Safeguarding children who go missing from home or care
There has been a steady increase in the number of reported incidents when children are missing from their foster placement or care home.
We have written to all registered children’s care home and fostering service providers this week, to remind them of the importance of ensuring children are appropriately protected and arrangements in line with the All-Wales Practice Guidance: Safeguarding children who go missing from home or care (External link).
This guidance has been developed to be used in conjunction with the All-Wales Safeguarding Procedures.
The guidance specifies when a child should be determined as missing (External link): “A missing person is: ‘Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered as missing until located and their wellbeing or otherwise confirmed.’”
We are aware there are many factors that impact children going missing from care, but we are finding a steady increase in the number of reported incidents when children are going missing from their foster placement or care home. Some of these incidents result in children being placed at risk and in some situations experiencing significant harm.
In 2019 we undertook a national review of care homes for children in Wales. We noted in this report: “The number of children who go missing from care in some areas of Wales has increased, as have children who are at risk of sexual exploitation. We were concerned to find that in some situations where children absented themselves from the home there was almost an acceptance of this by providers, placing authorities and local safeguarding teams.... We found little evidence to support a proactive response with consideration of alternative strategies to safeguard children.”
A recommendation to these findings was made: “Placing authorities and providers should review policies and practice in relation to thresholds for reporting children who are missing, ensuring these are consistent with guidance and do not place children at unnecessary and increased risk of harm, including criminalisation.”
Whilst some recommendations have been achieved with the implementation of the Welsh Government Protocol, Reducing the criminalisation of care experienced children and young adults (External link), we believe much more can be done to ensure more robust arrangements are in place when children go missing from care.
We have requested providers’ support in developing more effective processes working in partnership with placing and police authorities, to ensure children are better safeguarded when they go missing from care.
A key safeguarding responsibility of all agencies is the timely sharing of information to keep children safe and protect them from harm. We are concerned that many children who are vulnerable and are going missing from care do not have a completed Child Information Form (External link) in their records.
The All-Wales Practice Guidance states this form should be completed by the placing authority and given to the service provider, either the care home or foster carer, and the placement provider should update the information as required.
We have requested that full consideration is given to the completion of this form at the point a placement is being considered for a child, and once completed the form should be subject to ongoing review. This will ensure compliance with the All-Wales Practice Guidance, but fundamentally children will be better safeguarded.
We will continue to monitor compliance with the All-Wales Practice Guidance: Safeguarding children who go missing from home or care (External link) during inspections.