In these uncertain times, caring for vulnerable children and young people will be very challenging.
Police anticipate that there may be an increase in children and young people reported missing whilst we battle with the COVID-19 virus and the restrictions we are living with. We need to ensure that children and young people are reported appropriately, and we are not unintentionally criminalising children or bringing them unnecessarily into contact with Police. There are many reports that demonstrate this can cause significant harm and can damage the child’s relationships with the professionals around them.
There remains an expectation that parents and carers, including staff acting in a parenting role in care homes, undertake reasonable actions to try and establish the whereabouts of the child, before reporting to Police. This may include:
- Contacting the young person’s phone
- Contacting family members where appropriate
- Contacting friends that the young person may be with
- Visiting the locations where they may be
- Talk to other children in the care setting or home to ascertain whether there are any previously unknown risks and disclosures
We accept that children at risk of exploitation will do the things other children do and go out to associate with their friends in breach of parental direction in the same way other children do. Many children who are told they cannot leave home because of current COVID-19 restrictions, will get bored, frustrated and go out without permission. We hope that this will be dealt with as a carer/parental issue rather than a missing person report, unless there is some trigger incident, such as they were seen to get into a car or were extremely active on their mobile phones before leaving which are possible indicators of them planning to meet exploiters.
Carers and Parents may be concerned that the instructions set out by The Prime Minister may be breached if a carer goes out to try to locate a child or young person, as they would have done before. If a parent or carer was to go out to locate the child or young person then it would for the reason of “Medical needs or care for a vulnerable person is appropriate” giving them a justifiable reason for being out of the house.
If there are immediate concerns about the child’s wellbeing or safety, they should be reported missing immediately to the police.
Any recent changes in the behaviour of the child, or previous missing incidents should be considered when deciding whether there is an immediate risk.
Warning signs might include:
- Frantic phone activity before leaving
- Sharing concerning information on social media or with other children in the care setting
- Preparations to stay away for a long period of time (packing clothes, taking personal items)
- Turning their phone off as soon as they leave
- Talking about self-harm or suicide
- Recent changes in behaviour
- Withdrawing socially or expressing hopelessness
This list is not exhaustive.
Further advice and guidance is available from the Missing People Helpline on 116000 if carers and parents want to talk through their concerns and next steps before contacting the Police: https://www.missingpeople.org.uk/
The government have also published guidance on Vulnerable Children and Young People.
The National Police Chief’s Council has produced the following document that discusses, What constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave the place where you live:What-constitutes-a-reasonable-excuse