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1.4.17 Children who are Missing, Absent or Away from their Placement without Authorisation  

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter contains information for when children and young people are:

  • Missing from home and care;
  • Away from placement without authorisation; and
  • Absent.

It explains the process for referring on any concerns, and the action that will follow to safeguard the children and young people concerned. In this chapter, the term child will be used for children and young people. It should be read in conjunction with the Joint Protocol for Children Missing from Home or Care (West Yorkshire Consortium Procedures).

RELEVANT DOCUMENTS

Work flows: For a summary of the process to be followed when a child who is currently open to CSWS goes missing or is found see also:

Child is absent, away from placement without authorisation or missing - Currently open to Children’s Social Work Service

Child has returned or been found - Currently open to Children’s Social Work Service

This chapterwas added to the manual in June 2015.


Contents

  1. What is meant by Missing, Away from Placement without Authorisation and Absent?
  2. Placement Planning for Children Looked After
  3. What Needs to Happen if a Child is not where they should be?
  4. When a child is absent or away from placement without authorisation
  5. When a child is missing
  6. When a child returns home or is found
  7. Return Interviews
  8. Children not open to Children’s Social Work Service
  9. Social Worker analysis of the situation
  10. Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning Meeting
  11. Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Plan
  12. Review of Vulnerability and Risk Management Plan
  13. Review of Child Looked After’s  Care Plan


1. What is meant by Missing, Away from Placement without Authorisation and Absence?

Absent: A child not at a place where they are expected or required to be.

Away from placement without authorisation: A child looked after whose whereabouts is known but who is not at their placement or place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the police.

Missing: A child reported as missing to the police. They are not where they should be; there may be immediate concerns for their safety. Their whereabouts is unknown


2. Placement Planning for Children Looked After

Placement planning for every child who is becoming Looked After or who is already Looked After must include consideration of the risks and vulnerabilities associated with going missing (and other vulnerabilities and risks such as Child Sexual Exploitation, trafficking, forced marriage, honour based violence, female genital mutilation. Where applicable reference should be made to the relevant West Yorkshire Consortium and Children’s Social Work online procedures.) An agreement must be reached with all those concerned with the child’s care, of how the placement is expected to respond to any incidences of ‘missing’ and ‘away from placement without authorisation’.

The child’s social worker has responsibility for ensuring that an initial assessment of risk is completed when a child is accommodated. This should include an assessment of the level of risk of the geographical area in which the child is to be placed, particularly where the placement is outside of the local area. Where appropriate this can be completed by the children's home or fostering service practitioners on behalf of the child’s Social Worker. 

It is recognised that in emergency or unplanned placements, that the Placement Plan, including the initial assessment of risk, is unlikely to have been completed within the first 72 hours. However, all available information should be shared at the time of placement.

If there are grounds to suspect that the child is likely to go missing from their new placement or be away from the placement without authorisation, a multi-agency preventative planning discussion or meeting should be held to reduce the risks. This should involve representatives from the local police force (of host authority if the child is accommodated out of area) and other relevant partner agencies.

The initial risk assessment and any missing strategy documents and plans should be reviewed as part of child-care reviewing processes and following any episode of missing.


3. What needs to happen if a Child is not where they should be?

When the child is not where they should be, the carer (parent, foster carer or residential staff) must take action to try to locate them and return them home.

For children looked after, the actions agreed identified in the Care Plan must be carried out.

For children and young people where a Missing (or other vulnerabilities and risks such as Child Sexual Exploitation) Vulnerability and Risk Management Plan already exists, the agreed actions must be followed if still appropriate to the child and their circumstances.

A decision will be made as to whether the child is away from placement without authorisation, absent or missing. This may be decided by the residential staff or the foster carer (if the child is looked after) or the parent (if child not looked after). They may seek guidance from the allocated social worker or Emergency Duty Team (if out of hours) or the Supervising Fostering Social Worker as available.

If a child is diagnosed or recognised as having a learning disability that increases their vulnerability, or the child does not have capacity it should be decided to treat them as being missing

If the child is absent or away from placement without authorisation, the guidance in Section 4, When a child is absent or away from placement without authorisation should be followed

If the child is missing, the guidance in Section 5, When a child is missing should be followed.

If a child who has been missing, away from placement without authorisation or absent from home or care is the subject of an assessment or plan by Children's Social Work Service, Section 47 Enquiry, is a Child in Need, or subject to a Child Protection Plan, or the child is looked after, the child’s social worker must:

  • Ensure that the period of absence is clearly recorded on the child’s case file. This includes children placed out of area;
  • Inform the child’s Independent Reviewing Officer (if the child is looked after), the Child Protection Conference Chair (if subject to a Child Protection Plan), the child’s parents (or anyone with Parental Responsibility) of the absent period within one working day.
See also Joint Protocol for Children Missing from Home or Care (West Yorkshire Consortium Procedures).

Planning for Return 

From the moment a child is reported as missing, or is away from placement without authorisation, social workers, the police and parents and carers, should start planning for when a child is found.

Planning for a child’s return is extremely beneficial, especially with regard to children who go repeatedly missing or those who fall into the high risk category. If planning is not undertaken it is likely that the risk of the child going missing again will not reduce.

This may involve contingency planning; such as identifying suitable alternative short term accommodation for the child. Identifying alternative accommodation should be undertaken in partnership with the child, the child’s carers, family and other relevant professionals.

It is important that if alternative accommodation is required, that this is risk assessed and meets the child’s needs. Children must not be placed in accommodation that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation or trafficking.

Regard must also be given to who will support the child once they have been found and to who is the most appropriate person to conduct the Return Interview with the child.

Throughout the period of the child not being where they should be, the carer or parent should share information with relevant others as required including: allocated social worker, EDT if out of hours, Supervising Fostering Social Worker, Independent Reviewing Officer, Child Protection Chair, those with parental responsibility, the Police, the ISU and the host authority if the Leeds child is placed out of area.


4. When a child is absent or away from placement without authorisation

When it is decided that a child is absent or away from placement without authorisation but is not technically ‘missing’ the following steps must be taken:

  • Carers (including residential staff and foster carers) if the child is looked after, or parents if the child is not looked after, should take action to try to locate the child and return them home;
  • The carers or parents should keep records of what has happened, the details of the child not being where they should be and the steps taken to locate the child;
  • The social worker should also keep their own records following information shared by the carers or parents. The ‘Notification of Missing, Away from Placement Without Authorisation or Absent Child’ episode on Mosaic should be initiated;
  • The carers or parents should continue to try to locate the child and return them home;
  • The carers or parents should review the situation at a minimum of every six hours and again at 11pm and 8am and decide if still absent or away from placement without authorisation or whether the child is now missing;
  • If it is decided that the child is still absent or away from placement without authorisation, the carers or parents should continue to try to locate the child and return them home. They should continue to share information and keep records of what has happened;
  • If a child’s whereabouts is unknown for a maximum of 24 hours, then carers or parents should treat the child as missing;
  • If a child’s whereabouts is known, parents or carers should wait no longer than 72 hours before deciding to treat the child as missing.


5. When a child is Missing

When it is decided that a child is missing, the following steps must be taken:

  • Carers (including residential staff and foster carers) if the child is looked after, or parents if the child is not looked after, should take action to try to locate the child and return them home;
  • The carers or parents should keep records of what has happened, the details of the child not being where they should be and the steps taken to locate the child;
  • The ‘Notification of Missing, Away from Placement Without Authorisation or Absent Child’ episode on Mosaic should be initiated;
  • The carers or parents should report that the child is missing to the Police either on 999 if it is felt that the child is at immediate risk of harm or on 101. The Police will require the following:
    • A recent photograph of the child;
    • Details about the child – some of which will be available on Mosaic and or on the Missing Vulnerability and Risk management Plan (if already developed) or details that are ‘episode specific’, i.e. specific to this missing occurrence;
    • The Police will want to know what steps have been taken to locate the child;
    • The Police will also want to know the carer’s or parents’ or other reporting person’s assessment on what has happened and the level of risk. This will include what they think is happening and how concerned are they for the child’s welfare;
    • For more information, refer to the document  ‘What the Police will ask’  for all the information they will require.
  • The Police will carry out their assessment of the risk to the child and respond accordingly. Based on the information provided, they will assess the risk as Low, Medium or High. The police assessment of risk will determine the level of response;
  • The carers or parents should continue to try to locate the child and return them home in liaison with the Police and the social worker;
  • Whilst a child is still missing, the Social Worker in communication with the carer and other relevant practitioners should consider convening a Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning Meeting if it is decided that the risk to the child warrants this.


6. When a child returns home or is located

When a child returns home the following actions should be carried out. Some of these actions will be for all circumstances when a child has not been where they should be. Some of the actions will be required following a missing occurrence only.

Child has returned home from being absent, away from placement without authorisation or missing:

  • Carer provides warm and consistent care – the carer may be the residential staff, foster carer or the parent. Consistent carer may include providing emotional support, food, clean clothes etc. This does not include punishment;
  • Carer or parent shares information with relevant others that the child has returned home. Relevant others includes: social worker, EDT (if out of hours), Supervising Fostering Social Worker, Independent Reviewing Officer, Child Protection Chair, those with parental responsibility, the Police, the ISU and the Host Authority if the Leeds child is placed out of area;
  • If a child returns or is located, all individuals who have previously been notified of the child’s absence should be advised by the child’s social worker or a nominated person in their absence within one working day;
  • If child has been absent, away from placement or missing on two or more occasions, a discussion is held, with the child, their family or both, to offer further support and guidance;
  • The social worker identifies who will carry out the Return Interview for Missing and Away from placement without authorisation. A decision may also be made to carry out a Return Interview for a child who has been absent;
  • The child's specific needs with regard to the risk related to Missing, Away from Placement without Authorisation or Absent should must be acted on immediately and specifically;
  • It may be decided that a contact is made to Duty and Advice at the Front Door if there is not an open social work case.

In addition, where the child has returned home from being missing:

  • The Police carry out a Safe and Well check. This should take place as soon as possible after a child assessed as missing has been located. This is likely to be a quick check and will not involve an in depth interview. This usually takes place where the child lives but can take place elsewhere as required.

A decision should also be made whether to convene a Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning Meeting.

See also Child has returned or been found - Currently open to Children’s Social Work Service.


7. Return Interviews

Any child reported missing, or away from placement without authorisation open to Children’s Social Work Service, requires a return interview to be undertaken within 72 hours of their return.

Following a child returning from being absent, consideration should be given whether a return interview should also be completed within 72 hours of their return if the child:

  • Has been engaged in (or is believed to have engaged in) criminal activities whilst absent or away from placement;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of involvement in criminal activity or drugs;
  • Has been (or is believed to have been) hurt or harmed (emotionally, psychologically, physically) during the period they have been gone;
  • Is presenting as being distressed, subdued or behaving in a way that is not consistent with their usual personality;
  • Has known mental health issues or has a known vulnerability such as learning disability or physical disability;
  • Is at known or suspected risk of sexual exploitation or trafficking;
  • Has contact with persons posing a risk to children;
  • Is subject to a Child Protection Plan.

It is the responsibility of the Social Worker, in discussion with the carer, and where appropriate, the child, to identify someone who is independent of the child’s family, placement, or care to carry out the interview. This person may be from a service provider commissioned or identified by the local authority; in some circumstances it may be the social worker who carries out the interview.

If the return interview is undertaken by the social worker or someone else, it is the responsibility of the social worker to liaise with the Return Interview Service to ensure that the return interview is recorded on the child’s record on the ‘Notification of Missing, Away from Placement without Authorisation or Absent Child’ episode on Mosaic within two working days of the Return Interview taking place. 

The Return Interview should be carried out in a neutral place, somewhere where the child feels safe, after every episode of missing.

The Return Interview is valuable in helping establish the push and pull factors which may have influenced the child to run away / go missing; they assist practitioners, children and families to understand the risks of the child being away from home or placement, and they help reduce, and even prevent, further episodes of running away /missing from home or care.

The interview should explore the push and pull factors as well as any risk factors. This should include discussing with the child:

The frequency of the child’s missing episodes

  • Whether the child has been hurt or harmed (emotionally, psychologically, physically);
  • The child’s risk of sexual exploitation, trafficking, or other specific vulnerabilities associated with missing;
  • Any involvement the child may have had in criminal activity or substance misuse;
  • Whether the child has had any contact with people who pose a risk to children;
  • Any on-going risk factors that may impact on the child going missing again;
  • Any risk factors the child may experience in their home.

The interviewer needs to:

  • Help the child feel safe and understand that they have options to prevent repeat instances of them running away;
  • Provide the child with information on how to stay safe if they choose to run away again, including helpline numbers;
  • Undertake an assessment of whether a child might run away again.

The assessment of should be based on:

  • The child’s individual circumstances, including family circumstances;
  • The child’s reasons and motivation for running away;
  • Where the child might run away to in the future;
  • Who the child might run away to be with;
  • The Child’s recent pattern of absences;
  • The circumstances in which the child was found or returned;
  • The child’s individual characteristics, vulnerabilities and risk factors, including such as whether a child has learning difficulties; a physical disability, a sensory impairment or has mental health issues including depression; or is at risk of:
    • Child Sexual Exploitation;
    • Problematic or Harmful Sexual Behaviour;
    • Child Trafficking;
    • Female Genital Mutilation;
    • Forced Marriage;
    • Honour Based violence;
    • Modern Day Slavery;
    • Financial Exploitation;
    • Substance Misuse;
    • Grooming related to Radicalisation or Extremism;
    • Stalking;
    • Domestic / Relationship Violence or Abuse;
    • Bullying; or
    • Offending Behaviour.
Any information obtained during a Return Interview that may affect any future risk assessment or may assist in finding the child should they go missing again, should be exchanged by the social worker, or by the person carrying out the return interview (if the child is not currently open to Children’s Social Work Service) with the Police and other relevant agencies /professionals involved with the child, (including Integrated Safeguarding Unit Specialist Safeguarding,  Child Protection Chair and Independent Reviewing Officer as appropriate) to help build up a comprehensive picture of why the child was absent and what support they and their carers may require, to reduce future missing episodes and risk to the child.

If a child chooses not to engage with a return interview the independent person nominated to carry out the interview or the child’s social worker must record the reasons for this and share this information with the local authority Integrated Safeguarding Unit Specialist Safeguarding.


8. Children not open to Children’s Social Work Service

For children who are not currently open to Children’s Social Work Service, a return interview should be carried out for all those that have been reported as missing to the Police.

Following information received by Integrated Safeguarding Unit Specialist Safeguarding that a child has been missing and has returned, a request for a return interview will be carried out. This request will be made to the Return Interview Service.

The Return Interview Service will complete the Return Interview and inform the Integrated Safeguarding Unit Specialist Safeguarding at: specialist.safeguarding@leeds.gcsx.gov.uk  within two working days that this has been completed.

If the person /agency undertaking the return interview, or others involved with the child such as early help practitioners, heath workers, the Police, parent carers and other practitioners and professionals have concerns for the welfare and /or safety of the child, a contact should be made to Duty and Advice Team at the Front Door. Duty and Advice Team will make a referral to Children’s Social Work Service if it is decided that this is required. If this is the case, Children’s Social Work Service will carry out a Child and Family Assessment and the social worker and Team Manager will decide on the category of risk and immediacy of the safeguarding concern.

If a child is not currently open to Children’s Social Work Service has run away two or more times, the information obtained in the return interviews with the child, should inform a professional discussion with the child and their parent/carer to explore what support and guidance the child and family may wish to access.


9. Social Worker analysis of the situation

Usually when the child has returned home, the Social Worker analyses the child’s current needs; what has happened regarding being missing, absent or away from placement without authorisation and previous occurrences; and patterns. However, this analysis may also take place whilst the child has not yet returned.

The information available to the social worker for consideration and analysis includes information from the Return Interview (if child had been missing) and all other sources of information including discussion with IRO or CP Conference Chair and Team Manager and or Advanced Practitioner.

Outcome of the analysis may be:

  • Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning meeting;
  • A decision is made by the Team Manager that a Missing Vulnerability & Risk Management Planning meeting is not required. If this is the case, the decision is clearly evidenced on the ‘Notification of Missing, Away from Placement without Authorisation or Absent Child’ episode.


10. Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning Meeting

The relevant Children's Social Work Team should convene a multi-agency Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning meeting which should take place within three working days of the child returning from a missing event if:

  • A single missing occurrence highlights particular concerns to be addressed;
  • The number of missing events highlights particular concerns to be addressed;
  • A pattern of events is evident which raises concern for the child’s welfare, whether their whereabouts were known or not;
  • It is felt that the risk to the child requires this

All appropriate practitioners should be invited, and as appropriate, the child and their parent /carer.

If the child or their parent / carer are not attending the meeting, their views should be sought beforehand and they should be updated following the meeting of what was discussed and decided. The initial meeting should be chaired by the social work Team Manager or Advanced Practitioner.

Integrated Safeguarding Unit Specialist Safeguarding must be kept informed from the initial concern and following each Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning meeting at: specialist.safeguarding@leeds.gcsx.gov.uk.

The Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning meeting will:

  • Review the action taken so far;
  • Identify what action now needs to be taken and time scales;
  • Identify the most appropriate person to interview the child when found; and
  • Consider whether it is appropriate and safe to return the child to their home address and consider if alternative accommodation is required to be identified.
  • Develop a Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Plan

Following the Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning meeting, the Team Manager, Advanced Practitioner or Social Worker will complete or update the Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Meeting and Plan template within two working days and record activity on Mosaic.

The plan will be shared after each meeting within five working days or earlier as per the level of risk with the:

  • Child and their parent carer;
  • Social Work Team Manager;
  • Other participating practitioners;
  • CP Chair / IRO as appropriate;
  • The Integrated Safeguarding Unit at: specialist.safeguarding@leeds.gcsx.gov.uk (this may be through Mosaic.

The plan should also be shared with the MISPER Police as soon as possible to inform Police actions and decision making in the event of the child going Missing, Away from Placement without Authorisation or Absent again. This is especially important to confirm alternative or contingency accommodation requirements for when a child returns.


11. Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Plan

The Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Plan should be developed at the initial Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning meeting and reviewed at subsequent meetings.

The Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management plan should include:

  • A risk assessment;
  • A reporting strategy – which should include guidance on who will report a child as absent and when to report them as missing;
  • Recommendations on the minimum enquiries to be conducted by the Local Authority;
  • Recommendations on the minimum enquiries to be conducted by the police;
  • A Return Interview strategy; and
  • A Missing intervention strategy to address the long-term risk and vulnerability factors. Missing interventions seek to reduce the risks that a child may be exposed to and prevent the likelihood of further incidents of the child being absent, away from placement without authorisation or missing
  • A contingency plan to identify alternative actions that require a different approach if the actions in the plan fail to keep the child safe, for example, this might include an alternative address for the child.

Common strategies to address risk include:

  • Disrupting the child’s contact with adults suspected of being involved in grooming, abuse, coercion, trafficking, violence, use and supply of illegal substances, illegal activities and sexual exploitation;
  • Disrupting the child’s relationship with other young people suspected of introducing them to adults involved in grooming, abuse, coercion, trafficking, violence, use and supply of illegal substances, illegal activities and sexual exploitation;
  • Gathering evidence to prosecute adults suspected of being involved in grooming, abuse, coercion, trafficking, violence, use and supply of illegal substances, illegal activities and sexual exploitation;
  •  Listening and taking account of the child’s wishes and feelings;
  • Promoting positive relationships with family, friends and carers;
  • Identifying ways of physically protecting the child;
  • Ensuring contact is maintained with a child whilst absent;
  • Enhancing the return procedure to ensure it is a positive experience;
  • Setting clear boundaries and developing contracts regarding expectations and responsibilities;
  • Motivating positive behaviour;
  • Empowering the carer/ foster carer;
  • Building the child’s self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth through the provision of positive activities;
  • Raising awareness of the risks associated with running away or being missing;
  • Meeting any physical, emotional, mental health needs the child might have;
  • Working with the carers or parents to make the child’s home a place where they want to be;
  • Working with education & training providers to meet the child’s needs;
  • Providing specialist support through multi-agency partnerships.

SMART actions should be agreed which have identified people responsible for them and are: Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Realistic and Timely. Any existing overall plan for the child (CP, CLA, CiN) should be referred to and the two plans should complement not duplicate one another.

At the initial meeting, the frequency of subsequent meetings should be agreed as per the level of risk. Meetings may be convened in the period between other statutory meetings such as CLA Reviews and Child Protection Conferences. If appropriate, the meeting could be aligned to an existing arranged meeting such as a Core Group or a Review Child Protection meeting.

Actions identified on the Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Plan need to be incorporated into or inform existing plans for the child.


12. Review of the Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Plan

The Missing vulnerability and Risk Management plan is reviewed at a minimum of every three months.

If it is decided at the Missing Vulnerability and Risk Management Planning meeting that the risk is high, the plan should be reviewed monthly until it is decided that the risk has sufficiently reduced to be reviewed every three months.


13. Review of a Child Looked After’s  Care Plan

The Child’s Independent Reviewing Officer must be informed of all instances of a Looked after Child being missing, or away from placement without authorisation. The care plan should be reviewed to include details of arrangements required to keep the child safe and minimise the future risk of the child going missing from their placement.

The next statutory review will provide an opportunity to check that the care plan has been appropriately amended to address the reasons for the child’s absences and include a strategy to prevent reoccurrences

However when a looked after child who has been missing has been located, the child’s Social Worker and their line manager should decide in consultation with the child’s Independent Reviewing Officer, carers and the child whether there is a need to convene an early statutory review of the child’s care plan.

The Child’s Independent Reviewing Officer should also review the suitability of the placement in conjunction with the child, and his /her family, the child’s, the placement provider and the child’s social worker. This might require the statutory review to be brought forward.

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