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Research finds missing children are being let down

‘Opportunities to safeguard children missing from home or care are being missed by councils’

New research by The Children's Society has found that, on average, just half of episodes of children going missing from home or care 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, including whom they met, 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."

Twenty-four local authorities in England provided data for the uptake of return home interviews for children who go missing from home, 21 for looked after children who go missing from placements within their home area and only 14 offered data on looked after children missing from placements outside their home area.

The Children's Society says that 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 are 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."

For more information, click here. To obtain a copy of the report, please contact Charlie Neal on 0207 8414520 or Charlie.neal@childrenssociety.org.uk

10/5/19