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1.2 Missing Children

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This policy should be read in conjunction with the following:


Health staff should also refer to the NHS East Midland Missing Children and families Alert System (May 2011). This is the process to locate children who have disappeared from view following an undisclosed change of address and for whom there may be concerns about child welfare in respect of unmet need, vulnerability or abuse.


This chapter was updated in October 2014, when a link to Statutory Guidance on Children Missing Education was added (see above).


1. Definitions

Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2013)used by the Police uses the following definitions:

  • Missing:

    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’; and
  • Absent:

    ‘A person is not at a place where they are expected or required to be’.

Please Note - Thames Valley Policy will not categorise the following as absent –they will always be subject of a missing person investigation:

  • All children 14 and under;
  • All registered sex offenders;
  • All children 15 and over who have a CSE warning marker, CSE intelligence or are named in a child abduction warning notice.

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

  • Child:

    For the purposes of this document a child is anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday. ‘Children’ therefore means ‘children and young people’ throughout the Guidance and this chapter.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Responsible local authority:

    The local authority that is responsible for a Looked After child’s care and care planning.
  • Host local authority:

    The local authority in which a Looked After child is placed when placed out of the responsible local authority’s area.

The police classification of a person as ‘Missing’ or ‘Absent’ will be based on on-going risk assessment; Absent within the police definition would not include those defined as Away from Placement Without Authorisation above: a child whose whereabouts are known would not be treated as either ‘Missing’ or ‘Absent’ under the police definitions.

2. Did You Know?

In Milton Keynes around 400 children and young people go missing each year – of these some go missing repeatedly. There are around 650 incidents of missing children and young people per year in Milton Keynes.

Females are more likely to run away than males.

The peak age range for running away is 14- to 15-years old.

Certain young people are more likely to runaway including those who define themselves as being gay, lesbian, disabled or having a learning disability as well as those living in stepfamilies and lone parent families.

There are strong links between running away and problems in other areas of young people’s lives – such as school, drug and alcohol use, child sexual exploitation and offending.

Research shows that a quarter of young runaways felt that they were forced to leave home. One in six young runaways slept rough on the most recent occasion they were away. Half stayed with friends.

One in eight runaways said that they had to resort to survival strategies such as stealing and begging whilst away from home.

Around one in 12 of runaways said that they had been hurt or harmed on the most recent occasion that they ran away.

Over two-thirds of runaways said that their parents or carers did not report them missing to the Police on the most recent occasion that they were away. A further 13% were not sure, and only a fifth (19%) said that they had been reported [1].

[1] All statistics were taken from Still Running II: findings from the second national survey of young runaways, The Children's Society 2005

3. Remember

There is a distinction between young people who runaway and those who are forced to leave by their parents or carers.

Children and young people who are forced to leave will often not be reported missing.

If a child is taken overseas it may be appropriate to contact the Consular Directorate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which offers assistance to British nationals in distress (Tel: 020 7008 1500).

4. Circumstances for Implementation of Procedure

This procedure applies if any child goes missing or cannot be traced and they are:

  • Looked After by the local authority (including placed with Foster Carers);
  • Missing from home or have run away and there is cause for concern;
  • Missing from a private fostering arrangement;
  • Missing from a residential school.

5. Professionals should Inform

  • The Thames Valley Police Enquiry Centre on 101;
  • The Social Worker for the child (or duty officer out of hours) if a child is actively open to social care, and specifically if: 
    • A child subject of a child protection referral or a Section 47 Enquiry;
    • A child with a Child Protection Plan goes missing or is removed from her/his address outside the terms of the Child Protection Plan;
    • A Child in Care who leaves or is removed from his or her placement, without this being part of the Care Plan;
    • A child about whom there are concerns e.g. one who is subject to a Child and Family Single Assessment;
    • A child where there are developing concerns about their safety.

6. Children's Social Care must then Inform

  • The designated safeguarding manager (01908 254307) if the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer if the child Looked After;
  • Any individuals known to hold Parental Responsibility for the child (not if Honour Based Violence is known or suspected);
  • All other local agencies who know the child.

Existing records in these agencies must be checked to obtain any information which might help trace the missing child, e.g. details of friends and relatives, and this information should be passed to the police officer undertaking the missing person enquiry.

The Designated Nurse Safeguarding (01908 278675) must be notified about a missing child, family or a pregnant woman. S/he will co-ordinate the circulation of appropriate local or national notifications.

Schools should refer to the Children Missing Education (MK Council) Guidance and refer the case to the Education Welfare Service (01908 657800).

The social worker should discuss with her/his manager whether to notify members of the extended family and if so, how.

7. Strategy Meeting

If the child has not been traced within 5 working days a Strategy Meeting should be convened.

Members of the meeting will need to consider whether to circulate details of the missing child to other local authorities and other agencies in the area.

Consideration should be given to national notification of authorities and agencies including social security, the benefits agency and child benefit agency.

A senior member of Children's Social Care should seek assistance from the Department for Work and Pensions/Inland Revenue if the police have not already contacted them.

If there is any suspicion that the child may be removed from UK jurisdiction, appropriate legal interventions should be considered and legal services consulted about options.

It should also be agreed by all agencies at this stage what action will be taken when the child is found. Actions set should be relevant to the individual case.

If the Strategy Meeting agrees details of the child/family are to be circulated to other local authorities, the Lead Social Worker should draft a short letter giving details of:

  • The children in the family;
  • Other family members or significant adults;
  • (Where relevant) the category of Significant Harm leading to the Child Protection Plan;
  • The circumstances causing concern;
  • Action required if a child is found;
  • Contact arrangements for the Lead Social Worker/social worker - including out of office hours;
  • Physical descriptions of key people (and photographs, if available).

The letter should be sent to the designated safeguarding manager (01908 254300) who in turn must:

  • Inform her/his director and the council's press office;
  • Distribute it to her/his peers nationally with the request that they circulate the information to relevant parts of Children's Social Care and other local agencies.

8. When a Child is Found

Within 24 hours of the child’s return, the police will inform all relevant agencies of the child’s return and undertake a “safe and well” check. This will ensure as far as possible that it is safe to return to the home or care institution or placement that they have been absent from, and explore steps to minimize the likelihood of the child going missing again.

If the child is not known to Children's Services but has been missing 3 or more times within a 90 day period, Children's Services will undertake a Child and Family Single Assessment of the child's individual and family circumstances.

A joint interview by the Police and Children's Social Care will be arranged if there are already concerns in existence relating to either:

  • The missing individual, the circumstances under which they went missing, their activity whilst missing or potential exposure to danger/risk whilst missing; or
  • The care establishment that the child or young person has been absent from; or
  • Their home circumstances.

Looked After Children

An Independent Return Interview should be offered whenever a missing Looked After child is found. The person conducting the interview should usually be independent of the child’s placement and of the responsible local authority. Where possible, the child should be given the opportunity to talk before they return to their placement.

Barnardos is currently piloting this service in Milton Keynes. This interview should provide a safe opportunity for the child to discuss any concerns regarding her/his care including if s/he chose to run away from an abusive situation. It must take place without parents, foster carers or residential staff either present or in close proximity.

If the child indicates a wish to be interviewed by an alternative professional, all reasonable efforts must be made to accommodate her/his wishes.

If the child has been found outside of the local authority and is not likely to return, representatives of the 'receiving' authority must be involved in this strategy discussion and the transfer of the case must be discussed.

9. Decision-making for All Cases

If the child is Looked After, the Independent Reviewing Officer would need to decide if an early Looked After Review is required. If the child is subject of a Child Protection Plan, the designated safeguarding manager must decide and record whether to bring forward the next review conference.

The social worker and team manager must give explicit consideration to any need for legal action, and record the reasons for their decision.

10. Child Indicated by Other Local Authorities to be Missing

Each designated safeguarding manager must ensure that duty systems incorporate a method for keeping and referring to the notifications of children and/or families who are missing.

If, after two years there is no communication from the authority where the child and/or family went missing, the child and/or family's details may be removed from the list.

11. Children Missing Education

As a result of daily registration schools are particularly well placed to notice when a child has gone missing. If the missing child is subject to a Child Protection Plan, the head teacher must inform the allocated social worker immediately. If they are unavailable then they must contact the team where s/he is based.

Having made initial enquiries about the child’s whereabouts the school should refer to the Children Missing Education (MK Council) Guidance unless they have concerns as outlined above and then they must follow the guidance previously detailed.

Milton Keynes CYPS has a Child Missing Education point of contact within the Education Welfare Service and every practitioner working with a child has a responsibility to inform them if they know or suspect that a child is not receiving an education:

The Education Welfare Service will then make the relevant enquiries. 

See also Children Missing Education - Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (Department for Education (2015).

This page is correct as printed on Saturday 2nd of July 2022 02:46:03 PM please refer back to this website ( for updates.