Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is a key duty on local authorities.

Children running away and going missing from home or care is a safeguarding issue. The DfE published statutory guidance in January 2014 which primarily addressed the responsibilities on Local Authorities to children who run away or go missing from home or care.

Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care

Definitions of missing

Missing Person – (Association of Chief Police Officers’ Definition): “a missing person is anyone whose whereabouts are unknown, whatever the circumstances of disappearance. He or she will be considered missing until located and his or her wellbeing, or otherwise, established.”

Young runaway and missing – children/young people up to the age of 18 who have run away from their home or care placement, have been forced to leave, or whose whereabouts is unknown;

Abscond – a child/young person who is absent from their placement without permission and who is subject to an order or requirement resulting from the criminal justice process such as curfews, tagging etc or a secure order made in either civil or criminal proceedings. In these cases the location of the child must be known otherwise they are deemed missing.

Child Abduction – where a child/young person has been abducted or forcibly removed from their place of residence a
report should be made immediately to the police.

Children can go missing for a variety of reasons, but in most instances they return home safely. Girls are more likely to go missing than boys at a young age and the harm to the child increases with younger children. In some cases, children might run away because of family issues or conflict with parents and carers. Sometimes children run away to escape abuse or rejection. Sometimes problems at school can be the cause for children to go missing. Sometimes children are not running away but running to somewhere, for example, in cases of child sexual exploitation.

Practice guidance for professionals about children who go missing from Home or Care, can be found in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Partnership Board’s Procedures Manual.

Help, guidance and assistance is also available from Missing Kids, part of Missing People.

Patterns of going missing

  • Four out of five children who run away do so only once or twice.
  • Twenty percent of children going missing under the age of 16 had been forced to leave home.
  • Very few children go outside their local area while away.
  • Children under 16 are most likely to run away because of abuse and neglect. Whilst those who first run away or are forced to leave at the age of 16 or 17 are more likely to do so for reasons of family conflict and breakdown.
  • Children in residential placements were likely to have gone missing more often in the past than those going missing from foster placements. Children aged 14 and 15 tended to stay away longer.
  • For children who go missing often, there is a progressive risk of detachment from family, carers and school (exclusion or non-attendance).
  • Evidence would suggest that once patterns of school non-attendance and running away become established they are mutually reinforcing.
  • Children who go missing often are also more likely to have problems with depression, drugs and alcohol and to have involvement in offending.
  • Children with previous convictions were far more likely to run away than those who had none.

Guidance and downloads

Children who go Missing from Home or Care Protocol

Additional Resources is a service that you can phone text or email 24/7 call or text the runaway helpline 116000 (free & confidential)

The Children’s Society have developed a range of resources to help understand how to support vulnerable young people, in particular those who go missing. These resources help you know what to do when a child goes missing and how to prevent children from going missing in the first place. The Children’s Society has developed a series of guides for:

  • Local safeguarding leads
  • Local authority commissioners
  • Professionals working with children and young people
  • Parents and carers
  • Children and young people

The resources are available on the Children’s Society website.

The Childrens Society have developed a Runaway Charter that you may find helpful in working with children and young people who runaway –

To support a child they can ring or contact Childline – or ring 0800 111