My Foster Child is Missing

When a child is placed with you, the child’s social worker should make you aware of any previous occasions when the child has gone missing or if this is something they have good reason to think they will do.

If the child has had previous incidents of going missing, the Care Plan and the Placement Plan should include strategies to minimize the likelihood of the child going missing in the future. The child’s Safe Care Plan should be updated in consultation with the Fostering Social Worker.

The care provided should minimise the risk of the child going missing, however a child/young person should be aware that they need to take some responsibility for their own safety, dependent upon their age and understanding.

You should talk to the child/young person about the risks of running away and let them know where they can get help to talk about this other than from you.

The degree of risk that they might be taking by going missing will vary dependent on things like their age understanding and awareness.

There may be a variety of reasons for the young person going missing and it is through communication that you are most likely to understand and deal with the issues that make them go. This could include peer group issues, family contact or other reasons. On the other hand, the young person might not be used to people being concerned about their whereabouts and they might not understand that you are trying to keep them safe and look after them.

If a young person has gone missing whilst with you or before, you should look out for signs or patterns of behaviour that usually happen before they go missing. This may help you talk to them to prevent them from going.

You should be aware of what measures you can take to prevent a child from leaving without permission. The use of persuasion and your relationship is the most powerful tool that you have to prevent them going and you will find that the best thing that you can achieve is for them to want to come back.

When the child is missing without your permission but you know where they are you will need to treat the situation differently to when you don’t know where they have gone. In these situations where a child is absent without permission you should act like a responsible parent and take all practical steps to establish the child’s location and to ensure that they return to their placement without delay. You should record that the child/ young person is absent without authorization from their placement and inform the social worker who will need to record on the child’s electronic file.

However a point will be reached when based on a judgement as to the child’s vulnerability and taking into account information recorded in their Care Plan the child should be regarded as missing.

If a child is missing from their placement and you do not know where the child is and they are not found within a reasonable time frame: you must contact the child’s social worker, duty worker or the Out Of Hours team and were appropriate the local police.

If a child is missing you should do all that you can to find the child including working with the Police where necessary.

You may need to give a description of the child including what they were wearing and an up to date photo, their legal status and any other information you think will help.

You should also inform your Fostering Social Worker as soon as possible.

You should record both the above incidents. You should record the circumstances in which they return, why they say they ran if they do and what actions you will put in place to try and prevent a further occurrence. This information should be shared with the responsible authority and where appropriate the child’s parents.

Where a Looked After Child has run away they should have the opportunity to talk before they return to their placement to a person who is independent of their placement about the reasons they went missing. The child should also be offered the opportunity to speak to an independent representative or Advocate.

The Police will undertake a Safe and Well check and the child’s social worker will plan for a Return Interview to take place within 72 hours of the missing episode.

The child’s social worker may call a meeting to look at why the child/young person went missing to look at ways of preventing it from happening again.

Where issues external to the placement are trigger factors in a child/young person going missing you should continue to offer them warm and consistent support when they return.


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 2015) uses the following definitions:
  • Missing Child/Young Person:

    A young runaway reported as missing to the police by his family or carers;
  • Looked after child missing from their placement:

    Where a looked after child is missing from their placement and his/her whereabouts are not known and /or the child is known or suspected to be at risk, considered to be at risk they should be reported to the police as missing and a record of this should be made;
  • Away from Placement Without Authorisation:

    Where a looked-after child's whereabouts is known or thought to be known but unconfirmed, they are not missing and may instead be considered as absent without authorisation from their placement;
  • Young Runaway:

    A child or young person under the age of 18 who has run away from their home or placement, or feels they have been forced or lured to leave.

Click here for the College of Policing definition of 'missing' and 'absent'.

The police classification of a person as ‘Missing’ will be based on on-going risk assessment.

Police will not be sent to cases where children/young people are defined as being ‘absent’. Instead the onus will be on care providers to take steps to locate the child/young person, with monitoring by the police and escalation to ‘missing’ if there is a change to the circumstances that has increased the level of risk. It is expected that all reasonable steps should be taken by care providers to locate the child/young person prior to making a report to the police. Where they remain absent, and the care provider feels that they may be at risk of harm, then a report should be made to the police.

Police will attend reports of ‘missing children/young people’.

Top Tips: missing children

Below are some top tips for foster carers. Its important to do what a “good” parent would do when a child goes missing including considering your actions to locate them:

  • Know as much information about the child/young person;
  • Have a recent photo;
  • Develop a Safe Care Plan for them;
  • Develop strategies to minimise the risks;
  • Help them to understand the dangers and risks of leaving the foster home without permission;
  • Look out for behaviours that may indicate they are planning to leave;
  • Develop a positive relationship with them;
  • Listen;
  • Show you care about them;
  • Make them aware of where they can access help if they consider running away;
  • Welcome them back;
  • Keep a record.