Government strategy for missing children unveiled

Children’s campaigners have welcomed the government’s latest strategy to improve services for missing children and their families.

The cross-government strategy aims to encourage closer partnerships between police, councils and health services to identify those at risk of going missing earlier.

It also calls on local services to step up the support and advice they offer the families of those who go missing and to ensure those missing are found swiftly.

Councils are encouraged to work closely with the charity sector to provide support to families as well as to those who are found.

Children and young people who go missing are at a far greater risk of being sexually exploited, the strategy states.

Enver Solomon, policy director at The Children’s Society, said: “Hundreds of children go missing or run from home or care every day across the country. Yet way too often their behaviour is ignored or considered to be a nuisance, rather than a cry for help.

“The government is now sending a clear message to all professionals that this is unacceptable. It is clear that every time a child runs away they should be protected and their families given the help they need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

He added that while in some areas police, councils and health professionals worked well together in other areas missing children were not seen as a priority.

The Children Society said that around 100,000 children in the UK run away from home or care each year.

This latest strategy states that the government will regularly review progress being made among local councils, trusts and police forces.

Sue Berelowitz, the deputy children’s commissioner for England, said: “We strongly welcome the government’s stance that missing children are in need of protection and that there is a clear expectation that statutory agencies must meet their obligations to these highly vulnerable children.”

She added that she was also pleased “that the new arrangements will be kept under close review with all those charged with implementation being held to account for delivery”.

Andy McCullough, UK head of policy for charity the Railway Children, said a lack of effective communication between support services had prevented the fast response needed to reach vulnerable children before and after they go missing.

“Plans to improve the situation are welcome, but unless the rate at which frontline projects are closing down is also addressed this new government strategy giving the voluntary sector a lead role will literally have no legs to stand on,” McCullough warned.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) unit and the Missing Persons Bureau are being be asked to carry out regular research into latest trends among missing people and ensure their findings are well promoted.

Meanwhile, Ceop has released a short animated film online about running away aimed at children at risk of going missing. Called My Choice it is part of Ceop’s online support for children’s professionals on missing children’s issues.