Last reviewed March 2024

One Minute Guide to Missing from Home & Care

What is Missing?

The national definition of a 'Missing Person' is

'anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be subject of crime or risk of harm to themselves or another’.

Repeatedly going missing should not be viewed as a normal pattern of behaviour, instead consideration as to what action is needed to help to protect the child, and planning on how best to keep them safe on their return should be the focus.

Supporting image
<strong>What are the risk factors when a child goes missing?</strong>

What are the risk factors when a child goes missing?

When a child goes missing, this can be reflective of other safeguarding issues affecting them.

Some of the risks associated with children who are missing from home and care include:

  • Being in unsafe places, with unsafe or risky adults;
  • Being more likely to be involved in substance misuse;
  • Being more likely to be involved in anti-social or criminal offending behaviour;
  • More likely to be involved in child trafficking or child exploitation;
  • Less likely to be socially and educationally engaged;

This means that children who go missing, particularly where this is a sustained feature of their behaviour  and/or is connected with other types of vulnerability, are more likely to be suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm.

What to do if a child goes missing?

After all reasonable attempts to find the child, you must report them missing to West Yorkshire Police who will assess a child's level of risk by taking a detailed account of their personal circumstances, but it is important to understand that,

"The fact that a vulnerable child has a history of going missing (including any occurrences of absence) does not mitigate risk, and each report of missing will be considered in its own right".

It is important to remember:

  • A missing episode should not be seen as an isolated incident and may be symptomatic of other issues in the child’s life.
  • It is important that missing episodes are considered as events that may increase risk and vulnerability for children.
Supporting image
Important considerations for allocated case workers
  • Text link image Suffering
    Show details

    Consider whether or not the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm, and in the event that this is the case, convene a strategy meeting and carry out a Section 47 investigation.

  • Text link image Significance
    Show details

    Consider whether or not the missing episode (s) are significant and require the updating of assessments, care plans and any additional or alternative activity to help and support the child.

<strong>Teams  involved in children who are missing from home or care</strong>

Teams involved in children who are missing from home or care

The Children Vulnerable to Exploitation (CVE) and Missing Service (Children and Young People’s Service) and West Yorkshire Police work together to provide a coordinated response when a child is reported missing from home or care. The service is co-located within the Integrated Front Door (IFD) with services working in partnership to prevent, identify, disrupt and stop child exploitation.

The aim in supporting children in these circumstances will always be to reduce missing episodes and to reduce the risk that children are exposed to.

When a child is found

Return to Home Interviews (RHI)

Return to Home Interviews (RHI) should aim to be a positive experience for the child and aim to build a connection of trust.

In Wakefield, the RHI will be carried out by the CVE and Missing Team who will do so within 72 hours of the child being returned to a place of safety and after the police have seen the child within the first four hours of their return to conduct a ‘prevention’ check.

It is important to consider the following:
  • Text link image Background
    Show details
    Are there any underlying issues that have led to the child going missing?

    This could include difficulties with relationships within the home and placement, abuse or neglect, issues of bullying or their mental health and wellbeing.

  • Text link image Concerns
    Show details
    If there are any safeguarding or child protection concerns due to the child going missing,

    For example, risk of abuse or child exploitation

  • Text link image RHI location
    Show details
    The location in which the RHI takes place should help the child to talk as freely as possible about the issues involved and how they are feeling


It is important that when children go missing, the subsequent intervention with them addresses the issues, working to mitigate the risk that repeated missing episodes will occur. It is therefore important that those involved with the young person (CVE and Missing Workers, those undertaking RHI’s and the case holding Social Worker) work closely together to identify the cause of the child’s missing episodes, the support needed that is most likely to make a difference and the role of each service in providing that help.

For thorough practice guidance refer to the MFHC guidance documentation

Protecting Looked After Children

Every looked after child should have a plan in place for what to do should they go missing, with associated risks and vulnerabilities and an action plan of how to keep a child safe before, during and after any missing episodes.

It is the responsibility of the 'carer' and the child's social worker to ensure their safety through thorough assessment and planning.

The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) must be informed of all instances of a child looked after being missing or away from placement without authorisation, by the allocated Social Worker.

Supporting image

What to do if you are worried about a child

Practitioners must follow the usual process for any new referral to Social Care Direct by ringing the Integrated Front Door (IFD) and discussing their concerns on:

0345 8503503

Download this one minute guide to MFHC Click here to Download

Want to go back to the One Minute Guide page?

Take me back
Back to top Up arrow