Missing from Home and Care Operating Guidance

1. Context

When a child or young person goes missing, this can be reflective of other safeguarding issues affecting him / her.

Some of the risks associated with children who are missing from home and care include:

  • The child or young person being in unsafe places, with unsafe or risky adults;
  • Being more likely to be involved in substance misuse;
  • Being more likely to be involved in anti-social or criminal offending behaviour;
  • More likely to be involved in child trafficking or child sexual exploitation;
  • Less likely to be socially / educationally engaged.

This means that children who go missing, particularly where this is a sustained feature of their behaviour and / or connected with other types of vulnerability are more likely to be suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm. For this reason, it is important that Social Care and Early Help services identify, understand and address missing episodes for children, in ways that reduce risk and vulnerability.

Our aim in working with children in these circumstances will always be to reduce future missing episodes and to reduce the risk that children are exposed to. The below sets out the way in which social workers and Early Help staff in Rotherham should work with missing children and young people.

For more details about safeguarding a missing child, see Rotherham Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, South Yorkshire Missing from Home and Care Protocol 2020.

2. The Process to Follow

All staff becoming aware that a child is missing should ensure that this has been reported to the responsible police authority after all reasonable attempts have been made to find the child. For more details on making a report of a missing child, see the Rotherham Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Referring Safeguarding Concerns about Children Procedure.

In RMBC, all Missing from Home or Care notifications will be made by the responsible Police Authority to the MASH.

The MASH Team will create a record of the child's missing episode in the electronic social care file (missing notification). Where the child is already known and allocated to a social worker or Early Help Worker, an electronic notification of the missing episode will be sent to that worker. At the same time, the missing episode will be re-assigned to the Missing Co-ordinator, so that the Return Home Interview task can be allocated and carried out (after the child is found).

In the event that a child is not already known / allocated to a social worker and the missing episode raises a safeguarding concern about a child, the MASH Team will undertake usual screening activity and determine the appropriate service provision for the child (Social Care, Early Help or Universal Services). The Return Home Interview will be triggered in the usual way (see above).

When the child has been found, the Police will notify the MASH staff and they will record this on the child's file.

See: Appendix 1: Simple Missing Pathway

3. Return Home Interviews

When a missing child has been found, they must be offered a Return Home Interview, which should be carried out within 72 hours. These will usually be carried out by staff who are independent of the case management and care provision for the child. In Rotherham, the Missing Team (within the Evolve Service) will carry out the Return Home Interview, though if the child is placed some distance from Rotherham borough, other arrangements for the Return Home Interview may be made, including with the host local authority or an independent provider. The Return Home Interview may be carried out by a known adult (social worker or other professional) if the child expresses this wish.

Consideration should be given to the venue in which the Return Home Interview takes place, so that children are helped to talk as freely as possible about the issues involved.

The purpose of the Return Interview is to understand and address the reasons for the missing episode, identify and understand any harm the child has suffered, and help the child find strategies to minimise future missing episodes. Return Home Interviews should be recorded on the Liquid Logic file.

4. Risk Reduction and Keeping Children Safe

It is important that missing episodes are considered as events that may increase risk / vulnerability for children. Repeatedly going missing should not be viewed as a normal pattern of behaviour. If a child goes missing (especially when this happens repeatedly) the allocated social worker should consider what action is needed to help to protect the child.

When missing episodes occur, allocated case workers should consider:

It will be appropriate to involve Return Home Interview staff in the above activity in order to ensure that all available information is shared and considered. The updating of assessments, care plans and convening of strategy discussions is a part of usual Social Work functions and is the responsibility of the allocated social worker / Team Manager.

It is important that assessments, investigations and plans address the root cause of the missing episodes taking place and ultimately aim to reduce the risks of further missing episodes.

Remember to consider whether or not the missing episodes could be linked to Child Sexual Exploitation, and refer to the CSE indicators and the Evolve Team, should you need advice or help with this.

5. Knowing the Child

In order to make sure that children who go missing are found and safeguarded as quickly as possible it is important that our records contain up to date information. This can be recorded in the Trigger Plan or the Case Summary. Good Social Work records will contain the following:

  • An up to date photograph of the child;
  • Up to date contact information about the child's friends / family and significant others;
  • Information about where the child is likely to go in the event they are missing;
  • The child's mobile phone number and any other means of contacting him / her;
  • The place where the child should be returned to when he / she is found.
This information should be made available to the police in the area the child has gone missing or in the area the child is suspected to be, including when a looked after child is placed out of area.

Appendix 1: Simple Missing Pathway

Click here to view Appendix 1: Simple Missing Pathway

Appendix 2: Simple Pathway – Missing Notifications in the MASH

Click here to view Appendix 2: Simple Pathway – Missing Notifications in the MASH