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1.4.7 Children Missing from Home


  1. When a Child is Missing from Home
  2. Risk Screening of Missing Children
  3. When a Missing Child is Located
  4. Return Interviews
  5. Reporting to the Southwark Safeguarding Children Partnership

    Appendix 1: Merlin Triage (Missing Children) Flowchart


Note that the police adopted revised definitions of ‘missing’ with effect from 2013 - see ACPO Interim Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons (2013), which should be read in conjunction with the Association of Chief Police Officers ACPO (2010) Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons

Missing children/young people will be classified by the police as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ after a risk assessment has been carried out by police call handlers.

The new NPCC definition of a missing person is:

Missing - ‘Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be the subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another’.

Absent - ‘A person not at a place where they are expected or required to be’.

The `absent’ category should comprise cases in which children/young people are not presently where they are supposed to be but there is no apparent risk and they are not believed to be immediately at risk of harm.

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 by care providers to locate the child/young person prior to making a report to the police. Where they remain absent, and the care provider feels 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.

1. When a Child is Missing from Home

When the Children's Social Care Service is notified that a child is missing, the information should be assessed to determine the level of risk to the child and whether the child is a Child in Need.

On a daily basis the Police based within Southwark MASH (see Thresholds for Children’s Social Care Safeguarding Services, Southwark MASH,) provide MERLIN reports to the Children’s Social Care ‘Merlin Specialist worker’ in MASH regarding all young people reported missing from a Southwark home address. The MERLIN specialist worker is responsible for tracking and reviewing the list of young people missing from home in Southwark.

If the child has an allocated social worker, the MERLIN report will be forwarded to the social worker.

If the child is placed in Southwark by another Local Authority, the police will send the MERLIN direct to that authority and copy to the Southwark MERLIN specialist worker. 

If the young person does not have an allocated social worker and there is no assessment of immediate high risk from the police MERLIN, the MISPER report is recorded and then sent to St Christopher’s to ensure that a Independent interview with the child can take place,

See: Appendix 1: Merlin Triage (Missing Children) Flowchart.

If the missing child is:

  • The subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  • The subject of a Child Protection Enquiry;
  • The subject of a Single Assessment;
  • Or where professionals agree that the child is a Child in Need and there are concerns for a child's welfare or safety if he or she is not located, the following persons/agencies must be notified:
    1. The relevant Police station/Missing Persons Unit and the Police Public Protection Unit;
    2. The Manager of the Record of Children with a Child Protection Plan and the Designated Nurse (where the child is subject of a Child Protection Plan);
    3. All local agencies that know the child - to obtain any information that may assist the Police to trace the child;
    4. The Education Service - to notify colleagues in other boroughs;
    5. All those with Parental Responsibility and, where appropriate, members of the extended family;
    6. Legal Services (if the child is subject to Court proceedings).

Any unauthorised absence lasting for 24 hours should be reported to the Designated Manager (Missing Children) by the child's social worker.

If the child is not traced after 24 hours, a Strategy Meeting should be held to consider:

  • Whether to circulate the child's details to other local authorities and agencies in the area where the child may be;
  • Notifying national agencies, including the Benefits Agency and Child Benefit Agency;
  • Appropriate legal action if there is any concern that the child may be removed from the jurisdiction.

If the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan the child's social worker should send a draft letter to the Manager of the Record of Children with a Child Protection Plan. The letter should include:

  • Details of the family and children;
  • A description of the circumstances leading to the child/ren being made subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  • A description of the risks involved if the family are not located;
  • A brief description of the individuals in the family, including identifiable features;
  • The likely location of the family (including addresses of key friends and relatives);
  • What the authority should do if the family is located, e.g. who should they contact? Do you want them to take immediate legal action to protect the children?

This letter will then be circulated to all Local authorities in the UK.

If a child the subject of a Child Protection Plan is still missing after 20 working days, a Child Protection Review Conference must be convened to consider any additional action.

2. Risk Screening of Missing Children

All children who have been missing for over 24 hours should be risk assessed using the ‘Missing or absent risk screening tool’ accessed via the start menu in Mosaic.

The social worker should discuss the outcome of the screening tool with their manager and this should be provided for any strategy meeting held.

3. When a Missing Child is Located

When a child, who has been the subject of a Strategy Meeting, is located, a further Strategy Meeting between the agencies involved should be convened to consider:

  1. Immediate safety issues;
  2. Whether to initiate a Child Protection Enquiry;
  3. Who will interview the child (whether or not a Child Protection Enquiry is to take place);
  4. Whether a Single Assessment should be completed to determine any services required;
  5. Who needs to be informed of the child's return (both locally and nationally).

Where a child is located in the area of another local authority and is unlikely to return to the borough, a representative of the local authority where the child now lives should be invited to the Strategy Meeting to consider a transfer of the case. 

The case should not be closed until a transfer meeting has taken place.

If the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the child's social worker in consultation with the Manager of the Record of Children with a Child Protection Plan, must consider the need to convene a Child Protection Review Conference.

4. Return Interviews


Where a child returns, he or she will initially be interviewed by a representative from the Police Missing Persons Unit. This return interview is often quite short and is a confirmation that the young person is safe and well.


All children who return from a missing episode must also be offered an Independent interview with an independent professional or the child's choice of an alternative professional. This interview offers the child an opportunity to discuss any concerns away from the parents or carers. Parents will need to be informed, and involved if this is appropriate.

The majority of return interviews in LB Southwark are undertaken by St Christopher’s Runaway Service or by the allocated social worker.

The interviews should be carried out within 72 hours of the young person returning to their home or care setting.

The purpose of the return interview is to:

  • Give the child the chance to talk about why he/she ran away;
  • Assess any risks including risk of future running away;
  • Provide advice, information and support;
  • Consider whether services, for example family mediation or youth counselling, are required.

A Risk Assessment/debrief report will be completed following the interview describing the events leading up to the missing episode and will include the following information:

  • Assessment of young person’s level of maturity and any recommendation for family support;
  • Push/pull factors/Risk factors;
  • Any identified risk of Sexual Exploitation, gang affiliations and other exploitative relationships;
  • An assessment (if possible) of the capacity of the parent;
  • Confirm if the young person is in a place of safety etc.

This report will be logged onto the Child’s Social Care record.


If the child in question is:

  • Under 12; or
  • If the return interview gives rise to concerns; or
  • If the child has run away on a number of occasions.

The MASH manager will consider whether a Single Assessment should be carried out.

5.Reporting to the Southwark Safeguarding Children Partnership

The Designated Manager (Missing Children) will report to the Director of Children's Social Care and Southwark Safeguarding Children Partnership information about patterns of absence among children in Southwark, including:

  • Numbers of missing children episodes;
  • Child protection implications;
  • Actions taken when children return;
  • Any practice and procedural issues.

Appendix 1: Merlin Triage (Missing Children) Flowchart 

Click here to view Appendix 1: Merlin Triage (Missing Children) Flowchart.