Evidence suggests that looked after children can be at increased risk of many of the harms known to be linked with going missing. It is therefore important that professionals and carers responsible for a child’s care prioritise the response to missing and know how and when to report an incident to the police.

Children who are looked after in the care system are disproportionately likely to go missing. One in every ten looked after children will go missing compared to an estimated one in every two hundred children generally.

Young people want:

  • Agencies to recognise there will be a reason they’ve gone missing and to avoid making assumptions about them
  • Recognise that for some young people going missing is part of growing up. Staff can help through the relationships and understanding they form
  • Never automatically call the Police – have a proper risk based assessment and decision making process
  • The Police to act supportively and respectfully when they’re found
  • People to understand life is complicated for us. We know we need our experiences and particular risks to be taken into account, but we also want to be treated like other children.

Best practice tips:

Think about a young person going missing before they’re placed – assess the likelihood, the potential harms and have a plan

Talk to the young person about safety factors if they’re on their own and where to get help

Assess the push factors and the pull factors – what can you do to mitigate these?

Build those relationships! This is what you’re good at and key to enabling greater choice for the young person

When planning, have a list of places you think the young person may go – think about risks in the community, pressures they may be under from individuals or gangs, the draw of friends and family, the young person’s particular needs and wishes

When missing act like any reasonable parent – go look, keep looking and if you’re really worried involve the Police in line with your risk assessment

Although it’s worrying and demanding of our time, act with acceptance, care and empathy rather than frustration, upset and annoyance on their return.

Be genuinely pleased they are back. Recognise they may have been abused while away (and may not recognise this themselves)

Create spaces and motivation for reflective conversations about the choices made

Recognise you don’t have the full picture – the young person may not be able to let you know the motivations and concerns behind their decisions. Let them know you don’t know everything, but you care enough to listen and be curious!

Learn from what has happened and update your plan

This report is a summary of a consultation with children and young people in the care of a local authority conducted in early 2021.

To read the report in full, please click here


You can also visit the Missing People website at www.missingpeople.org.uk