Posted: 17 July 2017

Five changes that could make a difference to missing children and young people

Running away is a child’s cry for help. It is a sign that there are problems in their lives – problems that, with the right support and intervention, could be resolved. It is vital that we get the response right for children who go missing or run away.

The right response to missing children

Over the last decade, there has been a considerable shift in our understanding of the issues affecting children who run away or go missing from home or care. We now have a better understanding of the links between going missing and child sexual exploitation and a better picture of the risks facing children missing from care.

Encouragingly, in many areas greater awareness of risks to missing children has been accompanied by improvements in practice.

A need for better communication

However, this progress has not been consistent across all geographical areas or all agencies with responsibilities for missing children.

Our latest report – Making Connections: Understanding how local agencies can better keep missing children safe - identified poor information sharing between the police and children’s services, and inappropriate initial and ongoing risk assessment when a child is reported as missing.

We also found a lack of opportunities for children to share their experiences and worries with an independent professional through the return interview. And for children who are looked after and placed out of their home area, there are additional barriers to getting a timely and proper response when they are missing.

Five changes that could make a difference

Taking the findings from our research, we have created five changes that we believe could make a real difference to the lives of children who go missing or are at risk of going missing:


The initial police risk assessment should be informed by all relevant, information about the risks facing the young person.

When a child is reported missing, the risk assessment needs to be created with the input of different agencies who have been in contact with the child and may hold vital pieces of the puzzle. This includes the police, children’s services, schools and voluntary sector organisations.


All police forces should allow children’s services to flag a child as high risk on police databases.

Or, at the very least, allow children’s services to request to flag a child as high risk. This would allow them to bring a child’s vulnerabilities to the attention of the police.


Statutory guidance should be revised to include guidance on information sharing from return home interviews.

Local authorities and the police should work in partnership with statutory partners to invest in training on obtaining sufficient information from return home interviews. They should ensure that all partners are aware of the principles of good information sharing.


Information obtained during a return home interview should be used to inform the response that the child receives.

The statutory guidance must specify that local authorities must act on recommendations made about the welfare of a young person following a return interview.


Local authorities must work together with the police to ensure that looked-after children who are placed out of area do not slip through the net.

When placing a child outside of their home area, local authorities should notify the police force in the area of the placement. The Government should amend the statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care to ensure this.

Small changes make a big impact

Different agencies hold different information about a child, making it vital that they work together to build the whole picture of the vulnerabilities facing young people going missing.

Our report found that accurate, timely and pertinent information sharing is key. This could range from information contained in a looked-after child’s risk assessment, intelligence gathered in a previous return home interview or knowledge about the child’s physical and mental health.

Whilst we have come a long way in recent years to respond better to missing children, we must not be complacent.

Solutions do not need to be expensive. Simple changes in how services work together can help to ensure the response to missing children continues to improve. These small changes can have a big impact on a young person’s life.

Read our latest report: making connections

By Hannah Chetwynd - Policy team

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