News from Missing People
Missing People is delighted that after over five years of campaigning, guardianship of missing person’s affairs will finally become part of the law in England and Wales. It will not only help to lessen the strain on thousands of families already dealing with the emotional distress of having a missing loved one, but it will also mean that a missing person who returns will not find their legal and financial affairs in disarray. Thank you to everyone who has helped us achieve the successful passage of the Bill through parliament.
The English Coalition for Runaway Children (ECRC) has jointly developed a briefing document regarding best practice for Return Home Interviews. Statutory guidance stipulates that every child who has been missing should receive an interview upon their return. The aim of these interviews is to:
- Identify and deal with any harm the child has suffered – including harm that might not have already been disclosed as part of the ‘safe and well check’ – either before they ran away or whilst missing;
- Understand and try to address the reasons why the child ran away;
- Help the child feel safe and understand that they have options to prevent repeat instances of them running away;
- Provide them with information on how to stay safe if they choose to run away again, including helpline numbers.
However, provision of these interviews varies in every local authority and is often inconsistent. This document is a first step towards a better understanding of what national provision should look like.
News from the Sector
In June, the Third International Conference on Missing Children and Adults was held in Dundee. The three day conference was organised by Abertay University in partnership with the Scottish Institute for Policing Research, Police Scotland, and the Centre for the Study of Missing Persons at Portsmouth University. The conference explored a wide range of issues associated with the challenges faced by those who are missing, those charged with responding to missing, and people affected by missing. The presentations included the results of Missing People and ECPAT’s report on unaccompanied and trafficked children, a missing person’s perspective on the use of social media and a presentation on what we can learn internationally from people missing with dementia. You can read the abstracts of all the presentations here and find all the presentation documents at the bottom of the conference page here.
In July the All Party Parliamentary Group on Runaway and Missing Children published 'Children who go missing and are criminally exploited by gangs’. The report comes out of a roundtable discussion with experts and professionals in the field of missing and runaway children, including representatives from the police, the Home Office, Ofsted, and Missing People and draws on the experiences of victims and their parents. It warns that children and young people from all walks of life are going missing because of being groomed and exploited by criminal gangs in 'county lines' operations, which involve transporting class-A drugs from urban areas to sell in surrounding towns. The patterns of grooming are similar to those found in sexual exploitation. Another similarity is that professionals sometimes judge children and young people involved in gangs, deeming that they have done so willingly, or that they are otherwise at fault for their risky behaviour. This judgement ignores both young people’s status as potential victims of exploitation and trafficking, and the safeguarding duties agencies have towards anyone under 18. The report highlights the importance of recognising the risk of criminal exploitation when a child is reported as missing and, that on return, they should be offered appropriate support to prevent the situation from escalating and further exploitation.
Also in July, the Home Office published guidance for frontline professions on dealing with county lines and associated criminal exploitation. The aim of the guidance is to enable practitioners to recognise the signs of such exploitation, the impact it can have on children and outlines how professionals can respond appropriately so that potential victims get the support and help they need. Children or adults persistently going missing from home or school and/or being found out of area are key indicators of county lines involvement. You can read more about the links between gang-involvement and young people going missing in Running the Risks, a research report published by Missing People in partnership with Catch 22 Dawes Unit.
In July, the Department for Education published an evidence review of the fostering system in England, part of a national 'stocktake' to provide a better understanding of the current system and where improvements can be made. The report quotes figures released by Ofsted this year showing that in 2015-16, there were 10,640 incidents recorded of children going missing from foster placements which related to 3,055 individual children. The evidence review also highlights that in the same period 40% of children identified as being at risk of child sexual exploitation had at least one missing incident. The report refers to a recent review of the police response to children who go missing, which found that there were ‘unacceptable inconsistencies between and within forces, across all aspects of the approach to missing children’.
The Children's Society published ‘Making connections: Understanding how local agencies can better keep children safe’ in July. The report explores ways for children's services and the police to work together to share key information about missing children to enable more informed risk assessments and create robust intelligence of places and people that might pose a risk to children. The report makes a number of recommendations including: better assessment of risks for missing children by ensuring that information is shared and taken into account across agencies; updating statutory guidance to require local authorities to respond to recommendations following a return home interview; and better protection for looked after children placed out of area.
The National Children's Bureau published their ‘Children missing education: Families’ experiences’ report in April. Anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 children fall under the definition of a child missing education (CME). Statutory guidance on CMEs indicates that they are at significant risk of underachieving, being victims of harm, exploitation or radicalisation, and becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) later in life. The report recommends, amongst other things, that the legal definition of children missing education should be expanded to include children on inappropriate part-time timetables and children not receiving their elective home schooling. Discussions with local authorities revealed that these children and others (such as those subject to illegal exclusions) are subject to the same vulnerabilities as those meeting the current CME definition. Ofsted has previously raised concerns that all children missing out on education are at a higher risk of not accessing an appropriate education and of physical, emotional, and psychological harm.
In July, the Children's Commissioner for England published a 'Report on Vulnerability', which aims to demonstrate the scale of different kinds of child vulnerability in England. Vulnerable children are defined as ‘the group of children who carry with them risks and difficulties which make it much harder for them to succeed in life’. The report addresses 32 categories of vulnerable children, including looked after children, children excluded from school, and missing and absent children. The report uses the 2015/16 UK Missing Persons Bureau Data Report (currently withdrawn pending review of potential inaccuracies), which shows 56,331 children as reported missing to the police in England and a further 11,494 as ‘absent’ (though, due to under-reporting, the figure could be a lot higher: up to 100,000 children missing in the UK each year). The accompanying technical report looking at outcomes for vulnerable children, found that no research has been done into either the educational impact on a child of going missing or the long-term impact on adulthood of going missing as a child. Nonetheless, it recognises the robust evidence on short-term economic, social, and behavioural outcomes, including that 25% of children experience abuse whilst missing. The technical report found no evidence relating to the impact of being ‘absent’ and quotes concerns expressed by Missing People at the lack of evidence of the impact of introducing this category in 2013.
Alongside the ‘Report on Vulnerability’, the Children's Commissioner launched the business plan for 2017/18. Priorities set out in the plan include identifying groups of vulnerable children not currently captured by existing measurements to identify gaps in services. This includes identifying children with mental health needs below the threshold for mental health services support and children associated with gangs. Other priorities include highlighting the problem of low-level anxiety among younger children and consulting more with children with disabilities through special participation networks.
Buttle UK released figures in May suggesting a 29% increase in the number of children affected by domestic abuse since last year. Most of these cases involved the child being a witness to abuse taking place in their home, often on an ongoing basis. They estimate that 20% of children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse, but note that there is little published data on this and no official statistics on the number of children living with domestic violence. The charity highlights that Government policy makes no provision for children affected by domestic abuse. Living with domestic violence is among the top 15 characteristics of children and young people who called Missing People’s Runaway Helpline in the last year.
In July, findings from the first of a series of inspections of the multi-agency response to child abuse and neglect was published. The inspections are being carried out jointly by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HMI Constabulary, and HMI Probation. The inspections include a focus on the experiences of children aged between 7 and 15 who may be at higher risk of going missing or being exploited, or who exhibit challenging behaviours in adolescence. The inspections provide an opportunity to explore multi-agency responses to challenging behaviour such as going missing, the underlying causes of which, including neglect, are not always picked up by professionals. The majority of children go missing because of abuse, neglect, or conflict at home, with many also living with serious mental health problems.
Researchers from the University of Bristol published a report summarising a series of quantitative and qualitative research looking at what is effective, acceptable, and sustainable in sex and relationships education (SRE). The government has recently announced its intention to require all English secondary schools to teach age-appropriate SRE. The report makes 28 recommendations on the content and delivery of SRE and on the role of sexual health and advisory services. Amongst these is the recommendation that SRE addresses sexual exploitation and sexual coercion. Missing People has been campaigning for compulsory education for secondary school students on the risks of running away from home, including the risk of sexual exploitation. Barnardo’s Cymru found that 62% of those who were judged to be at significant risk of CSE had been missing overnight or longer.
The Department for Education published a review of the family and adolescent support service in July. The service aims to provide integrated support for young people over the age of 11 and their families. The cornerstone of the service was based on whole family assessments, case planning, and reviews by social workers. Both parents and young people were found to have valued having a dedicated worker, focusing on their particular issues, and in whom they could trust.
In July, Public Health England published a review of recent literature on the best ways of tackling CSE alongside a framework showing how CSE is a public health concern, the best ways to prevent and intervene in CSE, and the role of local authority Directors of Public Health and health and wellbeing board partners in tackling CSE at a local level. It sets out concrete ways in which these Directors and partners can lead the public health response to CSE, improve understanding of the local context and risks, and, where appropriate, act to prevent and disrupt CSE.
Results from the Health and Education Select Committees' joint inquiry into children's mental health was published in May. It emphasised the role of schools in supporting pupils' wellbeing but warned that schools do not have enough time and funding to fulfil this role. The report encourages the Government to build on the inclusion of mental health training into initial teacher training. The report also asks the Government to consider how pressure to promote academic excellence causes stress and anxiety in pupils and review the effect of budget reductions on the in-school provision of mental health support. A 2016 survey by the National Association of Headteachers and Place2Be found that 64% of primary schools do not have access to a school-based counsellor and 78% reported financial constraints as a barrier to providing mental health services for students.