Missing children are still falling through the net

  • Date: 23/03/2016
  • In: UK

Following the publication of a report stating that children who go missing are left at risk because of “unacceptable inconsistencies” in policing, Railway Children is calling for changes in the way local authorities and the police respond when young people go missing.

The Missing Children: Who Cares? report, published today by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), found “widespread inconsistences and shortcomings” in police responses to missing child reports across England and Wales. It raised particular concerns that missing children were sometimes being inappropriately classified as “absent” (meaning the child is at “no apparent risk”) – when they were in fact at serious risk of harm.

A Patchwork Response

Andy McCullough, Railway Children’s Director of Policy and Public affairs UK, said that missing children in the UK are too often victims of a “patchwork response”, depending on where in the country they are.

He said: “Different police forces are using different criteria and categories when they receive reports of missing children. There’s a dangerous level of confusion and inconsistency surrounding the categories of “missing” and “absent” and children are falling through the net. Police and local authorities should move away from these categories and instead conduct a full risk assessment when any child is reported missing.

Dangers Children Face

Andy McCullough said: “This isn’t just an issue for the police. It’s for local authorities, communities and individuals to remain alert to the dangers children face when they go missing. There’s strong leadership from within the police and areas of excellent practice, so it’s now about making sure the recommendations of the HMIC report are put into practice swiftly and effectively nationwide.

“We fully endorse the report’s recommendations – particularly its call for a national database of missing and absent children to be established and for better and more consistent recording and sharing of information across agencies.

Put Vulnerable Children First

“First-hand evidence from the children themselves who have been treated unacceptably in their interactions with police makes this report compelling. It’s vitally important to challenge stereotypes that young runaways are ‘streetwise’ or ‘trouble-makers’. Children who run away or go missing are vulnerable children first and foremost.”

Railway Children is working with police, government and local authorities at all levels to make sure that the 2014 DfE Statutory Guidance on Children Missing from Home or Care is being implemented and vulnerable children who go missing do not slip through the net.