Missing from Care (Absent/Missing Children)


The Protection of Children Standard
Regulation 12


Children and young people who are absent without authority are protected in accordance with written guidance and responded to positively on return.


Children and Young People Missing from Home or Care Joint Protocol, Northamptonshire Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures

Safeguarding the Children of Kent

Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board


Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care (DfE, January 2014) where the child is, or has been, persistently absent from the placement;

ACPO Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2013)


Section 1, Definitions was updated in June 2017 with a link to the College of Policing’s definition of missing and absent.


  1. Definitions
  2. Planning and Prevention
  3. Leaving without Permission
  4. Immediate Actions if a Child or Young Person is Absent
  5. Monitoring/Notifications
  6. Children who Continue to be Absent over 24 hours
  7. Longer Periods of Absence
  8. Returning Children
  9. Upon Return of the Child
  10. Recording and Review

    Appendix 1: Levels of Concern

1. Definitions

There are various different terms which are used in relation to missing children:

Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care (DfE, January 2014) uses the following definitions:

  • 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. 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

Click here for the College of Policing definition of missing and absent.

The police classification of a person as 'Missing' or 'Absent' will be based on on-going risk assessment.

Police will not be sent to cases where children/young people are defined as being 'absent'. Instead the onus will be on care providers to take steps to locate the child/young person, with monitoring by the police and escalation to 'missing' if there is a change to the circumstances that has increased the level of risk. It is expected that all reasonable steps should be taken by care providers to locate the child/young person prior to making a report to the police. Where they remain absent, and the care provider feels that they may be at risk of harm, then a report should be made to the police.

Police will attend reports of 'missing' children/young people'.

2. Planning and Prevention

The Director must ensure that all the children in the community are counselled regularly in the dangers and risks to leaving the community without permission. They should also be provided with information on where they can access help if they consider running away, e.g. from ChildLine or by contacting their Independent Person (see Advocacy and Independent Persons Procedure).

All children have a Placement Plan which incorporates a Risk Assessment, which must take account of any likely risk of the child becoming Absent. If there are known/likely risks, the Placement Plan should incorporate measures to reduce or prevent the child becoming absent, and information that would help facilitate the location of the child should they go missing.

Where there are child protection concerns relating to a child and/or where the child has gone missing from the placement or from any previous placement, the Placement Plan must include information agreed between the local authority and the placement provider about the day-to-day arrangements put in place to keep the child safe.

The child's Looked After Child Review should be brought forward in the following circumstances:

  • Where the child is, or has been, persistently absent from the placement;
  • Where the Home, parents or area authority are concerned that the child is at risk of harm;
  • Where the child so requests, unless the Independent Reviewing Officer considers that the review is not justified.

A Police missing person’s or 'Misper' form should be completed for all children, at the point of admission with an up to date photograph to be attached to the 'Misper' form and the Child's Placement Plan should be reviewed regularly and after any absence. The form and photograph should be regularly reviewed and updated throughout the child’s placement.

In the absence of an agreed plan, staff are responsible for taking all reasonable steps to prevent children from becoming Absent and placing themselves or others at risk. As a last resort, this can include the use of Physical Intervention, if this is immediately necessary to prevent Injury or Damage to Property. The use of such interventions should be compliant with Use of Restraint and Physical Interventions Procedure.

Each community has a ‘missing from care protocol’ with their local police.

3. Leaving without Permission

If a child indicates that they propose to leave the community without permission, staff should remain aware that a child might want a staff member to stop them or at least give them a good excuse for not going. It is crucial that staff always show care and concern, even if they are sure that a child is going to go anyway. It is important to make a point of showing care and concern both for the child's benefit and for other children in the group.

4. Immediate Actions if a Child or Young Person is Absent

In the absence of any agreed Strategy the following must apply if it is apparent or suspected that a child is absent.

In such circumstances, staff should take what actions are immediately necessary to recover the child, in the context of risks posed to the child or others.

4.1 Immediate Actions

If it is safe to do so, staff should undertake enquiries locally and with the other children as to the whereabouts of the child to establish that sh/e is absent. This may include a thorough check of the local area and the community and may include contacting people who know the child or going out to look for them. If the child has become absent during an activity away from the home, staff should conduct a search of the vicinity, if it is safe to do so.

Searches beyond the local vicinity may only be undertaken with the approval of a line manager.

If staff are satisfied that the child is absent but they are aware or suspect the whereabouts of a child, they should consult a Manager with a view to recovering the child. This may include attempting to communicate with the child on his or her mobile phone, searching for the child and/or obtaining information from others about the possible whereabouts of the child. Within one hour of the child going missing the CET Director should be notified.

4.2 Consulting the Line Manager

Having taken any immediate actions to recover the child, the manager must be consulted and should undertake an assessment to determine the level of risk that is posed to the child e.g. if the risk is 'Low', 'Medium' or 'High' - as set out in Appendix 1: Levels of Concern.

The assessment, which should be approved by the Director/ Registered Manager, should consider the following:

  • Vulnerability due to age of child person;
  • Child person considered, due to various reasons, to be particularly vulnerable (e.g. Learning/Physical disability, subject to a Child Protection Plan);
  • Child person in need of regular medication (e.g. diabetic);
  • Previous history of child (e.g. previously missing, previous self harm);
  • Circumstances (e.g. debts, divorce, family problems, employment concerns, possible involvement in crime);
  • Health, including mental health;
  • Weather (e.g. severe cold or heat), or geography (e.g. remote area);
  • Possessions and/or money (or lack of them) believed to be in the missing person's possession giving cause for concern;
  • Dependency on drugs and/or alcohol;
  • Known vulnerability of the missing person, raising concern that they may have been led into danger, including sexual exploitation;
  • Known associates of missing person that give rise to heightened concerns over the missing person's safety (e.g. associates known to be involved in criminal activities);
  • Length of time the person has been missing;
  • Is the child perceived to be running to someone or from a situation?
  • Degree of risk to the public;
  • Recent significant events, contributory factors and the child's state of mind at the time of the absence;
  • Time of day/night;
  • Possible location of the child/young person;
  • Other information specific to the child;
  • Legal status;
  • Any guidance agreed within the Care Plan.

Decisions and reasoning from this assessment should be recorded on the child's case file.

Professionals involved should be aware of dismissing multiple incidents of missing from care by a child, thereby labelling the child and failing to analyse the underlying cause for the child going missing.

5. Monitoring/Notifications

5.1 Monitoring and Notifications regarding children who are 'Missing' or 'Absent'

The categories of concern (Low, Medium or High) are defined in Appendix 1: Levels of Concern.

Low-Level Concern: If there is a Low-Level of Concern, there is no requirement to notify the Police, social worker or parents immediately. The situation should be reviewed after 6 hours or as circumstances change. If the child remains absent after 6 hours, s/he automatically transfers to the Medium-Level category.

Medium-Level Concern: If there is a Medium-Level of Concern, the Police, social worker and parents may be consulted or verbally notified, for information, but there is no requirement to formally notify them formally. If the police of social worker are consulted or verbally notified, this must be recorded.

The level of concern should then be reviewed every two hours by staff, or as circumstances change.

If a Missing child remains in the Medium-Level Category for a total of 6 hours s/he automatically falls into High-Level category and the Police and social worker must be formally notified.

Where a child remains Absent, the Police and social worker must be consulted every six hours to determine whether to up or down grade the level of concern. This notification/consultation must be recorded. Such a child should only be notified formally to the Police/social worker if it is determined that the level of concern is High; though this does not prevent strategies from being adopted, with the police and social worker, to return the child to his/her placement if possible.

High-Level Concern: See Appendix 1: Levels of Concern. If there is a High-Level of Concern, the Police in the area where the child became absent must be formally notified immediately.

The social worker must be notified as soon as practicable. The social worker should decide whether to notify the parent(s) and, if so, who should do so.

When notifying or consulting the Police and social worker an explanation should be provided of the circumstances leading to the absence and that there is a High-Level of Concern about the child - as well as an explanation of those concerns. All notifications and consultations must be recorded.

The Police will require the following additional information as follows:

  1. A description of the child;
  2. When the child was last seen and with whom;
  3. A recent photograph of the child;
  4. Family addresses;
  5. Other addresses of people the child may make contact with;
  6. Any previous history of the child going missing;
  7. The name and address of the child's GP and Dentist.

The Police, social worker and others notified must then be updated as circumstances change and when the child returns.

6. Children who Continue to be Absent Over 24 Hours

If the child remains absent for 24 hours, the Community Director of the home should ensure that the social worker and Police are consulted to decide what Strategies can be adopted to return the child.

The Line Manager for the community should also be notified.

If the child's absence has not already been categorised as High-Level Concern, a decision should be taken about whether to do so and, if so, to formally notify the Police of the Absence.

The other measures that may be appropriate are listed in the Section 7, Longer Periods of Absence.

Unless otherwise agreed, the Community Director should ensure the social worker and Police are consulted every 24 hours, as circumstances change or new information becomes available.

7. Longer Periods of Absence

If the child is still absent after 7 days, the Deputy Chief Executive must be notified and should consult the Placing Authority to decide what actions to take e.g.

  1. The convening of a Strategy Discussion;
  2. Use by the Police of their powers to recover the child, for example, placing a child in Police Protection;
  3. An application for a Recovery Order;
  4. An application for a Secure Accommodation Order;
  5. The use of publicity.

If the child remains absent for 14 days the Police will notify the UKl Missing Persons Bureau.

8. Returning Children

If a child's whereabouts become known, staff should decide what actions are necessary to return the child to the community, preferably in consultation with the social worker.

Any actions taken should preferably be with the co-operation of or by negotiation with the child.

If the child does not co-operate and there are risks posed to the child or others, including staff, it will be necessary to consider the following:

  • The use, by staff, of coercion or force. If staff consider using any form of coercion or force to return an uncooperative child, they must always exercise caution, and should not act without consulting a manager or supervisor unless it is absolutely necessary to do so to protect a child or others from Significant Injury or to prevent Serious Damage to Property;
  • If in doubt, the Police should also be consulted before staff act; although the measures open to the Police are limited unless there are risks of Significant Harm or a criminal offence being committed.

9. Upon Return of the Child/Young Person

The Police, Social Worker and others notified of the absence must be informed when the child returns. The child must be welcomed back and must have the opportunity to talk about the reasons for leaving. If the child's absence was reported to the Police, the child should be seen within 72 hours by the social worker.

If the social worker is unable to see the child, an independent professional or Director/Registered Manager may meet the child on the social worker's behalf. This could include the home's advocacy service if one exists in the home.

The purpose of this meeting is to give the child an opportunity to talk about the reasons for their absence and follow up any concerns or Complaints.

The outcome of the meeting with the child should be discussed with the social worker and Community Director with a view deciding what Strategies can be adopted to prevent further absences.

If the child was absent for three days or more or the absence was one of three episodes reported to the Police in the previous four weeks, the Police should be asked to contribute to these discussions.

Following any missing episode an Independent Return Interview should be carried out by an independent professional (e.g. a social worker, teacher, health professional or police officer, who does not usually work with the child and is trained to carry out these interviews). Children sometimes need to build up trust with a person before they will discuss in depth the reasons why they ran away.

The person conducting the interview should usually be independent of the child’s placement and of the responsible local authority. An exception maybe where a child has a strong relationship with a carer or social worker and has expressed a preference to talk to them, rather than an independent person, about the reasons they went missing.

The responsible local authority should ensure the Return Interview takes place, working closely with the host authority where appropriate. Contact should be made with the child within 72 hours of them being located or returning from absence, to arrange an Independent Return Interview in a neutral place where they feel safe.

Where a looked after child has run away they should have the opportunity to talk, before they return to their placement, to a person who is independent of their placement about the reasons they went missing. The child should be offered the option of speaking to an independent representative or advocate.

10. Recording and Review

Police notifications should be recorded, with a photograph of the child, on a Police MISPER form.

Staff should record Absences on the following:

  • Daily Log;
  • Child's Daily Record;
  • Missing Person Log.

The Community Director/Registered Manager should consider whether to review the  Placement Plan to include strategies to reduce or prevent future occurrences - it must be reviewed if there have been persistent absences or there are serious concerns e.g. if the Child was placed at serious risk.

If a child is, or has been, persistently absent without permission from the Home and/or the Manager considers that the child is at risk of harm, the Manager will ask the placing authority to review the child's Care Plan. The Manager will consult the Child's Social Worker/YOT Worker and Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) with a view to reviewing the Care Plan. 

Appendix 1: Levels of Concern

1. High Level of Concern

If the child is Missing and remains absent for 12 hours, s/he automatically falls into the High Level of Concern category.

Also any child who is Missing or Absent, immediately falls into the High Level of Concern category if the following or similar circumstances apply:

  1. The child's death may occur;
  2. The child may be at risk of serious injury or harm, e.g. from adverse weather conditions or the child's inability to stay safe;
  3. The child requires essential medication/medical attention;
  4. The child is likely to suffer Significant Harm;
  5. The child may come into contact with any person who may pose them a risk. The child may be injured, including self injury, and require medical attention;
  6. There is a warrant for the child's arrest;
  7. The child may commit a violent or arrestable offence;
  8. The child may be abducted;
  9. The child's  is on a list for a child subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  10. The child is subject to Police Protection;
  11. The child is subject to an Emergency Protection Order or Recovery Order.

2. Medium and Low Levels of Concern

The criteria for deciding whether a child falls into the low or medium category cannot be defined absolutely. It is for staff on the day to decide what level of concern to apply depending on the age, background, level of understanding of the child/young person and other circumstances on the day.

If in doubt, staff should consult the Director/ Registered Manager, social worker or the Police.

Age and level of understanding

Age is a factor, but not alone. Also consider level of understanding, ability to make informed decisions, the child's ability to operate in urban or rural environments, social and life skills, disability etc. The more able the child is, the less concern staff should have.

Number of Absences

Consider the number of times the child has absented him/herself and from what situations. For example, children who have absented themselves from similar accommodations and returned safely may be of less concern than those who are not known to staff or who do not normally absent themselves.

Behaviour whilst absent

Consider what the child does or is suspected to get involved in whilst absent on previous occasions. Also consider how recent such problems have been. Higher levels of concern should be attributed to those who are known, recently, to have placed themselves or others at risk of significant harm. The factors that may result in higher levels of concern are that the child has previously:

  • Made contact with known/suspected Schedule 1 Offenders;

  • Been abducted;

  • Self injured or attempted suicide;

  • Committed or been associated with a serious or Criminal offence;

  • Been subject to sexual exploitation;

  • Or other serious risks/concerns.
Circumstances on the day

The following are examples of circumstances, which may be considered in deciding the level of concern on the day. The fact that they apply to a child does not automatically mean there is a high level of concern; the decision rests with the manager having considered all the circumstances.

  • Out of character/unusual behaviour prior to disappearance;

  • Absence with no prior indication;

  • Possibility of sexual exploitation or being drawn into offending behaviour.