Missing Children – Risk Management (updated 2022)

Each year in the UK, there are approximately 130,000 missing incidents involving children. Going missing for a child should be treated as a substantial indicator that something is wrong in their life. There are often complex and deep-rooted reasons why a child chooses to go missing, sometimes involving a combination of several different risk factors.

Unfortunately, it is impossible for the police and social care to provide the same level of service to every missing and returning child. Whilst this is far from an ideal situation, the grim reality of public service means that the sheer volume of missing people (adults included), places great demands on safeguarding professionals. It would be foolish to think that every child will get the same 5-star response. In some police Missing Person Units (MPU’s) it is not unusual for the police supervisor to arrive at work, to be greeted with twenty overnight cases. Add that to those missing person cases that are still outstanding, and many inner city MPU’s can actively be looking for 50 plus people. With limited resources at his/her disposal, how does that supervisor identify which of these missing people are at most risk? Which ones are more likely to end in a fatality or suffer serious harm and therefore require the most resources?

The answer is proper risk assessment. It is the key to identifying and responding to those children who are the most vulnerable. Effective risk assessing should ensure that the response is proportionate and measured towards the individual. There should be no ‘one size fits all’ when assessing risk. Nor should assessments only take place at the point where a child goes missing. They should be a work in progress, involve risk planning for a child who is likely to go missing and a review process when a child returns.

However, it is much more than an assessment. It is about risk management. A good understanding of the potential risks associated to the person, will shape investigative strategies for the police and enhance the chances of locating that person safely. Effective assessment will also enable social care, police and other safeguarding agencies to proactively problem solve repeat missing children. The ultimate aim should be the prevention of further missing episodes. Below, we look at some of the considerations when assessing risk.

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