My Foster Child is Missing

Standards & Regulations

Fostering Services National Minimum Standards (England) 2011:

Training, Support and Development Standards for Foster Care:

See also: Child Sexual Exploitation.

When a child is placed with you, the child’s social worker should make you aware of any previous occasions when the child has gone missing or if this is something they have good reason to think they will do.

The care provided should minimise the risk of the child going missing, however a child/young person should be aware that they need to take some responsibility for their own safety, dependent upon their age and understanding. You should talk to the child/young person about the risks of running away and let them know where they can get help to talk about this other than from you.

The degree of risk that they might be taking by going missing will vary dependent on things like their age understanding and awareness. There may be a variety of reasons for the young person going missing and it is through communication that you are most likely to understand and deal with the issues that make them go. This could include peer group issues, family contact or other reasons. On the other hand, the young person might not be used to people being concerned about their whereabouts and they might not understand that you are trying to keep them safe and look after them.

If a young person has gone missing whilst with you or before, you should look out for signs or patterns of behaviour that usually happen before they go missing. This may help you talk to them to prevent them from going.

You should be aware of what measures you can take to prevent a child from leaving without permission. The use of persuasion and your relationship is the most powerful tool that you have to prevent them going and you will find that the best thing that you can achieve is for them to want to come back.

When a child has not returned to the placement at a time set by you or if a child walks out of the placement/ is abducted from placement you will need to assess whether they are missing or can be classed as an unauthorised absence and you should complete the risk assessment form below to assist you in coming to this decision.

If you decide that a child is classed as unauthorised absence (and you may wish to do this in consultation with the on call fostering duty worker) you do not have to report them missing to the Police. You will need to review this decision regularly. For example if a 15 year old is an hour late you may class this as an unauthorised absence however if they are 4 hours late you may form the view that they now need to be classed as missing.

If you decide that a child is classed as missing you will need to report them as such to the Police and contact the out of hours social worker to inform them that a child is missing.

A child can be missing even if you know their whereabouts, this is because they are missing from placement/ care and you have not classed this as an unauthorised absence. For example a 14 year old who you know is at a friend’s home where she maybe at risk from substance misuse or sexual exploitation. You would still need to report her missing and give the Police the address.

If a child is missing you should do all that you can to find the child including working with the Police where necessary, calling the child on their mobile, calling known associates or friends and visiting addresses if it is safe to do so.

You may need to give a description of the child including what they were wearing and an up to date photo to the Police.

You should also inform your Supervising Social Worker as soon as possible.

You should record both the above incidents. You should record the circumstances in which they return, why they say they ran if they do and what actions you will put in place to try and prevent a further occurrence. This information should be shared with the responsible authority and where appropriate the child’s parents.

The child’s social worker should call a meeting to look at why the child/young person went missing to look at ways of preventing it from happening again.


There are various different terms which are used in relation to missing children: Statutory Guidance On Children Who Run Away Or Go Missing From Home Or Care (January 2014) uses the following definitions:

Missing Child:

A child reported as missing to the Police by their family or carers.

Missing from Care:

A Looked After Child who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be (e.g. school) and their whereabouts are not known.

Away from Placement Without Authorisation:

A Looked After Child whose whereabouts are known but who is not at their placement or the place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the Police.

Young Runaway:

A child who has run away from their home or care placement, or feels they have been forced or lured to leave.

See also, the College of Policing definition of missing and absent.

The Police classification of a person as ‘Missing’ or ‘Absent’ will be based on on-going risk assessment.

Police will not be sent to cases where children/young people are defined as being ‘absent’. Instead the onus will be on care providers to take steps to locate the child/young person, with monitoring by the Police and escalation to ‘missing’ if there is a change to the circumstances that has increased the level of risk. It is expected that all reasonable steps should be taken to locate the child/young person prior to making a report to the Police. Where they remain absent, and you feel that they may be at risk of harm, then a report should be made to the Police.

Police will attend reports of ‘missing’ children/young people’.

What to do if the child or young person goes missing

You should assess the risk to the child or young person. There is always an out of hours fostering social worker and manager there to help you think through the risks such as their age, vulnerability, learning difficulties, history of having been abused, mental health problems, the kind of people they are mixing with.

  • Age and level of maturity.
  • Legal status i.e. is s/he subject to a court order or accommodated by voluntary agreement.
  • Previous absenteeism.
  • History of self-harm, sexual vulnerability, mental health, learning difficulty or substance abuse.
  • Known adult or peer contacts.
  • Any information suggesting that s/he is running to a specific person.
  • Any indication of difficulties within the foster home.
  • Duration of the absence.
  • Contingency arrangements in the care plan and placement agreement.

If you have to report a child missing, this information will need to be given to the Police.

  • Name, gender and date of birth.
  • Ethnicity, first language and any additional communication needs.
  • Description of individual, including clothing and any tattoos or piercing.
  • Any street name or alias.
  • A recent photo.
  • Family address/es.
  • Addresses of known friends or acquaintances.
  • Any previous episode/s of being missing.
  • Name and address of child / young person’s GP and dentist.
  • Legal status.
  • Any previous links with street based agencies.
  • Efforts made already to locate the child / young person.
  • Any circumstances thought to increase risk.
  • Most recent completed risk assessment.

Risk Assessment Grid

You can find the latest version of the Risk Assessment Grid document on the Forms and Records page.