Skip to content
Company Logo

Children and Families that go Missing (Including Unborn Children)

These procedures apply if a child in the following circumstances goes missing or cannot be traced:

  • A child who is the subject of a child protection referral or Section 47 Enquiry;
  • A child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan who goes missing or is removed from her/his address outside the terms of the Child Protection Plan;
  • Any child known to a statutory agency who goes missing in suspicious circumstances or about whom there are concerns - e.g. one who is subject to an Assessment where there are developing concerns about their safety.

These procedures also apply to adults whose whereabouts become unknown in the following circumstances:

  • A pregnant woman when there are concerns about the welfare of the child following birth;
  • A family where there are concerns about the welfare of the child because of the presence of an individual who poses a risk to children or other person suspected of previously harming a child. 

Professionals in local agencies should be alert to the possibility that an expectant mother/family missing appointments or repeatedly being unavailable for home visits may indicate that a child or unborn child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. This could be physical, sexual or emotional abuse, and/or neglect.

Professionals should take reasonable steps to reassure themselves as soon as possible that an expectant mother/family are not missing or their whereabouts is unknown.

Professionals should involve all the agencies with current or recent contact with the expectant mother/family to assess the child/ren's or unborn child's vulnerability.

Professionals should consider questions such as:

  • Is the mother a child herself, is she subject to a child protection plan and/or is she a looked after child;
  • Is there good reason to believe that the expectant mother/family may be the victim of a crime?
  • Has there been a pre-birth conference for the child and is the unborn child subject to a pre-birth child protection assessment?
  • Are any of the children the subject of child protection plans?
  • Is the family currently subject to a s47 enquiry?
  • Is there a person present in the household or visiting the mother with previous convictions for an offence against children, or other person who poses a risk of harm to children?
  • Is it clear that the expectant mother/family is missing, whereabouts unknown?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, or an agency reaches the judgement that a child or unborn child is at risk of significant harm, (in line with Cumbria Multi-Agency Thresholds Guidance and the supporting document Cumbria Understanding The Level of Need and Practice Response which can be used alongside the Threshold Guidance), a referral should be made to Cumbria’s Safeguarding Hub. Where necessary the Safeguarding Hub Police will instigate any necessary missing enquiries.

Local agencies and professionals working with children and families where there are outstanding concerns of Significant Harm, must bear in mind that unusual non-school attendance, missed appointments, cancelled or abortive home visits, may indicate that the family has moved out of the area.

This possibility must also be borne in mind when there are concerns about an unborn child who may be likely to suffer Significant Harm.

In any of the above circumstances the relevant Children’s Social Care Team holding case responsibility must be notified immediately.

The Children’s Social Care Team must then inform the Manager of the Safeguarding and Reviewing Unit immediately, if the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan or is the subject of a child protection referral or a Section 47 Enquiry. The Police must also be notified immediately.

The Manager of the List of Children Subject to a Child Protection Plan must be informed immediately if a child who has a Child Protection Plan goes missing.

At the same time, the Children’s Social Care Team must contact all local agencies, who know the child, to inform them of the situation and where the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan all members of the Core Group must be informed in writing.

The Children’s Social Care Team must ensure that existing records in these agencies are checked to obtain any information which may help to trace the missing child, e.g. details of friends and relatives, and this information should be passed to the Police Officer undertaking the missing person enquiry.

The Pupil Tracking Officer should notify colleagues in other areas about a pupil whose name may show up on the roll of a new school. The Children’s Social Care Team must ensure that all those with Parental Responsibility are informed that the child is missing.

If, after following the above steps, the child has not been traced, a Strategy Meeting/ Discussion should be initiated by Children's Social Care chaired by a Children’s Social Care Manager within 5 working days (see Cumbria’s Child Protection Enquiries (Section 47 Children Act 1989) Procedure).

The strategy meeting/discussion should consider whether the details of the expectant mother/family should be circulated to other local authorities; other LA children's social care services and Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships. The strategy meeting/discussion should also consider whether other agencies could be notified (e.g. designated nurses in Integrated Care Boards (ICB’s) can be notified in writing, and they may circulate details to neighbouring maternity units and health visiting teams).

If the Strategy Meeting/Discussion agrees that the details of the child or family are to be circulated to other local authorities, the following details need to be provided:

  • Number of children in the family;
  • Other family members or significant adults;
  • The circumstances causing concern;
  • Action required if a child is found;
  • Details of contact arrangements for the social worker - including out of office hours contact details;
  • Where possible, physical descriptions of the key people and photographs, if available.

This information should be sent to the Manager of the Safeguarding and Reviewing Unit for distribution to their peers nationally, who in turn should circulate within their own Children's Social Care and local agencies.

Including Jobcentre Plus and the Child Benefit agency. This notification should be completed within 48 hours of completing the missing person report.

A senior member of Children’s Social Care should seek assistance from the Department for Work and Pensions.

If there is any suspicion that the child may be removed from UK jurisdiction, appropriate legal interventions should be considered and Legal Services consulted about options, the Police should also be informed. It may also be appropriate to contact the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit or the Consular Directorate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which may be able to follow up a case through their consular post in the country or countries concerned. See also Cross-border Child Protection Cases: The 1996 Hague Convention.

The Social Care Team Manager should inform the Assistant Director for  Children’s Services who will determine if and when the Council’s Press office should be notified.

If the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan, the Lead Social Worker should regularly consult the Child Protection Conference Chair and if the child is not found within 20 working days, the Child Protection Review Conference must be brought forward to consider whether any other action should be taken.

When a child is found, there should if practicable, a further Strategy Discussion within one working day, attended by previously involved agencies. In all cases, where the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan, a Strategy Discussion must be held within one working day.

Strategy meeting/discussion needs to consider:

  • Immediate safety issues;
  • Whether to instigate a s47 enquiry and any Police investigation;
  • Who will interview the expectant mother/family;
  • Who needs to be informed of the expectant mother/family being found (locally and nationally).

Any child who is found following a period of time as missing should, regardless of whether s/he is believed to have suffered Significant Harm, be interviewed by a social worker and/or the Police. This interview should provide a safe opportunity for the child to discuss any concerns regarding her/his care including if they chose to run away from an abusive situation (see Children who go Missing from Care or Home Safeguarding Practice Guidance).

If the child indicates a wish to be interviewed by an alternative professional, all reasonable efforts must be made to accommodate the child’s wishes.

If the child has been found in a different local authority area and is not likely to return, representatives of the ‘receiving’ local authority must be involved in the Strategy Discussion and the transfer of responsibility for and/or services to the child and family must be discussed.

Last Updated: April 10, 2024