Missed opportunities to protect missing children: Councils are missing opportunities to safeguard children when they go missing from care or home, research by The Children's Society has shown.
Local authorities are only carrying out return home interviews on average, in just 50 per cent of cases where children go missing from home or care, the research found. This is despite it being a statutory requirement on local authorities to offer them each time a child goes missing.
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."
Mr Royston added: "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."
A Return Home Interview is an in-depth discussion between an independent trained professional and the child or young person which aims to find out what happened to them during their missing episode. It also aims to ascertain if the child was exposed to any sort of risk.
However, 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, 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.
The research highlighted that:
- Just 24 local authorities in England could provide data for the uptake of return home interviews for children who go missing from home
- Only 21 authorities could provide information on looked after children who go missing from placements within their home area
- Only 14 offered data on looked after children missing from placements outside their home area.
There is also further confusion around children missing from placements outside of their home area 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 all groups of children, how information is recorded and shared was also an issue.
The Children’s Society found also found that 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.
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," she concluded.