Local Missing Children Procedure for all Non-LAC Children and Out of Area LAC Living in Kirklees
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This protocol has been developed for staff and carers in Kirklees. It provides detailed guidance and sets out the actions required of the police, parents / carers and children's social care when a child (who is not looked after) goes missing from home. It also applies to looks after children from another local authority who are placed in Kirklees.
AMENDMENTIn January 2017, this guidance was reviewed locally and updated as required.
This protocol outlines Kirklees' response to children and young people who go missing from home and care and provides local procedure in line with the West Yorkshire Joint Protocol for Children Missing from Home and Care.
It is to be used as a required procedure for all professional staff that work with or come into contact with missing children, including those who process and manage information data concerning missing or absent children.
This document cannot anticipate every situation and individual judgement should be used to decide any action that is deemed necessary to protect the safety of the child, based on an assessment of risk. Advice should be sought from managers and safeguarding procedures followed as required.
The children and young people this protocol applies to are;
- All children aged under 18 who are not looked after and who go missing from home in Kirklees;
- All Looked After Children placed in Kirklees by another Local Authority.
2. Police Definitions
This guidance uses the Police definitions of 'Absent' and 'Missing' (Police Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons, April 2013).
Absent - a person not at a place where they are expected or required to be and this is not out of character and there is an apparent explanation on this occasion and the child is expected to return and the child is not expected to suffer or cause harm whilst absent and the level of risk does not justify Police intervention at this time.
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 a crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another.
In Kirklees, the Police send all 'Absent' and 'Missing' notifications to Children's Social Care and each episode is dealt with on its own merit regardless of the Police classification. To this end, all cases of 'Absent' and 'Missing' episodes will be offered an Independent Return Interview and outcomes recorded on the child's electronic file.
Within these definitions, a child whose whereabouts are known would not be treated as either 'Absent' or 'Missing' i.e. children that are away from home or care without authorisation. It is recognised that children that are away from home or care without authorisation may be at risk of harm and agencies should fulfil their responsibilities to safeguard these children in line with existing safeguarding procedures.
If a child has a CSE Risk Classification and she/he is reported missing, the response must be one of priority risk.
3. Children Living At Home
When a child goes missing from home, the onus is on parents/carers to take appropriate steps to recover the child. Local agencies may be required to support children and their families through missing episodes and to meet any additional needs that may be identified, including safeguarding concerns.
4. Children Absent from Home
When a child appears to be absent, their parent/carer should take all reasonable and practical steps to identify where their child may be.
Agencies that become aware that a child may be absent should inform the parent/person with parental responsibility. Agencies should discuss the circumstances of absence to determine whether the child is;
- Absent (not at a place where they are expected or required to be); or
- Missing (whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character, or the context suggests the person may be subject of a crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another).
4.1 Previous Behaviour Patterns
Professionals should encourage parents to consider any previous episodes where the child has been missing from home.
If on previous absent episodes the young person usually stays at a safe address and returns unharmed, there is likely to be no immediate concern unless there is something different about this particular absence that raises the risk on this occasion.
If the child is identified as being at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE), has a history of associating with a person (or people) who present a risk to children, sleeps rough or is at risk of being a victim of crime, the child should be categorised as 'missing' unless there is something different about this particular absence that reduces the risk.
4.2 Acceptable Levels of Risk
It is normal behaviour for young people to sometimes go absent without permission and sometimes fail to return home on time. Although every young person who deliberately or carelessly absents themselves will be exposed to some level of risk, the level of risk they will be exposed to whilst absent will vary significantly. Absent behaviour will not always give rise to immediate concern as most young people are able to safely interact with their environment for short periods of time. However, parents/carers and professionals should consider factors such as age, level of understanding, health, disability, history of risk‐taking behaviour and any other factor that may create additional vulnerability and this should always be considered.
Unless there is an imminent risk to the child, it will not be appropriate to immediately contact the Police and parents or carers should take responsibility for locating and returning the child home.
4.3 Immediate Actions
Unless the child is considered to be missing and there is an obvious immediate serious risk to the child or the public, there are reasonable and practical steps that the parents should take before contacting the Police. Agencies should advise parents to;
- Search their own premises, grounds and immediate locality;
- Telephone and send a text message to the child's mobile phone and check their Facebook/social media page if this is accessible;
- Check the places frequented by the child;
- Make enquiries with the child's relatives and friends;
- Make enquiries with the child's school, college, providers of education or work placement, community groups or places of worship if appropriate;
- Attend at addresses frequented by the child to see if they are there.
When visiting addresses, parents/carers should ensure they consider their own safety and if concerned can seek advice from the Police (dial 101).
If the whereabouts of the child are known, or believed to be known, the parent should only request Police assistance to recover the child if:
- They are being prevented from obtaining access to the child;
- There is evidence to suggest the child is at immediate risk of serious harm; or
- It is necessary to prevent a breach of the peace due to a threat of violence or disorder.
If the Police are notified of a child's absence, the details will be recorded, and Police will agree review times and any on-going actions with the child's family or carer. Any safeguarding concerns should be reported to Children's Social Care by the Police. If the levels of concern increase due to;
- Period of time the child is absent;
- No contact with the child; or
- New information.
Then the category may be upgraded to 'Missing' in consultation with the Police.
Where there is a difference of opinion between parents/carers and the Police over the appropriate category of 'Absence' or 'Missing', the Police Duty Inspector will make the final decision about the Police response.
5. Children Missing from Home
If a child considered to be absent does not return home and/or is not located as expected, or the child's whereabouts cannot be established and the circumstances are out of character, or the context suggests the child may be subject of a crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another, then the child is considered to be 'Missing'.
All agencies have a responsibility to share information in regards to children that are missing and take immediate action to assist with recovering the child.
5.1 Immediate Actions
If the child is considered 'Missing', it is expected that parents/carers would contact the Police as soon as possible. If any professional becomes aware that a child is missing from home, they should:
- Inform the parent/person with parental responsibility and advise them to immediately notify the Police;
- Check that the parents/carers have notified the Police and, if not, contact the Police themselves at the earliest opportunity. Professionals should use their judgement to determine if a parent/carer's failure to notify the Police is indicative of additional needs and/or neglect;
- Notify Children's Social Care if the missing child is the subject of an assessment: S47 Child Protection Enquiry; Child in Need or Child Protection Plan or other Social Care intervention (EITS; TYS etc.); or if there are concerns that the child may be at risk of harm;
- Follow safeguarding procedures and discuss their concerns with their line manager or duty manager and record any action taken on the child's electronic file (Liquid Logic).
5.2 Children's Social Care Response to a Missing Child
If the child is the subject of an assessment by Children's Social Care, a S47 Child Protection Enquiry, or a Child in Need or Child Protection Plan or any other Social Care intervention (EITS/TYS), the relevant professional leading or managing the case would then:
- Ensure the Missing Risk Assessment is updated and saved in the child's electronic file, and a copy is sent to the Missing Co-ordinator (see Appendix 1: Missing Absent / Risk Assessment Tool);
- Consider if a multi-agency Strategy Meeting should take place (if the specific missing episode is considered to be 'High Risk'; the child has been missing for more than 24 hours in duration for a single reported missing episode and/or if the child has been reported missing a minimum of three times within the previous 30 day period;
- All CSE concerns must be prioritised and followed through via the Kirklees CSE procedures;
- Inform other local agencies who know the child such as Education;
- Inform all members of the MAST/CIN/CP Core Group as applicable;
- Ensure the missing episode is recorded on the child's electronic file.
The missing episode should continue to be monitored by the Police and Children's Social Care and any new developments concerning the child should be shared between the relevant professionals and the person with Parental Responsibility. For some 'High Risk' missing episodes, consideration should be given to releasing a social media alert via the Police to seek local public assistance in tracing the child. The Police Inspector may also escalate the missing episode by requesting technical data from the child's mobile phone and social media use in order to locate the whereabouts of the child at that time.
5.3 When a Missing Child is Located
If the child is found and/or returned home, all agencies that were advised of the missing episode should be updated. Police should notify Children's Social Care within 24 hours of their 'Safe and Well' interview to enable Children's Social Care to make arrangements for an Independent Return Interview for the child within 72 hours of their return (as per the Statutory Guidance 2014).
Agencies should be aware that the attitude of professionals towards a child who has been missing can have a big impact on how they will engage with subsequent investigations and protection planning. Children that have gone missing may be extremely vulnerable to multiple risks. A supportive approach, actively listening and responding to a child's needs, will have a greater chance of preventing the child from going missing again and safeguarding them against other risks.
5.4 Police 'Safe and Well' Checks
Safe and Well checks are carried out by the Police as soon as possible after a missing child has been found. Their purpose is to check for any indications that the child has suffered harm, where and with whom they have been, and to give them an opportunity to disclose any offending by or against them.
5.5 Returning the Child Home
Children should not be returned to their home until it is considered safe for them to do so.
The parent or carer will be responsible for recovering and returning the child to their home, unless it is considered unsafe for them to do (i.e. if they need to enter a premises that may compromise their own safety/lead to a confrontation/threat or violence or in the event that it is not considered safe for the child to return home).
If there are thought to be specific issues of safety or public order difficulties involved in recovering and returning the child, the Police should agree co-ordinated action to recover the child.
If the Police locate the child, they should ensure that she/he is not left at a location where they are likely to be exposed to the risk of harm or where they are likely to go missing again before their parent or carer can recover them.
If the Police are considering leaving a child at an address to be collected by the Local Authority, the Police Officer must contact the relevant Social Worker or Out of Hours Service (Emergency Duty Service) to ensure that any risk factors known to the Local Authority are shared and taken into account.
5.6 If a Child Refuses to Return Home
A young person is only legally entitled to leave home if they are aged over 16 years and are:
- Married; or
- Have the permission of a parent (and/or the Local Authority if they are subject to an Interim or Full Care Order).
Therefore, if an unmarried young person under 18 years is located by the Police, the Police will notify the parent or carer of their whereabouts, even if this is not what the child wishes (unless to do so would place the child at risk of significant harm). If there is concern that the child is at risk of significant harm;
- The Police will work with Children's Social Care to protect the child;
- Consideration will be given to taking the child into Police Protection, applying for an Emergency Protection Order, or applying for a Recovery Order.
Where the child is not at risk of significant harm, if she/he is under 16 years or subject to a Court Order, the Police and duty manager from Children's Social Care will liaise to discuss what action should be taken to safeguard the child's welfare.
5.7 Medical Assessment
As soon as the child is located, consideration should be given to whether they need medical attention. If required, a medical examination should be arranged once appropriate permissions have been obtained.
5.8 Suspected Victim or Perpetrator of a Crime
If there is any suggestion the child has been the victim or perpetrator of crime, consideration must be given to the securing of evidence including forensic examination. Where an allegation of physical or sexual abuse is made or becomes evident, Child Protection Procedures must be implemented and contact made immediately with the Police Safeguarding Unit and a referral made to Children's Social Care.
5.9 Processing Police Missing Notifications (M7) by Children's Social Care
The Kirklees Police Missing Person Unit will send all Non-LAC and Other Local Authority LAC Missing Children Notifications (M7) to Children's Social Care (Duty and Advice Service, the CSE Hub and Early Intervention and Targeted Youth Support Service (EITS) via secure email. This will occur during and outside of office hours, seven days a week. The Kirklees Missing Co-ordinator will also receive this information.
Any immediate Safeguarding concerns associated with a Missing episode concerning a child/ren will be referred directly to Duty and Advice Service (or the Emergency Duty Service outside office hours) by the Police Officer involved. It is likely a Strategy Discussion will take place to determine if there are grounds for a S47 enquiry.
Whereby a decision is taken to carry out a S47 Enquiry associated with the Missing episode, then discussions should take place between EITS and the allocated Social Worker to determine if an Independent Return Interview is warranted. This should be decided upon a case-by-case basis.
During office hours, EITS will alert the allocated Professional and Team of the child's missing episode (M7 Notification) if it is a current case open to Kirklees Children's Social Care. The EITS Business Support Officer will record the child's missing episode on Liquid Logic and create the Independent Return Interview 'Activity'
During office hours Monday to Friday and including Bank Holidays, EITS will process all Non-LAC and Other Local Authority LAC M7 Notifications. EITS and Business Support Officer will carry out necessary background checks (Children's Social Care; Education; relevant other) and make contact with the child's parent/carer (or the Young Person if s/he is estranged from their parents and/or lives independently) to offer an Independent Return Interview as per the Statutory Guidance (2014). This should be done within 72 hours of the child having been located or returned home.
EITS will not process and/or offer an Independent Return Interview to any child aged less than 8 years old. Such cases will be considered by Duty and Advice Service and any action/intervention will be taken as necessary.
EITS will consult with Duty and Advice Service Duty Manager for advice about any Safeguarding concerns that may arise during the course of processing an M7 and upon speaking to the child and/or their parent/carer.
EITS will consult with the Young People's Team (Housing) for advice in all cases of 16 and 17 year olds whereby family breakdown and homelessness is a risk factor. Consideration should be given to a joint home visit (Community Care Officer and Targeted Youth Support Worker) to identify if there is a role for any family mediation and support. In some cases, and where the child is already open to the Young People's Team, it will be more appropriate for the Community Care Officer to complete the Independent Return Interview. The Young people's Team must be contacted in such cases to agree the work required.
5.10 16 and 17 year olds presenting as Homeless16 and 17 year olds who run away or go missing are not necessarily any less vulnerable than younger children and are likely to need as much support to get their lives on track and make a successful transition into adulthood. However, as young people over 16 can choose to leave home it may be necessary to involve other services such as housing officers in the assessment of their needs. Kirklees Safeguarding Children Partnership recognises that a 16 or 17 year old who has run away may present as homeless. There is an existing protocol between the local authority and housing to address the principles, legislative basis and procedures for joint assessment of homeless 16/17 year olds. The full protocol is available at Prevention of Homelessness and Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds who may be Homeless and/or require Accommodation; and Duty to Refer.
5.11 Emergency Accommodation
It is important that emergency accommodation can be accessed directly at any time of the day or night. Bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation is not considered suitable for any child under the age of 18 years, even on an emergency accommodation basis. Emergency accommodation has been agreed with Kirklees Housing by way of a crash pad and Night Stop. These can be accessed via the Emergency Duty Team (out of hours) and Housing (office hours).
The Police have powers to take immediate action to protect a child (The Children Act 1989, Part V - Protection of Children, Section 46). Should it be necessary to take the child into Police protection, the child must be moved as soon as possible into Local Authority accommodation. The Local Authority should consider what type of accommodation is appropriate in each individual case. It is important that children are not placed in accommodation that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation or trafficking.
5.12 Independent Return Interviews and Further Support
When a child is found, she/he must be offered an Independent Return Interview. This is carried out by EITS for all Non-LAC and Other Local Authority LAC in Kirklees. EITS will aim to initiate and carry out an Independent Return Interview within 72 hours of the child returning home. In order to meet this timescale, the Police must ensure Children's Social Care is informed of the child's return within 24 hours.
If the offer of an Independent Return Interview is accepted, a home visit (or other depending on the child's circumstances and where s/he feels safe) is booked for a mutually convenient time, whereby a duty EITS worker will carry out the Independent Return Interview.
Independent Return Interviews are 'in-depth assessments' and provide an opportunity to uncover information that can help protect the child from the risk of going missing again, from risks s/he may have been exposed to while missing or from risk factors in his/her home. Specifically, it should:
- Be held in a neutral place where the child feels safe;
- Identify and deal with any harm the child has suffered – including harm that might not have already been disclosed as part of the Police Safe and Well check – either before they ran away or whilst missing. This might include risk of sexual exploitation, involvement in criminal activity and contact with people that pose a risk to children;
- Understand and try to address the reasons why the child ran away;
- Help the child to feel safe and understand they have options to prevent repeat instances of running away;
- Provide them with information on how to stay safe if they choose to run away again, including helpline numbers; and
- Determine what support they require upon returning home. A referral to the Early Intervention and Targeted Support Service (EITS and TYS) may be required. As such, the Single Assessment Registration and Consent Form will need to be completed and signed by the parent or carer unless this has already been completed and a plan is in place. If so, the EITS Worker should feedback any new issues to the lead professional to ensure the plan continues to meet the child/young person's needs.
The information gathered during an Independent Return Interview for all Non-LAC and Other Local Authority LAC children includes a Risk Assessment and should enable professionals to assess the risk of the child going missing again, and/or if she/he is likely to suffer significant harm in such circumstances. Details of the Independent Return Interview should be recorded on the child's electronic file to enable other professionals to view and share the information as appropriate.
An Independent Return Interview is not deemed to be 'confidential' and the child and his/her parent/carer should be informed of such and told the information will be shared with the Police and other relevant agencies. A 'Sharing of Information Consent Form' should be signed by the parent/carer (or Young Person if they are estranged or live independently) upon completion of each Independent Return Interview and saved on the Child's electronic file.
In cases whereby the child/young person has a CSE Classification and is actively managed by the CSE Hub, then a CSE Engagement Worker from the CSE Hub will carry out the Independent Return Interview.
If the child/young person does not have a current allocated Social Worker or there is no active Single Assessment in place, the EITS worker will complete the Independent Return Interview and the Single Assessment to determine any support required for the family. The EITS worker will also co-ordinate the first TAF (Team Around the Family) if EITS are the multi-agency lead.
All children and young people who are reported missing or are at risk of going missing and are receiving individual EITS support, will receive the Missing Intervention Programme as part of their individual plan. The Missing Intervention Programme includes a 'staying safe' agreement and a session involving the parent/carer.
Any Safeguarding concerns that may arise during the course of carrying out an Independent Return Interview, then the EITS worker must seek advice from the EITS Duty Manager and/or the Emergency Duty Service (if outside office hours). The EITS worker is expected to carry out any actions as a result of the advice given.
5.13 If a Child/Family Decline the Independent Return Interview
Where children and their parents/carers decline to engage with the Independent Return Interview process, EITS should offer them the opportunity to provide any relevant information and intelligence of which they may be aware. This information should be recorded on the child's electronic file (under 'Observations') and shared with the Police as necessary. Consideration should be given to signposting the child/family to agencies for support and to prevent further missing episodes. A 'Missing Information Pack' (containing information and advice to parents/carers and the child) should also be provided to all children and their families after a missing episode.
If the child/young person is the subject of a Child In Need or Child Protection Plan, then the allocated Social Worker (or Duty Social Worker) must also visit the child/young person within 72hrs, regardless of whether the Independent Return Interview has been accepted or not. Any relevant information and intelligence gleaned pertaining to the missing episode by the child or his/her carers should be recorded on the child's electronic file and shared with the Police as necessary. Details of the Independent Return Interview should be recorded on the child's electronic file.
The completion or review of a Missing Risk Assessment by the allocated Social Worker will still be required if the Independent Return Interview is declined. This will assist in determining the risk factors associated with:
- The likelihood of going missing again; and
- The likelihood of significant harm they may be exposed to when missing.
5.14 When to call a Strategy Meeting
Repeatedly going missing should not be viewed as a normal pattern of behaviour. For example, repeat episodes of a child going missing can indicate sexual exploitation. In addition to strategies and issues already highlighted, a Strategy Meeting should be considered for children who have been reported missing:
- A minimum of three times within the previous 30 day period; or
- Have been missing for more than 24 hours in duration for a single reported episode.
It is the Team Manager's responsibility to call and chair the Strategy Meeting. It is the Missing Co-ordinator's responsibility to initiate the Strategy Meeting for OLA LACs placed in Kirklees.
For more information on Section 47 Strategy Enquiries please see the Section 47 Procedures.