Posted: 20 February 2017

A new National Missing Persons Register

We have been calling for the introduction of a national missing persons database for a number of years.

Most recently in our Old Enough to Know Better report, and the APPG inquiry on safeguarding absent children, we outlined how the introduction of such a database would allow information to be shared across police borders and would in turn improve the safeguarding response to children who go missing.

We are delighted  to learn that in their most recent Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation progress report, the Government made a commitment to the introduction of a National Missing Persons Register and it is expected to go live in 2018.

Why is it important?

Currently, no single system to record and share information about children who go missing is in place. As a result, vital information that is important to make a risk assessment when a child is reported missing is not always available. In addition, children who go missing across borders, between different police forces, would not be automatically identified as missing when they come to the attention of the local police. This makes building a bigger picture of children who run away or go missing, the harm they experience when missing, and the individuals who pose risk to them, tricky.

A national database will allow the police to have timely access to information about individual missing children and young people - even if they go missing across police force boundaries. It will help develop a good understanding of the risks and experiences of missing children nationally.

Ultimately, improved access and use of information should result in improved response to children who go missing. 

What does it mean for children in care who live in placements outside their local area?

Children in care are three times more likely to run away than children who live with their families. It is particularly an issue of concern for children in placements outside their local authority area. They often feel isolated from their friends and family and are likely to be running back home, travelling across police boundaries and often over long distances.

We see the introduction of a national database vital to locating and supporting these children who, often, find themselves in very high-risk situations.   

A missing register will help young people who run away repeatedly

Many young people who run away do so repeatedly. They may be trying to escape problems at home or in care or may be running as a result of being groomed for criminal or sexual exploitation.

Our research shows that young people who have run away more than once are more likely to have been harmed whilst away. We, therefore consider it vital that fast and well-informed action is taken by the police to ensure that a child is returned to safety.

A well-designed national database would not only provide accurate data about missing children at a national level but will also be a useful intelligence tool to inform missing children investigations.

The database should include information about previously identified risks, where young people go missing from and to, and whom they go missing with. This would give police access to vital clues that could lead to a child being helped, rather than the child remaining missing for a longer period of time and increasing their risk of serious harm.

Moving forward

There has long been recognition of the need to establish a national database, but to date, progress has been slow. It is very encouraging that the government’s report sets 2018 as a year in which the database will go live. It is important that the progress on this is not delayed anymore. 

By Hannah Chetwynd - Policy team
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