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4.4.3 Brighton and Hove Missing from Care Practice Guidelines

This chapter deals with children who run away or go missing from care and identifies that any Child Looked After, should they run off or go missing, should be considered at some risk.

(See also chapters on Missing from Home Practice Guidelines and Brighton and Hove Missing Education Practice Guidelines).


Brighton and Hove Policy on Missing Children


DfE Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Care or Home (January 2014)

Pan Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures, Joint Policy for Children Missing in Sussex

Pan Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures, Trafficked Children


This chapter was revised in November 2018, advising of changes in return home interviews, noting statutory guidance and sign posting the procedure to One Space, (see Section 5, Return Interviews).


  1. Scope
  2. Guiding Principles
  3. Procedures to be Followed
  4. Secure Accommodation (Section 25 1989 CA)
  5. Return Interviews

    Appendix 1: Procedure for When a Child / Young Person is Missing from Home or Care Flowchart

1. Scope

These procedures relate to all Looked After Children who are looked after by Brighton and Hove City Council, whether they are placed in or outside of the City boundary. These procedures relate to children who are the subject of:

2. Guiding Principles

Please see also Key principles in the main Brighton and Hove Policy on Missing Children.

  1. When children / young people go missing from care their welfare and protection is paramount;
  2. Children / young people go missing for a variety of reasons. They must be found as quickly as possible, returned to a safe place, and have a clear opportunity to say what made them go missing. Workers must listen to their reasons with respect and act accordingly and then support the child / young person to minimise further missing episodes;
  3. All appropriate information must be shared with the Police and other professional agencies in order to facilitate the safe return of a child / young person;
  4. Planning ahead for the possibility of a child / young person going missing is essential and should form part of the placement plan for the child or young person. Early strategies, appropriate interventions and pro-active support from workers / carers should be in place to encourage children / young people not to go missing. There is a link between going missing and placement stability, and placement stability / network meetings must be held where it is believed there is a risk of a young person going missing;
  5. There is a clear link between missing and increased risk of sexual exploitation. Workers must be very alert to potential signs of sexual exploitation. The definition of sexual exploitation from the National Working Group is as follows, ‘the sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive something (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, affection, money) as a result of performing and/or other performing on them, sexual activities’.

    Child sexual exploitation can occur through use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition, for example the persuasion to post sexual images on the internet with no immediate payment or gain. In all cases those exploiting the child / young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength, economic and/or other resources;
  6. When children / young people are missing, professionals need to be careful about making judgements they are safe. No assumptions about safety must be made in the absence of clear verified information;
  7. All Care Plans and risk assessments should be regularly reviewed, updated and recorded to include the following:
    1. The degree and nature of risk and vulnerability if the child goes missing;
    2. The views of the child / young person and those with potential responsibility to be taken if the child / young person goes missing;
    3. The level of supervision / support that care staff will provide for the child
    4. How parents / carers and significant other family members will be informed if the child / young person goes missing;
    5. Consideration of any external influences in a child / young person’s life;
    6. The likelihood of the child being harboured, any previous episodes, location frequented by the child / young person and trigger incidents;
    7. Agreed interventions.
  8. Where children in care go missing, social work staff, involved care staff and their managers should be pro-active alongside the police in checking known contact phone numbers and addresses in order to ensure that very active attempts are made to find the child / young person by all who know them. During Council working hours it is not expected that the search responsibilities rest just with the police.

3. Procedures to be Followed


The police definition of missing is:

Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located, and their well-being or otherwise confirmed.
All reports of missing people sit within a continuum of risk from 'no apparent risk (absent)' through to high-risk cases that require immediate, intensive action.

See National Police Missing Persons Guidelines.

Sussex Police Missing Children Reporting Procedure should be followed.

Immediately information comes to light that a child / young person is missing, a Missing Episode Report must be opened on CareFirst. The Pod Manager must be notified.

The Assistant Director and Head of Safeguarding should be informed by email by the relevant Head of Service if a child has been missing for 7 days, or earlier if there are specific factors which should be brought to the AD’s attention.

This email must include brief, relevant information that will assist managers’ understanding of the Missing episode.

Immediately upon being found the same people must be informed of the child / young person's return and any relevant information relating to the period when missing.

Where a child / young person in care has been missing for more than 24 hours, a Strategy Meeting must be called to which the Police are invited. This should take place within 72 hours for low and medium risk cases and within 24 hours for high risk cases. A judgement needs to be made regarding the timing in relation to attendance by key professionals. If the circumstances relating to a child / young person are particularly concerning then an immediate Strategy Discussion should be convened. If the child / young person is found before the Strategy Meeting takes place, consideration must be given to the Strategy Meeting going ahead to consider the circumstances relating to the child / young person’s missing episode.

The Strategy Discussion needs to consider the following:

  • Information relating to potential risk / harm;
  • At what stage publicity will be sought (this needs to be agreed by Head of Service);
  • Information relating to possible locations;
  • What contact has there been with child / young person;
  • A clear strategy for finding the child / young person;
  • Any additional specific information which should be passed.

All Strategy Meetings must be minuted. The minute taker must email agreed actions to participants within 24 hours. The situation must be kept under review taking into account the level of risk, and if the child is not found a review Strategy Meeting booked.

Upon return a Missing from Care Interview must be held (see Section 5, Return Interviews).

In situations where a child / young person is missing for periods of time, but not enough to trigger the action points in the protocol, a Strategy Meeting must be considered with any rationale not to hold a Strategy Meeting clearly recorded.

4. Secure Accommodation (Section 25 1989 CA)

See Placements in Secure Accommodation Procedure.

Section 25 of the Children Act sets out the criteria which must be met before a child can be placed in secure accommodation. It states that a child being looked after by the Local Authority may not be placed, and if placed, may not be kept in secure accommodation unless it appears:

  • That he/she has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from anything other than secure accommodation; and
  • If he/she absconds he/she is likely to suffer significant harm or;
  • If he/she is kept in anything other than secure accommodation he/she is likely to injure him/herself or other persons.

If the criteria are satisfied, there is a mandatory duty on the Court to make the Order. Children under the age of 13 (see Placements in Secure Accommodation Procedure, Secure Placements for Children Under 13) cannot be placed in secure accommodation without the permission of the Secretary of State.

A child / young person may be placed in secure accommodation for up to 72 hours without a Court Order. This can only be agreed at Assistant Director / Director level.

A Court may make an Order for up to 3 months on a first application, but can make an Order for 6 months on a subsequent application (after 3 months).

These Orders are Orders of last resort and once made should only continue as is necessary and unavoidable.

In circumstances where a Secure Order may, as part of the Care Plan, have to be considered, an Advocate for the young person must be identified, to help explain a potential outcome of continued absconding / risk taking behaviour. Secure accommodation will only be considered when all other interventions have been exhausted.

5. Return Interviews

(See Brighton and Hove Policy on Missing Children, Arrangements for Return Interviews and Who Offers Them).

Return Interviews must be undertaken in all cases. The interview should be carried out within 72 hours of the child’s return. The Statutory Guidance 2014 states:

An independent return interview should be offered when a missing looked after child is found. Where possible, the child should be given the opportunity to talk before they return to their placement. The person conducting the interview should usually be independent of the child’s placement and of the responsible local authority. An exception maybe where a child has a strong relationship with a carer or social worker and has expressed a preference to talk to them, rather than an independent person, about the reasons they went missing. The child should be offered the option of speaking to an independent representative or advocate.

Please see One Space for detailed guidance on Return Home Interviews in Brighton and Hove.

Appendix 1: Procedure for When a Child / Young Person is Missing from Home or Care Flowchart

Click here to view Appendix 1: Procedure for When a Child / Young Person is Missing from Home or Care Flowchart.