My Foster Child is Missing

Foster carers will be proactive with regards to providing a foster home which promotes a feeling of security that aims to minimise the likelihood of the child going 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.

The child’s Placement Plan should also take 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.

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.

The following checklist should be considered to start to think about the level of risk to the child and what action should be taken:

  1. Is this event significantly out of character?
  2. Have they done this before?
  3. Is there a time you expect them to return?
  4. Who are they with?
  5. Have you been in contact with the child?
  6. Is the child likely to be subjected to harm or a crime?
  7. Is the child a danger to themselves or others?
  8. Is the child likely to attempt suicide?
  9. Does the child have any specific medical needs?
  10. Is there a specific concern?
  11. Do you know the child's whereabouts?
  12. Do you believe them to be involved in crime?
  13. What were their intended actions when last seen?
  14. What have you done to locate the child?
  15. Is there any other significant information you are aware of?

If a child is missing and you do not know where the child is and they are not found within a reasonable time frame: one hour for under 12's and two hours for over 12's (unless stated otherwise in their Placement Plan), you must contact the child’s social worker, duty worker or the Out Of Hours team.

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 Supervising 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.

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


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.

See also, the College of Policing definition of missing and absent.

The Police classification of a person as ‘Missing’ or ‘Absent’ 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 to locate the child/young person prior to making a report to the Police. Where they remain absent, and you feel 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’.