Missing children and young runaways
This guidance is not intended to replace existing agency protocols in respect of missing children, young runaways or child trafficking but should be read in conjunction with any relevant single or multi-agency procedures.
The Scottish Government launched the NATIONAL MISSING PERSONS FRAMEWORK FOR SCOTLAND on 10 May 2017.
Describing a child or young person as 'missing' can cover a range of circumstances. A child, young person or family (including unborn children) can be considered as 'missing'. 'Missing' can apply in different contexts:
- children who are 'missing' to statutory services- this can include a child or family's loss of contact with, or their 'invisibility' to, a statutory service, such as education (for example, home educated children), health or social services; and;
- children who are 'missing' from home or care - this can involve a child or young person who has run away from their home or care placement, who has been forced to leave or whose whereabouts are unknown. This may be because they have been the victim of an accident, crime and/or because they have actively left or chosen not to return to place where they are expected.
A child or young person who has run away, and cases where the child or young person have been 'thrown out' by their parents or carers, are both encapsulated within the term 'runaway' (though the individual circumstances and needs of the child or young person may be very different). Children and young people who go missing remain vulnerable from the factors that resulted in them going missing (for example, domestic abuse) as well from the associated risks of being missing (for example, homelessness). The number of children classified as missing is not clear, but extreme cases can result in homelessness and sleeping rough, engaging in crime, drugs and prey to sexual exploitation. Many cases are never reported to police and few ever approach agencies for help.
The reason for absence of a child may not be apparent. Staff should refer to individual service policies and procedures. A number of circumstances in which children or young people may be termed as missing are listed below (most of the issues are discussed in detail elsewhere in the guidance):
- Parental abduction - a parent may fail to return or remove a child from contact with another parent, in contravention of a court order or without the consent of the other parent (or person who has parental rights). This can occur within national borders as well as across borders;
- Stranger abduction - a child may fail to return because they have been the victim of a crime;
- Forced marriage - a child or young person may be missing due to being forced into marriage abroad or within the UK;
- Trafficked children and young people - a child or young person may become missing due to being trafficked and later being removed from a placement. Asylum-seeking children are particularly vulnerable to vanishing, their substitute care can feel unsafe for them and many do not have a trusted adult advocating for them;
- Sexual exploitation - a child or young person may become missing due to sexual exploitation;
- Young runaways and those 'forced to leave' or thrown out - This can include any child or young person under the age of 16, who is absent from their domicile without the reasonable authority of those responsible for or in charge of them, and who needs a service either to find and return them to that place (where it is safe or in the child's interests to do so), or to keep them safe; ensure an appropriate and proportionate response to their needs; meet statutory obligations.
From 1st April 2011 the above protocol developed by the Fife Child Protection Committee came into effect. You can access the protocol at the link below.
The Police participate in the process of trying to locate young people who are missing and share the view that there is a need for a tiered and managed approach to this process, depending on the level of risk surrounding the absence.
While the majority of responsibilities to trace children missing from care lie with Fife Social Work Service and managers of residential houses within the local authority and independent sector, it is vital that all agencies recognise the importance that young people whom we look after are as safe as possible in placement. The safety of the young person is the main focus at all times. Although this protocol deals with Looked after Children, it focuses specifically on young people missing from residential establishments due to the high number who go missing.
The purpose of the Protocol is to:
- to create a common risk assessment tool;
- identify a series of agreed and determined actions that should be considered by professionals when a young person is missing;
- provide a consistent approach for the relevant agencies when a young person is absent from a residential house; and
- set out the differing responsibilities of Police and Social Work and actions that should be undertaken by each agency.
The main change that will impact on the Police response and subsequent investigation is that residential managers and carers will now work to an agreed period of 'unauthorised absence'.
'Unauthorised absence' is defined as absent for a short period of time and after a careful and thorough risk assessment the absence does not raise concern for their immediate safety or that of the public. In accordance with national guidelines, this period should not exceed 6 hours.
The protocol has contained within it a risk assessment checklist which staff can use to help them assess risk and decide on appropriate courses of action.
The protocol has been adopted by all Local Authority Care Homes and private Care Homes in Fife.
Running away puts children and young people in danger and is often a sign of underlying problems in a child or young person’s life. It is associated with a number of short-term risks, including sleeping rough, involvement in crime, sexual exploitation and substance misuse, as well as poorer long-term outcomes in terms of increased levels of homelessness, social exclusion and unemployment.
Children and young people who are in need because they have run away from home may have an immediate need for somewhere safe to stay. Section 38 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 enables local authorities to provide a short-term refuge in designated or approved establishments and households.
Police Scotland has a well-established Young Runaway Scheme. Once a juvenile missing person has been found the Young Runaway co-ordinator as part of the Youth issues Team will arrange for the Return Home Welfare Interview (RHWI) of traced/returned young runaways. The RHWI will be planned in greater detail and will be conducted within 7 days by a police officer, social worker or member of care home staff, depending on the individual circumstances
The principles underpinning RHWI include:
- the paramount consideration is the welfare of the young person;
- collaboration and information-sharing between agencies and professionals;
- shared accountability between agencies for decisions made and actions taken;
- the views of young people will be sought and taken into consideration; and
- the need to ensure community wellbeing through the reduction of antisocial behaviour.