1 May 2019

Opportunities to safeguard children who go missing from home or care are being missed by councils.

New research by The Children’s Society, found on average just 50%[1] of missing episodes resulted in return home interviews taking place, despite it being a statutory requirement on local authorities to offer them each time a child goes missing.

A Return Home Interview (RHI) is an in-depth discussion between an independent trained professional and the child or young person. It aims to find out what happened to them during their missing episode – so who they met and where they stayed and any risks they may have been exposed to. In some areas as few as one in five missing incidents resulted in interviews whilst in others areas nearly all of them did.

The research, which was commissioned by the National Police Chiefs Council Lead for Missing People with funding from the Home Office, found many councils were unable to provide any data on the number of children going missing in their area, how many return home interviews were offered and carried out, or what help was offered to children as a result of RHIs .  

Sam Royston, Policy and Research Director at The Children’s Society, said:

'Going missing is often a cry for help from a child. A return home interview not only shows this young person that someone cares, it also enables safeguarding professionals to understand how best to support them. It is deeply concerning that so many children who go missing are not receiving a return home interview, which could be crucial to keeping them safe.'

Just 24 local authorities in England could provide data for the uptake of return home interviews for children who go missing from home[2], 21 on looked after children who go missing from placements within their home area[3] and only 14 offered data on looked after children missing from placements outside their home area.[4]

There are additional challenges with data for looked after children who are placed ‘out of area’. There is increasing evidence of a growth in the numbers of these placements for children, which can lead to greater levels of vulnerability when children go missing, as children often try to return to their home area to see family or friends.

The logistics around out of area placements pose significant challenges for undertaking an RHI, there is a confusion over who is responsible for doing the interview, a worry about the quality of the information collected and then how that information is shared.

Across return home interviews for all groups of children, how information is recorded and shared was also an issue. The 2014 statutory guidance on missing children from the Department for Educations states interviews should find out why the child went missing, the experiences they had; such as the people they saw and the places they went; and identify and deal with any harm they may have suffered.

The Children’s Society found one in five local authorities are not recording information from interviews in any consistent way. Of the 87 local authorities that answered the survey, 69 said they recorded full notes or specific information from an RHI. The data also suggests that information sharing from RHIs between children’s services and police is not consistent across the country and in some areas it is very limited. 

Mr Royston said: 'It is deeply concerning that in many areas return home interview data is not consistently collected or shared. There needs to be clear good practice guidance across the country on what should be recorded, shared and followed up. Without this the RHI risks becoming little more than a box-ticking exercise that ultimately fails young people.'

Overall the research confirmed the majority of local authorities see a return home interview as important[5], however this does not translate into a consistent provision across England and Wales.

One young person, who understand their importance is Sophie Smith[6]. The teenager started running away when she was 13 years old, she was regularly arguing with her mum and found it easier to leave home rather than face the various issues that were affecting her. Sophie, now aged 15 is sitting her GCSE’s and has a good relationship with her mum, she said:

'Without the interview, I would not be who I am now, I think it’s so important people have them and try and use them. The lady who did them was really nice. Instead of forcing me to answer her questions she was empathetic, she didn’t make me feel like I was trouble or like I’d get into trouble. She listened to me and made me feel comfortable.'

Sophie adds: 'Without them no one would have realised I needed any help and for others…well that interview might be the only chance they have of having someone to talk to. Return home interviews are really important, because of them my life is a million times better.'

West Yorkshire Police, Assistant Chief Constable, Catherine Hankinson is the Missing People Lead for the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) and said:

'We know that more can still be done to improve the way we collectively engage with missing children, particularly as only 80% are currently offered return home interviews.

'Around 30% of those interview offers are also turned down by the children themselves, however, we must look towards new and innovative ways to communicate the importance of this process and what it means to their safety.

'It requires a concerted effort, working in close partnership with key agencies and local authorities, ensuring that children are offered interviews in all cases and that they are also encouraged to take up the offer.

'Safeguarding children is a priority for us all and by working together, we can continue to make sure that the most vulnerable in our society receive the level of support needed to protect them against potential harm'



To find out more or to get a copy of the report please contact Charlie Neal on 0207 8414520 or Charlie.neal@childrenssociety.org.uk

Notes to editors

The Children’s Society is a national charity that works with the most vulnerable children and young people in Britain today. We listen. We support. We act. Because no child should feel alone. 

[1] 50 per cent is the average across the three groups of children – on average 80 per cent of missing episode relsuted in an offer of an RHI

[2] In total only four in five (80 per cent) of those children are offered an RHI and of these just 64 per cent were undertaken.

[3] In total 82% are offered a RHI and of those 62% took place.

[4] In total 78% of those children are offered a RHI and 64% were undertaken.

[5] 73% of the 89 local authorities who responded to our survey said Missing Children were a priority

[6] Name changed