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Caption: main heading

5.31 Missing Children and Families


Caption: contents table
  Children Who Go Missing
  Families Who Go Missing
    Initial Action
    Strategy Discussion/Meeting
    Follow-up Action by Children's Social Care
    When the Child, Family or Adult is Found
    Children Missing from other Local Authorities
  Children Who Go Missing from Education
    Children Likely to Go Missing from Education
    What the Local Authority Does Regarding Children who are Missing from Education
    Attendance Strategy
    Common Transfer Form (CTF)
    Admissions and Leavers Database
    Choice Adviser
    School Admissions
    Elective Home Education
    Independent Schools
    Truancy and Beat-Sweep Patrols
    Education Welfare Officers (EWOs)
    Government Lost Pupil Database (s2s)
    Pupil Referral Unit (PRU)
    Other Agencies

Children Who Go Missing

See also Joint Protocol Children who go Missing From Home or Care.

Families Who Go Missing


  1. Local agencies and professionals, working with children and families where there are outstanding concerns of actual or potential Significant Harm, must bear in mind that non-school attendance, a series of missed appointments, cancelled or abortive home visits, may indicate that the family has moved out of the area to another area within the UK or that the family has moved abroad;
  2. This possibility must also be borne in mind when there are concerns about an unborn child who may be at future risk of Significant Harm;
  3. These procedures apply if a child in the following circumstances goes missing (including where it is suspected that they may have moved abroad) or cannot be traced:
    • A child who is the subject of a child protection referral or Section 47 Enquiry;
    • A child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan who goes missing or is removed from her/his address outside the terms of the Child Protection Plan;
    • Any child known to a statutory agency who goes missing in circumstances which raise concerns, e.g. where a child is removed from hospital against medical advice and cannot be traced.
  4. 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;
    • A family where there are concerns about the welfare of the child because of the presence of an individual who poses a risk of harm;
    • A parent known to be experiencing domestic abuse.
  5. For children who go missing where there are concerns about forced marriage, see Forced Marriages Procedure.

Initial Action

  1. In any of the above circumstances Children's Social Care holding case responsibility must be notified immediately;
  2. The Designated Manager (Children with a Child Protection Plan) must be informed if a child who has a Child Protection Plan goes missing;
  3. Children's Social Care must contact all local agencies who know the child to inform them of the situation and, where the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan, all members of the Core Group must be informed in writing;
  4. Existing records in these agencies must be checked to obtain any information, which may help to trace the missing child, e.g. details of friends and relatives, and this information should be passed to any Police officer undertaking the missing person enquiry;
  5. The Designated Nurse must be notified about a missing child, family or a pregnant woman. S/he then has responsibility for initiating appropriate local or national notifications of CIntegrated Care Boards and Hospital Trusts;
  6. The Children Missing from Education Office should notify colleagues in other areas about a pupil whose name may show up on the roll of a new school;
  7. The social worker must ensure, wherever practicable, that all those with Parental Responsibility are informed that the child is missing;
  8. The social worker must discuss with her/his manager whether to notify members of the extended family and if so, how.

Strategy Discussion/Meeting

  1. If the child has not been traced, a Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be convened within a maximum of 5 working days or sooner depending on the level of risk and complexity - see Strategy Discussions Procedure;
  2. Members of the Strategy Discussion/Meeting will need to consider whether to circulate other local authorities and other agencies in the area in which the child and family are thought to have gone;
  3. Consideration should be given to national notification of authorities and agencies including the appropriate Benefits Agencies;
  4. A senior member of Children's Social Care should seek assistance from the Department for Work and Pensions if the Police have not already contacted them;
  5. If there is any suspicion that the child may be removed from UK jurisdiction, appropriate legal interventions should be considered and Legal Services consulted about options. It may also be appropriate to contact the Child Abduction Unit or the Consular Directorate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which may be able to follow up a case through their consular post in the country or countries concerned.

Follow-up Action by Children's Social Care

  1. If the Strategy Discussion/Meeting agrees that the details of the child or family are to be circulated to other local authorities, the social worker should draft a short letter giving details of:
    • The children in the family;
    • Other family members or significant adults;
    • The circumstances causing concern;
    • Action required if a child is found, including any immediate protective action to be taken;
    • Details of contact arrangements for the social worker - including out of office hours contact;
    • Where possible physical descriptions of the key people and photographs, if available.
  2. The letter should be sent to the Designated Manager (Children with a Child Protection Plan) for distribution to her/his peers nationally, who in turn should circulate within their own Children's Social Care and local agencies;
  3. If the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan and not found within 20 working days, the Child Protection Review Conference must be brought forward to consider whether any other action should be taken.

When the Child, Family or Adult is Found

  1. When a child is found or returns to their home authority, there should, if practicable, be a further Strategy Discussion/Meeting within one working day, attended by previously involved agencies to consider:
    • Immediate safety issues;
    • Whether to instigate a Section 47 Enquiry and agree if a single or joint agency enquiry is necessary;
    • Who will interview the child if a Section 47 Enquiry is to be initiated;
    • Who will interview the child if a Section 47 Enquiry is not required;
    • Who needs to be informed of the child's return (locally and nationally).
  2. Any child who is found following a period missing should, regardless of whether s/he is believed to have experienced, or be at risk of, Significant Harm, be offered an interview by a social worker and/or Police officer; where the child requests it, arrangements should be made for the interview to be conducted by an independent person;
  3. If the child indicates a wish to be interviewed by an alternative professional, all reasonable efforts must be made to accommodate the child's wishes;
  4. This interview should provide a safe opportunity for the child to discuss any concerns regarding her/his care, including if they chose to run away from an abusive situation;
  5. When the child is found outside the area of the child's home local authority and is not likely to return, see Transfer Across Local Authority Boundaries and Children and Families Moving Abroad Procedure;
  6. If the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan, consideration must be given by the social worker and manager in consultation with the Conference Chair, as to the need to bring forward the next Child Protection Review Conference.

Children Missing from Other Local Authorities

  1. The Designated Manager (Children with a Child Protection Plan) must ensure that a system for keeping and referring to a list of the 'Notifications of children and/or families who are missing' is in place;
  2. If, after 2 years there is no communication from the authority where the child and/or family went missing, the child and/or family's details will be removed from the list.

Children Who Go Missing from Education


  1. Children who go missing from education may also be suffering from Significant Harm as they are no longer in an environment which enables agencies to safeguard and promote their welfare. If it is suspected or becomes apparent that a child is not receiving education the Child Missing Education contact person should be informed;
  2. If a child or young person is receiving an education, not only do they have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, but they are also in an environment that enables local agencies to safeguard and promote their welfare. If a child goes missing from education they could be at risk of Significant Harm;

Children Likely to Go Missing from Education

  1. There are a number of reasons why children go missing from education. These can include:
    • Failing to start appropriate provision, and hence never entering the system;
    • Ceasing to attend due to exclusion (including illegal and/or unofficial exclusions) or withdrawal;
    • Failing to complete a transition between providers (e.g. being unable to find a suitable school place after moving to a new local authority area).
    Below is a list of children who are likely to go missing from education:
    • Young people who have committed criminal offences;
    • Children living in women's refuges;
    • Children in homeless families, perhaps living in temporary accommodation, houses of multiple occupancy or Bed and Breakfast accommodation;
    • Young runaways;
    • Children with long-term medical or emotional health problems;
    • Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers and refugees, or the children of asylum seeking families;
    • Looked After children;
    • Children from Gypsy/Roma/Traveller background;
    • Young carers;
    • Children from transient families, i.e. students who have experienced high levels of mobility between different education providers;
    • Teenage mothers;
    • Children excluded from school;
    • Children in Private Fostering arrangements;
    • Children informally excluded from school and/or those placed on long-term part-time timetables;
    • Children taken off roll following a lengthy absence due to an extended family holiday taken in term-time;
    • Children entering or leaving the independent schools sector;
    • EC nationals who have the right of abode in the UK - this now includes a significant number of asylum seekers granted status by other EC countries and who have subsequently moved to the UK;
    • Others who have come from abroad to live and/or work in the UK.

What the Local Authority Does Regarding Children who are Missing from Education

  1. The local authority and its partners are committed to ensuring that:
    • There are secure procedures and monitoring systems in place for ensuring that all children aged 0 - 16 are known to health and children's services;
    • Partner services will bring any children and young people who they support to the attention of the nominated person for Children Missing Education when such children are not attending/accessing education or training;
    • There are secure arrangements for sharing information when children and young people aged 0 - 16 move across locality areas, including unknown destinations;
    • This policy recognises the importance of reducing the risk of children missing from education, and it is envisaged that this will be best achieved by establishing, implementing and maintaining:
      • Awareness raising with the general public regarding our need to know about any children missing from education - this to include publicising details of the local authority's nominated person for Children Missing from Education;
      • Procedures for making prompt referrals to the Education Welfare Officer - Pupil Tracking;
      • Procedures to identify and locate children who go missing from education - through liaison with the other services and agencies who are most likely to come into contact with such children;
      • Procedures to identify children missing education through liaison with other local authorities and access to national databases, e.g. UK Visas and Immigration;
      • Maintaining a regularly updated central register of all local children know to be missing from education;
      • Procedures to re-engage missing children & young people, with appropriate educational provision through a Lead Professional and action planning process;
      • Maintaining and developing systems for identifying those at risk of becoming Children Missing Education.

Attendance Strategy

  1. The attendance strategy defines the different roles and responsibilities of all those concerned in ensuring that children attend school regularly and the actions that may be taken to achieve this. The local authority has also produced an extended-leave policy (covering family holidays taken in term-time) which advises schools on procedures that must be followed if a child fails to return to school by the date agreed with parents/carers.

Common Transfer Form (CTF)

  1. The law requires that CTF data is sent to a pupil's "new" maintained school by the former school within 15 days after the pupil ceases to be registered at the "old" school;
  2. The unique pupil number (UPN) needs to be included in the CTF as a unique identifier for the pupil. If a child's destination is not known, schools are advised not to post the CTF to the 'Lost Pupil Database' (LPD) without first contacting the education welfare team.

Admissions and Leavers Database

  1. All schools are requested to inform the local authority of children who are admitted to their school. They are also required to inform the local authority with details of children who are no longer on roll at their school. The information is shared with local health centres.

Choice Adviser

  1. The 'Choice Adviser' supports the local authority's admissions team by offering impartial advice to parents applying for their child's school admission. The parents/carers of children who fail to apply for school place are contacted by the Choice Advisor.

School Admissions

  1. The local authority's admissions team is provided with details by both the Council's legal team and the local voluntary aided faith schools of those children whose admission appeals have not been successful. This information and details of those children who fail to attend school either in their reception year group or Year 7 are provided to the local authority's education welfare team;
  2. The local authority also has protocols in place for identifying and reintegrating children permanently excluded, with fair access protocols (formerly known as hard to place pupils) for managed moves and transfers between schools. The local authority is in the process of developing new mechanisms for identifying Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children who move into the area, so that their suitable education can be secured;
  3. UK Visas and Immigration provides details to the local authority of any asylum seeking families moving into the borough.

Elective Home Education

  1. The law allows parents to arrange for their children to be educated at home, rather than at school. The local authority has a robust system in place for monitoring the education of children that are educated at home.

Independent Schools

  1. Independent schools are legally required to advise the local authority about the details of all children admitted and removed from the roll of their school. The independent schools are also required to complete a Common Transfer Form.

Truancy and Beat-Sweep Patrols

  1. Truancy Sweeps are a joint initiative between the local authority's education welfare service and the Police, and these take the form of a series of locality patrols that are run across the area, with joint teams of Police and education welfare officers approaching children who are on the streets during school hours. They serve to help prevent 'truanting' children from being involved in crime or becoming victims of crime;
  2. During a truancy sweep, children and young people out of school are approached and their basic personal details are taken. Checks are then made regarding educational placements and the young people are then (following an interim assessment of their circumstances and the level of risk) returned to their educational placement or escorted home. In both cases, follow-up contact is made with parents/carers. In addition to identifying children missing from their educational placement, these patrols have also located children not registered at any school.

Education Welfare Officers (EWOs)

  1. EWOs will work closely with the local authority's admissions team when dealing with parents of children who have failed to register their children at school. EWOs monitor their particular areas for new families, while home visiting. They follow up enquiries or concerns from members of the public who believe children are being kept away from school;
  2. EWOs will carry out checks on school registers to ensure correct attendance codes are used and pupils who are absent are known to them and those on approved educational activity are monitored by schools;
  3. If the EWO and the school are unable to contact parents/carers of a child who has been absent for maximum of ten days, they should inform the Principal Education Welfare Officer for consideration of what further enquiries are necessary.

Government Lost Pupil Database (s2s)

  1. The local authority will regularly check the lost pupil database for children who are missing. It will also respond and send referrals to other local authorities about children missing education.

Pupil Referral Unit (PRU)

  1. The local authority will refer all excluded children requiring admission at the PRU. PRU will retain responsibility for ensuring children's regular attendance and take necessary steps for informing others if children leave the establishment.

Other Agencies

  1. Staff from any agencies who come across any children who they believe may not be accessing educational provision are requested to contact the nominated Children Missing Education officer. These may involve Housing Officers, Neighbourhood Wardens, Community Safety Officers, Police etc.