Missing children – what does this mean and what should you do?
The term ‘missing’ refers to children and young people up to the age of 18 who have run away from their home or care placement or whose whereabouts are unknown.
Children run away or go missing from home, school or care for a number of reasons, and most of the time they do return home safely.
There are no set rules about when a child should be considered missing and if a child does not return home when you expect them to and you are worried, in the first instance you should try and find out where they are.
You should contact relatives or friends to see if they have seen them or know where they are. You should also search your property and local area to see if you can locate them.
Following this, if their whereabouts cannot be ascertained then you must contact the police. Dial 999 in an emergency situation or call your local police force immediately on 101 to report the child as missing.
The police will be able to talk through the situation with you and offer advice and guidance about what you can do and what they may do to try and locate a child.
The police will ask you questions about the circumstances leading up to when you last saw the child and this may include asking you their name, date of birth, what they were wearing when you last saw them and any medical conditions.
Reasons for running away or going missing
Very often running away/going missing is an indicator of other problems that the child could be experiencing that may need further exploration such as:
Problems in school/bullying
Problems at home/family conflict
Pressure from friends or associates
Due to these concerns as well as the risks that children can be exposed to when they are missing, all missing children have a safe and well check conducted by the police once they are located. This helps to make sure that the child is safe and wasn’t harmed during the missing period.
The child will also be offered the opportunity to speak to someone independent and will be offered a return interview which is undertaken by trained professionals to offer advice and guidance, try to ensure the child’s safety further and suggest techniques to try and reduce any future missing episodes.
What to do if you’re concerned about a child or worried that they may go missing
There are many different agencies who are available to offer support, advice, and guidance on some of the issues surrounding missing children or children at risk of going missing.
Local Police: Call 101 for your local police force.
Missing People are a 24 hour charity who can offer support and advice for either parents/carers as well as children directly to talk through any worries there may be. You can access this service online, call them for free on 116 000 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Children's Society have developed a range of resources to help understand how to support vulnerable young people, in particular those who go missing. There are guides for parents, carers, children and young people online.
Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE) work alongside parents and carers of children who are, or are at risk of, being sexually exploited by perpetrators external to the family. They have a National Telephone Support Line - 0113 240 3040.
Childline is also available for children and young people to talk to, whenever they are worried. Counsellors are available 24 hours a day by calling for free on 0800 1111.
NSPCC has a helpline for adults who are concerned about the safety or welfare of a child including protecting young people from sexual exploitation. You can call their helpline on 0808 800 5000.
Missing People - Safe Call Service
The Safe Call team provides a debrief service to children and young people who have recently been missing and have potentially come into contact with gangs or involved in county lines.
Missing People provide a free confidential service to children and young people who may have been involved in gangs or county lines and have regular missing episodes. They accept self-referrals from children and young people and referrals from external professionals and agencies (police, social services, schools, charities, youth organisations etc). They work closely with children, young people and their parents/carers to ensure that the risk of exploitation is minimised and ensure that information is shared between social workers, youth workers and other services that they may be receiving support from.
Their main objective is to provide a confidential child led service, drawing up safety plans to minimise future exploitation and reduce the risks of missing episodes reoccurring. Their values are to offer a non-judgemental service to ensure that children/young people have a safe space to talk about their experiences in confidence. They also support the families and carers of those who have missing episodes; providing them with emotional support and guidance.
The operating hours for the Safe Call team are Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm and they also have a free 24 hour helpline which is available should support be needed out of hours.
If you have any children or young people you would like to refer, you can complete the online form or you can send an email to the Safe Call team with the name of the young person, DOB, telephone numbers and reason for referral with any concerns highlighted.
SafeCall Telephone: 020 8392 5710 SafeCall
24/7 Helpline: 116 000
24/7 Helpline E-mail: email@example.com