Posted: 02 February 2017

Scrapping the ‘absent’ category: a step towards a safer response for missing children

January 2017 saw the removal of the controversial two-tiered police recording system for missing children and young people. This two-tiered system allowed police forces to categorise children missing from home or care as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’. 

Missing cases would receive an active police response, whilst children categorised as absent were deemed not to be at risk of harm and no active police action would be taken.

We have been voicing concerns about the use of the ‘absent’ category and calling on the police to scrap it since it was introduced in 2013.

We welcome the change made this January, as the first step towards a safer response to children who go missing.

Our inquiry into the safeguarding of ‘absent’ children

Last year we supported the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on young runaways and the Missing Children and Adults inquiry into how ‘absent’ children were safeguarded.

Through the inquiry we found evidence of children at serious risk of danger whilst classified as absent.

Absent children were often recorded in a different way from missing children and information risks they faced while away from home were not recorded properly. Many children had dropped off the radar and had been groomed for sexual exploitation or forced to run drugs across county lines.

We have also found that those classified as absent receive significantly fewer offers of Return Home Interviews (RHIs), than those classed as missing. RHIs can help identify harm and understand and address the reasons why a child has run away, allowing professionals to take action to address and prevent further risks of going missing. 


In the final report of the inquiry, 'It is good when somebody cares', the APPG recommended that the ‘absent’ category should be scrapped, as it is not safe. Acting on this recommendation, the College of Policing issued new guidance; now all children will be classed as missing and will be assessed for levels of risk ranging from ‘no apparent risk’ through to ‘high risk’, ensuring that they receive appropriate response.  

What will the active police response look like for those missing at ‘no apparent risk’?

According to the guidelines, the police will agree on actions to locate the child with the person that reports them as missing. A time will be set when the case will be reviewed, if the young person has not returned home. If the child or young person continues to be missing, their level of risk will be escalated and the appropriate police response will follow.

Our up and coming research report, set to be published in the spring, will explore information sharing for missing children in more detail.

Scrapping the absent category should also mean that many more children and young people receive an offer of a RHI after their missing episode.

Moving forward

More needs to be done to ensure that each missing child receives appropriate response:

  • The police need to ensure that each child, reported as missing, is thoroughly risk assessed to ensure that they are not inappropriately categorised as ‘no apparent risk’ or faced with a delayed response from the police.
  • To ensure that the police do not miss important information about the child, they need to work with children’s services as well as other agencies.
  • The government needs to introduce the missing person database to ensure that information about missing children is shared and used intelligently to keep children safe.  

We will continue our research and campaigning, as well as our work with the APPG, to ensure that missing children receive timely responses and help to stay safe. 

By Hannah Chetwynd - Policy team

Our impact

In 2015/16 we supported more than 18,000 children and young people


Read more

APPG inquiry into children who go missing or run away from care

Posted: 12 March 2012


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More than words?: Do 'missing' and 'absent' make young runaways safer?

Posted: 21 March 2013