Agenda item

Young People Missing from Placement


1.            Mr Fitzgerald introduced the report and highlighted the ways in which, until very recently, Kent differed from other local authorities in how missing episodes have been recorded, i.e., its pioneering work with sharing its reporting and data with the police and the way in which it conducted interviews with young people returning from being missing. Mr Fitzgerald responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including the following:-


a)    national guidance gave no exact definition of the word ‘missing’ and historically local authorities and police forces have applied the term in different ways. ‘Missing’ could be taken to mean that a young person was not at home at a time when they should be or could apply to anyone whose whereabouts could not be established, where the circumstances were out of character, or the context suggests that the child may be at risk of harm.  The age range of young people most likely to go missing was 14 – 15.   Mr Dunkley added that this issue was to be covered in the Ofsted conversation on 7 February as local authorities had a responsibility to follow up all missing episodes relating to their children in care, including UASC for which they were the corporate parent;


b)    one foster carer added that she had previously had a foster child who had rarely returned home on time throughout his whole placement.  She had been obliged to report him as missing and he had then been included amongst the figures, although his lateness was never a big issue;


c)    some young people went missing in order to try to find relatives elsewhere in the UK.  Contact with friends and family remained the single biggest pull factor for children who go missing;


d)    asked how many young people went missing and could not be found, Mr Fitzgerald explained that the majority of children who went missing (75%) did so for less than 24 hours.  However, the length of time missing was not in its own right an indicator of risk. Kent had had no citizen children who had gone missing and had not been found but there were a small number who went missing for extended periods.  Some UASC went missing within a short period of arriving in the UK and for these there was a joint agency response as there was a high probability that these young people will have been trafficked.  There was also a number of UASC who went missing close to their 18th birthday and who did not return.  For these young people a pending change in legal status was believed to be the principle trigger. Ms Hammond added that approximately thirty UASC under the aged of 18 were still missing. Members asked for more detailed figures of the number of young people missing who had not returned and officers undertook to supply this information outside the meeting.  This was subsequently done. Ms Hammond then suggested that a regular update report on the cohort of young people missing be submitted to the Panel;


e)    Mr Dunkley undertook to follow up with the Young Lives Foundation, which was delivering the service as an independent provider.  It was recognised that some young people will prefer to to speak to someone other than the local authority when they had come back from being missing as they could talk more frankly about a problem they might have with the local authority’s care service or staff; 


f)     asked why some young people refused a return interview, Mr Fitzgerald explained that some saw it as a repetitive discussion covering the same ground each time, while others felt they were at risk in a situation they did not feel able to discuss easily.  These young people would need to be made aware of the option available to them to speak to someone independent of the local authority and they could be encouraged to see a return interview as being in their own best interests in helping them start to tackle the issues which had caused them to go missing;


g)    asked if it were possible to extend the 72-hour period within which return interviews should be conducted, Mr Fitzgerald explained that 72 hours had been set in statutory national guidance but it was still possible to conduct and record an interview after this time;


h)    asked what could be done to stop young people from going missing, Mr Fitzgerald explained that a focus group of young people in 2017 had been asked what they would want to see done differently in terms of handling missing episodes and return interviews. This group had said that repeated return interviews which asked the same questions were not effective; and the County Council needed to ensure that the return interview did not become process driven.  Practitioners need to be tenacious, creative and persistent and ensure that agencies are working together to identify and mitigate risks.  The recent changes to the placement planning procedures was one example where the County Council had placed an emphasis on developing an effective response to missing episodes whilst at the same time attempting to ensure that judgements about what constitutes a missing episode are not risk adverse; and


i)     following a return interview, the record of interview would be signed off by the team manager and discussed with the social workers working with the young person concerned to address any areas of practice which might have contributed to the missing episode.


2.            It was RESOLVED that the current practice challenges faced when children in care go missing, the work being undertaken to better understand the circumstances that lead to missing episodes and the steps being taken to mitigate risks as much as possible, be noted; and


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