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1.5.2 Swindon Borough Council Missing Children Procedure


The Swindon and Wiltshire Missing Children Protocol combines aspects of local authority and police procedures in relation to missing persons such that, where they overlap or interface, respective actions and responsibilities are clear.

See also: Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care flowchart (2014)


Missing children / young people will be classified by the police as either ‘Missing’ or ‘Absent’ after a risk assessment has been carried out by police call handlers. Please be aware this does not mean local procedures on notifications are in anyway altered. Please remember, in order to promote the safety of the absent / missing person, you are required to support the police call handlers by offering them all the information you have available; for more detail see: College of Policing Missing Persons Guidance and the Children's Homes and Looked after Children (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2013.


This chapter was updated in February 2016 when the link to the Swindon and Wiltshire Missing Children Protocol and College of Policing Missing Persons Guidance was added.


  1. Categories of Absence
  2. Preventative Steps
  3. Child/Young Person’s Whereabouts Known
  4. Missing from Local Authority Care
  5. Children in Care: Locating the Child and their Return

    Appendix A: National Minimum Standards - Missing From Care

1. Categories of Absence

In practice, where a child goes missing, there are three categories of absence:

Unauthorised Absence

Where a child in care’s whereabouts is not where they are expected or required to be, including where their location is known or believed to be known, they will be considered absent. Some children/young people absent themselves from home or care for a short period and then return. Their whereabouts:

  • Can be established through contact with family or friends;
  • Are unknown, but the child/young person is not considered to be at risk.

Any absence must be carefully monitored as the child/young person may subsequently become a missing person. This includes monitoring patterns of absent behaviour as this may suggest a risk.

Missing or Young Runaway

The terms ‘young runaway’ and ‘missing’ refer to children and young people (up to the age of 18) who have run away from their home or care placement, or who have been forced to leave, and whose whereabouts is unknown and the circumstance of this episode is either out of character or the context suggests they may be subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or others.

They are considered missing until they are located and their well-being is established.

Absconded from Local Authority Care

An absconder is a child who is absent from the placement without permission and who is subject to a requirement or order resulting from the criminal justice process (e.g. curfews, tagging, conditions of residence, other bail conditions, PACE detention) or a secure order made in either civil or criminal proceedings. A child in this category must be reported missing to the police without delay.

Unlawfully at Large

In a small number of cases, young people become ‘children in care’ because they have been remanded to local authority accommodation by the Youth Court, having been charged with a criminal offence. This is known as Remanded to Local Authority Accommodation (RLAA). The child may be placed in secure accommodation, but may also be placed in non-secure children’s home or foster placement. A child who goes missing when RLAA is unlawfully at large, and in legal terms has escaped custody.

Deciding Which Category

If a child informs the carer where s/he is going before leaving the home and if his/her whereabouts are known and if the child doesn’t return home at the stated time, a telephone call should be made by the carer to ascertain whether the child is at the given address. If the child is there and s/he states that s/he is not returning to the home, this may not be desirable but it is not a matter for the Police unless the carer has reasonable cause to believe the child would otherwise be likely to suffer significant harm. If the carer is in doubt they should contact the on-call duty manager or the emergency duty social work team for guidance.

In deciding the level of risk, all staff must consider the circumstances of the child and their absence. This will include detailed consideration of:

  • The circumstances of the absence;
  • The child’s care plan;
  • The age of the child;
  • The maturity of the child;
  • Any physical or cognitive disability of the child;
  • Any continuing or urgent need for child to have medication or other medical treatment;
  • The legal status of the child;
  • Previous behaviour and history of the child;
  • Danger posed by the child to themselves or others;
  • General vulnerability of the child;
  • The child’s tendency to drug/substance abuse;
  • Whether the child is perceived as running to, or running from, someone or something;
  • Any circumstances within the placement, say with carers or other residents that may be relevant to the absence;
  • The risk of offending;
  • The influence of peer groups, families or friends;
  • Predatory influences on the child. These may relate to others wanting to use the child for crime, sex or drugs;
  • Any known risk of abduction;
  • Environmental factors including weather, time of year, community events or tensions;
  • Any child who is 12 years old or younger should automatically be considered at higher risk and classed as missing or absconded. They must be reported to the Police immediately.

In responding to and managing an individual child's absence from care, professionals from all agencies, including police, schools and children’s services, should beware of dismissing the potential significance of multiple absconding episodes by a young offender. Often such children are immediately labelled as "the problem" and insufficient consideration is given to considering why they are persistently absenting themselves.

2. Preventative Steps

Before a child/young person is placed in a residential home or foster placement, consider any relevant factors regarding the child/young person’s previous behaviour and history that indicate a potential risk of the child/young person going missing from their placement.

If there is a risk, then:

  • Make sure the child/young person’s Care Plan takes into account:
    • Any risk that the child may go missing in the future;
    • Any factors which may increase the risk to the child should they go missing.
  • Where considered necessary, based on the circumstances of the child/young person, complete a Risk Management Record;
  • Workflow to manager for sign off and to create a Hazard on ICS;
  • Give a copy of the Risk Management Record to the new carer;
  • Prior to admission to placement, follow the procedures for Children in Care.

With the child/young person’s permission (if of sufficient age and understanding) and, where applicable, permission of a person with parental responsibility:

  • Take an electronic photograph of the child/young person;
  • Store the photograph on the responsible team’s shared drive.

Take the views and experiences of parents or carers into consideration during the core assessment of the child/young person’s needs.

In particular, ask parents or carers if the child/young person has ever run away or stayed in unknown, possibly unsafe, places.

It is important that carers ask any child/young person in their care for:

  • Their mobile telephone number;
  • Names and telephone numbers of their friends and other associates;
  • Encourage the child/young person to register their phone details at Immobilise (The UK National Property Register) in case their phone is stolen.

3. Child/Young Person’s Whereabouts Known

Some children absent themselves for a short period and then return, with their whereabouts known to the carer. Sometimes children stay out longer than agreed, either on purpose to test boundaries, or accidentally. Examples of situations where unauthorised absence will apply are:

  • Running away after a dispute;
  • Failing to return on time;
  • Staying at a known location with a friend.

Where, initially, the assessment indicates an absence all involved professionals should:

  • Take all reasonable and practical steps which a good parent would take, to secure the safe and speedy return of the child/young person e.g. visiting addresses where the child/young person may be or telephoning around known friends;
  • Continually assess risk whilst they remain absent. During their absence circumstances may change and the Social Worker/Emergency Duty team and the Residential Staff/Foster Carer need to be in a position to respond accordingly;
  • Keep the child/young person’s parents informed unless there are good reasons connected to the child/young person’s welfare for this to be inappropriate(e.g. young people running away from threat of forced marriage).

If the child’s whereabouts are known or suspected, the Local Authority staff will decide whether to allow the child to remain at that location, albeit temporarily, or to arrange for their return. If the decision is to arrange their return and there is reason to believe that there may be issues of safety or public order difficulties, Wiltshire Police will assist. Wiltshire Police assistance in these circumstances does not necessarily mean that the child is categorised as missing. Each such occurrence needs to be evaluated based upon the factors mentioned in the risk factors above and upon other information gathered from the child, friends, family and associates.

4. Missing from Local Authority Care

Where young people are missing from their care placement it is important for all involved professionals to work closely together to respond to the incident in a timely manner and follow agreed procedures to locate the young person as quickly as possible to ensure their safety.

Whoever discovers that a child/young person is absent from a foster home or residential unit immediately informs the child/young person’s social worker or Emergency Duty Service (out of hours) and/or the Residential Unit Manager or Shift Leader.

Where the child is absent and there is a level of risk then the foster carer or residential worker should report to the police immediately.

Where the child/young person is an absconder or is unlawfully at large the foster carer or residential worker should report to the police immediately.

Responsibilities of the Local Authority

The Local Authority will ensure that sufficient knowledge and information about the child is recorded to enable carers to provide police with the fullest possible background and enable the completion of a dynamic risk assessment in consultation with the relevant children’s social care department (or Emergency Duty Team out-of-hours) should the child go missing or be absent.

After a child has been reported missing, the local authority remain responsible for the child in their care. This responsibility is not absolved when the child has been reported missing to Wiltshire Police.

The child’s social worker (or the relevant EDS out of hours) will be responsible for liaising with Wiltshire Police, taking an active interest in the investigation and passing on all information, which may help to inform the investigation and assist in protecting the child while missing.

The child’s social worker should continue to make appropriate enquiries with all persons who may be able to assist with the investigation unless they are requested not to do so by Wiltshire Police. All information gleaned from these enquiries should be passed to Wiltshire Police.

Throughout the process must keep a full record of all actions taken and messages received and given.

When a child has been missing for a period of 48 hours the social worker must inform the relevant senior manager as per the local authority procedures via the usual line management route.

Local Authority’s Responsibility for Reporting Regarding Children in Care

Every local authority has a named person with responsibility for children missing from care.

In Swindon this is the Head of Safeguarding

Social workers must inform the Named Person of all children or young people who go missing from care. S/he must ensure that details are recorded on ICS.

Responsibility to ensure there is analysis based on gathered information lies with the Head of Safeguarding.

Communication with Other Agencies

When a child goes missing from their placement it is important that information is shared appropriately with partner agencies involved with the child in order for them to provide relevant information and to contribute to the overall risk assessment.

Always inform the child’s school. They may have valuable information which would assist in establishing his/her whereabouts. Pass any such information immediately to the Police.

Placements out of Area

For children and young people placed out of area, the authority who placed the child (the responsible authority) has the responsibility of ensuring the child/young person has access to support services available to meet their needs.

Care providers also have similar responsibility to ensure that the children and young people they care for have their needs appropriately met by the use of local support services.

The support to be offered to the child/young person should be clearly recorded in the placement information record and should match the information about the child/young person’s needs included within their Care Plan.

Where a child/young person placed out of their local authority area (i.e. in a placement in another local authority) goes missing, the placement provider is responsible for following both the local Regional Missing From Home and Care protocol In the area of the placement and of the local authority who placed the child/young person.

It is possible that the child will return to their home area, so it is essential that the necessary liaison between the police and professionals in the area of placement and in the responsible authority is well managed and coordinated. This will ensure that the issues of logistics and/or distance do not delay or interfere with the actions of planning to locate the child/young person.

If a child goes missing from placement, the responsible authority who placed the child must notify the host local authority and both police forces, i.e. the police force local to where the child is placed and the ‘home’ police force.

Responding to Escalating Concerns

Where there are concerns in relation to a child going missing, Multi agency meetings at an appropriate level should be called.

In the event of repeat episodes of children going missing, it is good practice for formal intervention meetings to take place in response to escalating concerns. Dependant on the assessment of risk to the child and their current status, this could include any of the following:

  1. Multi agency risk management meeting;
  2. Strategy Meeting;
  3. Child Protection Review;
  4. Child in Care Review;
  5. Pathway Plan review;
  6. Child in Need Review.

If there are child protection concerns then follow South West Child Protection Procedures.

Where a child was not previously known to social care and risk factors are identified, then the missing person coordinator will initiate the appropriate multi agency meeting.

Where the child is an open case to children’s social care, then the responsible team manager will initiate the appropriate multi agency meeting.

In cases of a child going missing from an out-of authority placement, the responsible authority calls a professionals' meeting involving the relevant organisations from the host authority, to determine action.

The Child Continues to Go Missing

Where a child continues to go missing their case will continue to be monitored through the usual review mechanisms (timescales of which can be brought forward as required).

Where the missing person coordinator continues to have concerns about a child’s missing episodes, they should either discuss with the social worker or lead professional with responsibility for the child’s case or call a multi-agency risk management meeting.

Keeping Cases Open

For all children open to children’s social care, whilst the child remains missing, his/her case must remain ‘open’ until the child is found or until they reach age 18yrs.

A senior manager in children’s social care, should review all cases where a child has been missing for 6 months or more. The senior manager must satisfy him/herself that all that should be done has been done to find the child. This review should be repeated at 6 monthly intervals whilst the child is missing.

All Police missing person’s files will remain ‘live’ until the child is located and returned to their home or placement, or whose circumstances are considered to be appropriate.

5. Children in Care: Locating the Child and their Return

If a child/young person is ‘missing’ the Social Worker, Foster Carer/Residential Unit Staff, Police and parents commence contingency planning for when the child/young person is located.

Plans should include:

  • Will the child/young person return to the placement/home address; are they safe in the location where they are found or should they be placed elsewhere?
  • If the child/young person is to return, how will s/he be conveyed to their placement/home address?
  • Do the police wish to interview the child/young person where they are located or after they have returned their placement/home address?
  • Who will be an appropriate ‘independent person’ to talk to the child/young person when she/he is located/returned?
  • Offer children/young people who have repeated absences an independent person to talk to. The offer can be made at any time if there are concerns.

When the Child/Young person is Located

If the whereabouts are known or suspected, it is the responsibility of the social worker or carers to arrange for the child’s return.

Normally the Foster Carer/Residential Unit Staff or Social Worker/Emergency Duty Team (out of hours) make arrangements for the transportation of a child/young person to his/her placement.

In exceptional circumstances, in the interests of the safe and speedy return of the child, Wiltshire Police may agree to requests from carers to assist. Wiltshire Police should not unreasonably withhold assistance in cases involving local recovery and transport missions for vulnerable children.

The police have no power to use force to take children or young people into Police Protection. There will be occasions when a child/young person is found in a location that may be considered unsuitable, but where:

  • There would be no legal grounds for taking them into police protection;

  • To do so would be unsustainable because of the child/young person’s unwillingness to co-operate.

In these cases Police and the accountable childcare manager will need to liaise to discuss what steps may be necessary in order to safeguard the child/young person’s welfare.

On the Child/Young Person’s Return to Placement

It is the responsibility of the carer/social worker to contact Wiltshire Police and confirm that the missing child has returned.

Where issues external to the placement are trigger factors in a child/young person going missing, care staff or foster carers need to continue to offer them warm and consistent care when they return. It will be counter-productive and detrimental to the child/young person’s wellbeing to use their absence as a reason for ending the placement.

Follow up Actions on Child’s Return

The child’s social worker and their manager should consider bringing forward a Child in Care Review, particularly if significant changes to the Care Plan and the Placement Information Record (PIR) need to be made.

The Review should cover a reassessment of the child/young person’s needs and support needed to meet these needs. It should also incorporate a risk management strategy to minimise the child/young going missing from care in the future.

The social Worker should advise the child/young person’s parents/carers of the child’s return without delay unless inappropriate for good reasons to do with the child/young person’s welfare.

If parents are not informed, the reasons for not informing should be clearly recorded on the child/young person’s file.

The social worker should advise all agencies who were informed of the absence of the child/young person’s return, unless inappropriate for good reasons to do with the child/young person’s welfare. Again, reasons for not informing should be clearly recorded on the child/young person’s file.

It is acknowledged that a returning child may well share different parts of their experience with different people. It is the responsibility of all agencies therefore, to attend to issues of immediate safety, future support and safeguarding needs, and information-sharing in a way which respects and safeguards children and young people.

Police Safe and Well Check

See the Swindon and Wiltshire Missing Children Protocol

Return Interview

See also the Swindon and Wiltshire Missing Children Protocol

Independent Return Interview takes place when a child/young person:

  • Has been missing for over 24 hours;
  • Has engaged (or is believed to have engaged) in criminal activities during their absence;
  • Has been hurt or harmed whilst they have been missing (or this is believed to have been the case);
  • Has known mental health issues or learning disabilities;
  • Is at known risk of sexual exploitation;
  • Has contact with persons posing a risk to children;
  • There are other identifiable risk factors.

This is an in-depth and is usually best carried out by person who is independent of the child/young person’s placement who is trained to carry out these interviews and is able to follow up any actions that emerge.

Areas to be covered in Return Interview

See the Swindon and Wiltshire Missing Children Protocol

An Independent Return Interview must always take place for children who have been missing from care and take place as soon as possible after the child/young person has been located or returned to their placement.

The independent person could be the child/young person’s social worker, another social worker, a teacher, school nurse, Connexions, Youth or YOT Worker, a voluntary sector practitioner or a police officer whom the child/young person knows and trusts. Ask the child/young person who they wish to speak to. Use an interpreter if necessary.

Where possible, the venue for the return interview should be in a place other than the child’s home or placement (e.g. at school). If it needs to take place where the child resides, then interview them in private.

It is the responsibility of the Residential Unit Manager, the Foster Carer’s Supervising Social Worker and the child/young person’s Social Worker to ensure that the Return Interview happens.

The Local Authority should inform Wiltshire Police missing person coordinators, via the Missing Person Return Interview form where a return interview is not conducted and the reasons for not conducting the return interview.

Concerns identified in return interviews

For children in care, where concerns are identified, these may require a change in the Care Plan.

Children living at home, can be broken down into 3 categories:

  1. Children subject to a child protection plan;
  2. Children in need who have an allocated social worker;
  3. Children not known to children’s social care.

If further concerns are identified for children subject to a child protection plan, these need to be discussed at an urgently called child protection review.

Where further concerns are identified for children in need, a child in need review needs to take place to change the child in need plan. Where there are safeguarding concerns, consideration needs to be given to undertaking section 47 enquiries.

Appendix A: National Minimum Standards - Missing From Care

Click here to view National Minimum Standards, Standard 5 - Children Missing from Care.

  1. The care and support provided to children, minimises the risk that they will go missing and reduces the risk of harm should the child go missing;
  2. Foster carers know and implement what the fostering service and the responsible authority’s policy is in relation to children going missing;
  3. Foster carers are aware of, and do not exceed, the measures they can take to prevent a child leaving without permission under current legislation and Government guidance;
  4. Children who are absent from the foster home without consent, but whose whereabouts are known or thought to be known by carers or staff, are protected in line with the fostering service’s written procedure;
  5. The fostering service and foster carers take appropriate action to find children who are missing, including working alongside the police where appropriate;
  6. If a child is absent from the fostering home and their whereabouts are not known (i.e. the child is missing), the fostering service’s procedures are compatible with the local Runaway and Missing from Home and Care (RMFHC) protocols and procedures applicable to the area where each foster home is located;
  7. Where children placed out of authority go missing, the manager of the fostering service follows the local RMFHC protocol. They also comply with, and make foster carers 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;
  8. Children are helped to understand the dangers and risks of leaving the foster home without permission and are made aware of where they can access help if they consider running away;
  9. 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 arranges a meeting in private between the child and the responsible authority to consider the reasons for their going missing. The fostering service considers with the responsible authority and foster carer what action should be taken to prevent the child going missing in future. Any concerns arising about the foster carer or the placement are addressed, as far as is possible, in conjunction with the responsible authority;
  10. Written records kept by the fostering service where a child goes missing detail action taken by foster carers, the circumstances of the child’s return, any reasons given by the child for running away from the foster home and any action taken in the light of those reasons. This information is shared with the responsible authority and, where appropriate, the child’s parents.