Mr S Fitzgerald, Assistant Director, South Kent, was in attendance for this item.
1. Mr Fitzgerald introduced the report and highlighted key areas of activity. He pointed out to the Panel that many missing episodes could be accounted for by a relatively small number of children who went missing repeatedly. Conducting interviews with young people within the target 72 hours of their return was a challenge, as many did not wish to be interviewed, but the County Council was working with the Young Lives Foundation to reduce the pressure by undertaking those interviews in a different way. Collaborative work with Kent Police and family group conferencing was also helping to support this work. Mr Fitzgerald responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including the following:-
a) the County Council recorded and monitored every missing episode, but these figures were inflated by including young people who were missing for only a few hours as well as those, relatively few, who would be missing for days or weeks. This full and frank reporting demonstrated transparency. If a young person was known to go habitually to a friend’s or relative’s house, the Police, when involved, would go to that house first to look for them;
b) asked if a social worker could perhaps be able to make enquiries first, to avoid involving the Police, and how long it might be possible to avoid involving the Police, Mr Fitzgerald explained that there was a ‘lower-level’ response which would be used if a young person was known to be at a friend or relative’s house. Relatives would help by contacting social workers if and when the child turned up at their house;
c) it was difficult for foster carers to judge when to report a child as missing if they knew the child concerned simply had a habit of coming home late. They would have a separate plan of action for each child in their care, to accommodate that child’s habits. If a missing child were not reported, a foster carer would be taking a risk, so the issue was complex and required careful judgement by foster carers;
d) asked if there was any geographic pattern to missing episodes, and if any area had a higher level than others, Mr Fitzgerald advised that Dartford, Dover, Maidstone and Thanet had the largest numbers of cases; and
e) asked if the definition of ‘missing’ included any timeframe, Mr Fitzgerald said someone going missing regularly for a couple of hours at a time could be more at risk than someone missing for a single, longer period. Young people aged 16 and 17 living in supported accommodation who went missing would be reported by the accommodation provider, and providers varied in the speed at which they would make such a report. Guidance on the issue and the process for reporting a young person as missing was included in foster carers’ training.
2. It was RESOLVED that Kent’s current position for children in care going missing, and the work being undertaken to better understand the circumstances which lead to missing episodes, alongside the steps being taken to mitigate risks as much as possible, be noted.