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Children Who Go Missing, including from School

Scope of this chapter

Circumstances Covered by the Procedures

This section provides procedures that apply to:

  • All children missing education; and
  • Specific welfare concerns about a missing child or family.

And should be read in conjunction with the Children and Young People Who Go Missing form Home or Care, or Who are Vulnerable to Exploitation Procedure.

Related guidance

According to LEA/0225/2004 'Identifying and Maintaining Contact with Children Missing or at Risk of Going Missing from Education', there should be a 'child missing from education' (CME) named point of contact in every local authority and every practitioner working with a child has a responsibility to inform that CME if (s)he knows or suspects that a child is not receiving education.

See also the local guidance about Children Missing from Education on the Hertsdirect website and Children Missing Education: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (DfE, September 2016).

Should a child leave a Hertfordshire school without notice being given by the parent or without the school being advised by the parent of the new address and/or school the child is to attend, the school should notify their allocated Attendance Improvement Officer (AIO) as soon as possible:

  • The Attendance Improvement Officer will work with the school to make reasonable enquiries to try to identify the child's whereabouts;
  • If after four weeks, enquiries fail to locate the child the school should remove the child's name from its roll and create a 'lost' common transfer file (CTF). 'XXX' should be used as the destination local authority and 'XXXX' as the destination school number. Each file should hold information on only one pupil. This lost CTF should be immediately up loaded onto the Department of Education s2s secure site where it should be held in the 'Lost Pupil Database'. ' XXX XXXX' should only be used when the school has no knowledge of the pupil's destination;
  • When a pupil moves to a non-maintained school or one outside England and Wales, the school should use 'MMMMMMM' as the destination code. This enables the CTF to be stored securely and to be available if the pupil returns to a maintained school;
  • Should a pupil leave a Hertfordshire school to be home educated, on receiving written confirmation from the parent(s), the school should remove her/his name from the school roll and send the CTF to the s2s Database using MMMMMMM, so that the CTF goes into the database of pupils who have moved outside the maintained system (this does not apply to special schools);
  • Should a pupil join a Hertfordshire school without that school receiving a CTF from her/his previous school, the receiving school should contact the 'Lost Pupil Coordinator' and request that a search be made of the Lost Pupil Database for a matching record using gender, names or former names and date of birth. Schools cannot search the lost pupil database;
  • Should a Hertfordshire school which has previously sent a lost child CTF to the Lost Pupil Database be subsequently contacted by a school at which the lost child has subsequently registered, the:
    • School which sent the CTF to the Lost Pupil Database should create a new CTF file and send it to the receiving school and request the Lost Pupil Coordinator to download the original CTF from the Lost Pupils database and delete it; and
    • Receiving school should request its own LA to download the original CTF from the Lost Pupils Database.

These procedures will only be effective if all schools adhere to the principle that whenever a pupil joins or leaves a school then a common transfer file must accompany her/him.

Further information on the transfer of a CTF can be found on teachernet.

These procedures apply if a child in the following circumstances goes missing or cannot be traced:

  • A child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan and who goes missing or is removed from her/his address outside the terms of the Child Protection Plan;
  • A child subject of a child protection referral or Section 47 Enquiry;
  • A child looked after who leaves or is removed from placement, without this being part of the Care Plan;
  • Any child known to a statutory agency who goes missing in suspicious circumstances or about whom there are concerns - e.g. one who is subject to an Assessment, where there are developing concerns about their safety.

These procedures also apply to adults whose whereabouts become unknown in the following circumstances:

  • A pregnant woman when there are concerns about the welfare of the child following birth (and where the unborn baby's name may or may not be subject to a Child Protection Plan);
  • A family where there are concerns about the welfare of the child because of the presence of an individual who poses a risk to children or other person suspected of previously harming a child.

Local agencies and professionals, working with children and families where there are outstanding child protection concerns, must bear in mind that unusual non-school attendance, missed appointments, or abortive home visits, may indicate the family has moved out of the area.

This possibility must also be borne in mind when there are concerns about an unborn child who may be at an increased likelihood of suffering significant harm.

In any of the circumstances listed above all agencies who become aware that the child, pregnant woman or family are missing must alert the responsible Children's Services social worker immediately.

All reasonable steps need to be taken immediately to locate a missing child and alert other agencies with whom (s)he may have contact.

Existing records in these agencies must be checked to obtain any information, which might help trace the missing child, e.g. details of friends and relatives.

The case needs to remain open and active steps must be taken to try to trace the child by visiting the last known address, checking with family members, any individuals known to hold parental responsibility and neighbours, if appropriate.

The following steps will need to be taken in all cases:

  • A 'need to know' needs to be sent detailing the circumstances, (procedure in Children's Services Good Guide, form Children's Services 3645 on Connect);
  • Child(ren) or family need to be reported missing to uniformed Police (who will alert Joint Child Protection Investigation Team (JCPIT)) if it is one child of the family missing, it may be most appropriate for the parents to do this, however it needs to be done as a matter of urgency, thus if the parents delay, Children's Services staff need to ensure it is done;
  • All members of the Core Group need to be updated and asked for any information they have about child(ren)'s possible whereabouts - and anything leant should be passed to the Police;
  • All relevant other local authorities must be notified (pass details of the nature and category of concerns, and key dates to the Child Protection Administrator, tel: 01992 556935, comnet 56935 who will do this - (s)hewill also notify Health Trusts in Hertfordshire);
  • Hospitals need to be notified, either locally or nationally according to the circumstances (if a pregnant woman whose unborn child is subject of a Child Protection Plan goes missing);
  • It may be helpful to bring forward the Review Conference so as to update all agencies and to revise the Child Protection Plan (in this case, the Police officer in the case should be asked to attend).

Health records for all members of the family who are missing need to be tagged so that if their records are requested Health will be notified. The Lead Social Worker/Social Worker should contact the health representative (health visitor / school nurse) for missing children and ask her/him to do this and to ensure GP records for all family members (including parents) who are missing are flagged.

If the child is of school age, a note should be posted on the Department for Education database indicating the circumstances (e.g. subject of a Child Protection Plan), that (s)he has left her/his previous school and is currently missing. Anyone contacted about a school place for the child should then contact the social worker. The Principal Attendance Improvement Officer can assist (tel: 01992 588580 comnet 28580).

If the family is missing, or the child is of age to claim benefits, her/himself, the Department of Works & Pensions (DWP) need to be notified and asked to alert Children's Services if the family attempt to claim benefits.

If the child or family are known to the UK Border Agency, it should be notified of the status of the child(ren) and asked to contact Children's Services if it subsequently has any contact with the family.

If the family remain missing and all reasonable steps have been taken a child(ren)'s name(s) may, with the agreement at a Review Child Protection Conference be removed from the List of Children Subject of a Child Protection Plan.

When a child is found, there should, if practicable, be a Strategy Discussion within one working day between previously involved agencies to consider:

  • Immediate safety issues;
  • Whether to instigate a Section 47 Enquiry;
  • Any Police investigation of any allegations of crime;
  • Who will interview the child if part of a Section 47 Enquiry;
  • Who will interview the child if not a Section 47 Enquiry;
  • Who (local and national) needs to be informed of the child's return.

Any child found following a period missing should, regardless of whether (s)he is believed to have suffered, or be at risk of suffering, significant harm be offered an interview by a social worker and/or a Police officer or an independent person. This interview should provide a safe opportunity for the child to discuss any concerns regarding her/his care including if (s)he chose to run away from an abusive situation. It must take place without parents, foster carers or residential staff either present or in close proximity.

If the child indicates a wish to be interviewed by an alternative professional, all reasonable efforts must be made to accommodate her/his wishes.

If the child has been found outside of the local authority and is not likely to return, representatives of the 'receiving' authority must be involved in this Strategy Discussion and the transfer of the case must be discussed.

If the child is 'looked after', the Children's Services Team Manager must decide and record whether to bring forward the next Looked After Review.

If the child is subject of a Child Protection Plan, the Team Manager must decide and record whether to bring forward the next Review Conference.

Where a Section 47 Enquiry has taken place, the Children's Services, the Police Joint Child Protection Investigation Team (JCPIT) and other involved agencies must have a final Strategy Discussion to agree the outcome, including any need for a Child Protection Conference.

The social worker and Team Manager must give explicit consideration to any need for legal action, and record the reasons for their decision.

Last Updated: December 7, 2023