so, or would be inconsistent with the child's welfare;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO).

As a minimum requirement, all reports should include the following information: 

  • The child's name/s; date of birth; status; responsible authority;
  • Where and when they went missing;
  • Who, if anyone, they went missing with;
  • What was the child wearing plus any belongings such as bags, phone etc.;
  • Description and recent photo;
  • Medical history, if relevant;
  • Time and location last seen;
  • Circumstances or events around going missing;
  • Details of family, friends and associates;
  • Updated risk assessment.

You should take all reasonable steps, which a good parent would take, to secure the safe and speedy return of the child based on your own knowledge of the child and the information in the child's placement plan. If there is suspected risk of harm to the child you should liaise immediately with the police.

Following initial discussions between the allocated children's social care worker and the police, they should agree an immediate strategy for locating the child and an action plan. This to include a range of actions to locate and ensure the safe return of the child, including:

  • Arrangements for attempts to be made to contact the child on a daily basis by, for example, calling their mobile phone or the phones of friends or relatives that they may be with;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) should also try and contact the child;
  • Visiting their parents' address/es and of any friends or relatives with whom they may be staying;
  • Police should consider requesting a trace on the child's mobile phone and/or Oyster card.

Within 3 days, a missing from care meeting/ telephone discussion between relevant parties should take place and include the police, the child's social worker and the provider. The action plan and risk assessment should be reviewed and updated.

  • Missing from care meetings/discussions should be held at least monthly to update the action plan and share information;
  • Any publicity will be led by the Police, the use of harbouring notices etc. will be agreed at the missing from care meeting. Recovery Orders may be used;
  • During the investigation to find the missing/run away child, regular liaison and communication should take place between the police, the responsible local authority children's social care services and the host authority (if an out of area placement) and any other agencies involved;
  • The authority responsible for the child should ensure that plans are in place to respond promptly once the child is found and for determining if the placement remains appropriate.

2.4 Once the Child Returns Home

You should take the following steps when a child returns after such an event:

  • Assess the child's immediate needs i.e. offer something to eat, does the child need a shower/bath and a clean change of clothes? Is there any need for medical treatment?
  • Explain to the child that you do not want them to go missing but they will be welcomed back to the household;
  • Try to gain an insight into the young person's absence and what can be done to minimise its recurrence, although the point at which the child returns may or may not be the best time to try to discuss the reasons why the child has gone missing;
  • Inform all relevant professionals i.e. Police (unless they returned the child), fostering manager, the child's social worker and the independent reviewing officer that the child has returned.

The Fostering Service will make arrangements for Safe and Well checks and Independent Return Review interviews:

Safe and Well Checks

Safe and well checks are carried out by the police as soon as possible after the child has returned. Their purpose is to check for any indications that the child has suffered harm, where and with whom they have been, and to give them an opportunity to disclose any offending by or against them.

Where a child goes missing frequently, it may not be practical for the police to see them every time they return. In these cases a reasonable decision should be taken in agreement between the police and you as the foster carer with regard to the frequency of such checks bearing in mind the established link between frequent missing episodes and serious harm, which could include gang involvement, forced marriage, maltreatment or abuse, bullying or sexual exploitation. The assessment of whether a child might run away again should be based on information about:

  • Their individual circumstances;
  • Family circumstances and background history;
  • Their motivation for running away;
  • Their potential destinations and associates;
  • Their recent pattern of absences;
  • The circumstances in which the child was found or returned; and
  • Their individual characteristics and risk factors such as whether a child has learning difficulties, mental health issues, depression and other vulnerabilities.

Independent Return Review

The independent return review is an in-depth interview and should be carried out by an independent professional (e.g. a social worker, teacher, health professional or police officer, not involved in caring for the child and who is trained to carry out these interviews and is able). The child should be seen on their own unless they specifically request to have someone with them. The child should be offered the option of speaking to an independent representative or advocate.  The IRO should be informed.

The responsible local authority should ensure the return review interview takes place. It should be offered and provided within 72 hours of the child being located or returning from absence, it should preferably take place in a neutral place where they feel safe.

The interview and actions that follow from it should:

  • Identify and deal with any harm the child has suffered – including harm that might not have already been disclosed as part of the 'Safe and Well check'– either before they ran away or whilst missing;
  • Understand and try to address the reasons why the child ran away;
  • Help the child feel 'safe'/understand that they have options, to prevent repeat instances of them running away;
  • Understand what the child would like to see happen next whether short term and/or long term;
  • Gather your views of the circumstances, if appropriate;
  • Provide the child with information on how to stay safe if they choose to run away again, including helpline numbers.

It is especially important that the independent Return Review interview takes place when a child:

  • Has been reported missing on two or more occasions;
  • Is frequently absent without authorisation;
  • Has been hurt or harmed while they have been missing;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of sexual exploitation or trafficking;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of involvement in criminal activity or drugs;
  • Has contact with persons posing risk to children; and/or
  • Has been engaged (or is believed to have engaged) in criminal activities during their absence.

Follow up

The local authority children's social care services, police, Fostering Service and other agencies involved with the child should work together to assess the child and:

  • To build up a comprehensive picture of why the child went missing;
  • What happened while they were missing;
  • Who they were missing with and where they were found; and,
  • What support they require upon returning home;
  • Whether a statutory review of the care plan is required.

Where children refuse to engage with the interviewer, you should be offered the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence they may be aware of. This should help to prevent further instances of the child running away and identify early the support needed for them.

Repeat Running Away

If a child continually runs away actions following earlier incidents need reviewing and alternative strategies should be considered.

To reduce repeat running away and improve the longer-term safety of children and young people, the agencies involved may want to provide:

  • Better access and timely independent return interviews, particularly for the most vulnerable;
  • Safety planning with the child for their missing;
  • Better access to support whilst a young person is away, which may come from the voluntary sector.

There may be local organisations in the area that can provide repeat runaways with an opportunity to talk about their reasons for running away, and can link runaways with longer-term help if appropriate.