Skip to main content


View London Child Protection Procedures View London Child Protection Procedures

2.13 Islington Missing from Home and Care Procedures


This chapter was refreshed in February 2023.


  1. Definitions
  2. Prevention and Planning
  3. Reporting and Recording Missing
  4. The Safeguarding Process
  5. Missing Briefings
  6. Return to Home/Placement
  7. Recording
  8. Early Help Services Response to Missing Children
  9. Monitoring

    Appendix 1: Missing Practice Guidance for Statutory Services

    Appendix 2: Missing Practice Guidance for Early Help Services

1. Definitions

As the lead agency in the investigation and location of missing children, the Metropolitan Police service, will respond to children and young people going missing based on continuous risk assessment. Police will prioritise their response to all incidents of missing children in line with their classification of ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ and on-going risk assessment that outcome as medium or high risk.

The police define 'missing' and 'absent' as:

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

In 2021 the Metropolitan Police have introduced the Philomena Protocol which has adjusted the use of the term “absent” when referring to young people who are Looked After, aged 13 to 17 and who are placed in Semi Independent or Residential Accommodation within London. As per the protocol the placement staff will be required to undertake several pre-agreed steps to locate the child prior to reporting them missing to the police via a specialist online portal. There will now be more of a dialogue between the Police and the Placement regarding the risk assessment and circumstances of the child’s whereabouts.

Whereas before the child may have been considered “absent” or “missing” the decision is now whether they are either “missing” or “away from placement without authorisation”. If considered the be away from placement without authorisation the understanding is the agency taking the lead to locate the child and conduct appropriate risk assessments will be Social Care rather than the Police.

The following definitions and guidance apply to all children under the age of 18yrs along with relevant children.

Missing From Home: A child whose whereabouts cannot be established - where the circumstances are out of character or there are indicators to suggest that the child may be at risk of harm to themselves or others.

Missing from Care: Includes children that have run away (missing) and/or been removed from care by an adult (missing). A child where the circumstances are out of character or there are indicators to suggest that the child may be at risk of harm to themselves or others. (Including additional concerns regarding criminal or sexual exploitation, serious youth violence, radicalisation, FGM, forced marriage etc.) should be considered ‘missing’ is their whereabouts are unknown (reasonable professional judgement).

Away from Placement without Authorisation: A looked after child whose whereabouts is known but who is not at their placement or place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns or the incident has been notified to the local authority or the police.

If a looked after child is considered to be ‘away from placement without authorisation’ then the carer or social worker (as appropriate) should work to ascertain the wellbeing of the child through visiting the location and contacting the child. If there are additional concerns that the child may be at risk of significant harm then police should be notified and action taken to address the risk.

Decisions about the nature of, and the appropriate course of action in response to, a child’s absence must take account of:

  • 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 or abuse within the Home or placement;
  • Duration of the absence;
  • Contingency arrangements in the care plan and placement agreement.

2. Prevention and Planning

Children Looked After: All children who are 'Looked After' by the Local Authority will receive information, which advises them:

  • The procedure that will be followed if they go missing;
  • That there is an expectation they will speak to a Police Officer on their return;
  • That they will be offered the opportunity to speak to an independent person who will complete a Return Home Interview on their return;
  • All files of looked after children should have a recent photograph of the child or young person;
  • That their Independent Reviewing Officer will be informed that they are missing or absent.

Risk Assessments will be completed prior to each accommodation arrangement of a Looked After child, Children's Social Care must consider within the planning process all potential risks to the child including an assessment of the potential for them to go missing. The child and their parent/carer should be involved in the assessment and planning process. The risk assessment will be placed on the child’s LCS record. Children who may be deemed at high risk of going missing include, children who have been remanded to Local Authority care, children who have a history of absconding, children at risk of/affected by exploitation or at risk of serious youth violence, children who are at risk of their parents’ removing them from care. Risk assessments and plans should be shared with the parent/carer, the police and host Local Authority (if the child is placed out of borough) and the professional network.

Philomena Protocol

All young people who are Looked After, aged 13 to 17 and are placed in residential or semi- independent accommodation within London, should have an up to date Grab Pack completed which is the risk assessment and action plan for if they are missing.

When a young person moves to a new placement a Placement Planning Meeting should be convened within 5 working days. A standing agenda item at this meeting should be what to do if the young person doesn’t return at their agreed home time. The placement, Social Worker and young person need to agree and formalise the Grab Pack at this meeting. Please find the template for the Grab Pack here: Grab Pack link to follow.

The Grab pack is what the placement will use if the young person has not returned by their agreed home time. It will outline the steps the placement need to undertake prior to reporting the young person missing.

Example of some actions which may be included in a grab pack:

  • Contact young person’s Parentr/aunt/grandfather to confirm if they know the young person’s whereabouts;
  • Ring and Text Young person to try and find out location and intended return;
  • Check with local A&E if they have attended.

This Grab pack needs to include any relevant health information, up to date contact details for the child, their family/friends and any current known risks or information that would need to be shared with police.

The Grab pack should get reviewed every 3 months by the placement and Social Worker. It should be uploaded in to the Child’s LCS file and be saved in a secure place on the placements computer system so any member of staff on duty can access it if the child does not return.

If there are any significant developments in the young persons life, after the initial placement planning meeting, consideration should be given to whether the Grab pack needs to be updated. For example if the child is identified as at risk of Child Criminal Exploitation in a strategy meeting, this information should be included in the Grab Pack.

Children Missing from Home: It is best practice that all case files have an up to date risk assessment recorded.

For children where CSE, CCE, radicalisation or serious youth violence concerns have been identified a risk marker should be placed on the case file and updated as per the Hazards Guidance. If a risk marker has been placed on a file then there should be clear and up-to-date risk assessments, safety plans and intervention records on file that include planning around missing.

3. Reporting and Recording Missing Children

If there are any immediate concerns about a child’s safety then the individual with the concerns should call 999.

There are different ways in which Childrens Social Care may be notified when a child goes missing - and subsequent methods of recording:

  1. The Childrens Service Contact Team (CSCT) may receive a report (often referred to as a merlin, p78 or PAC report) directly from the police that a child has been reported missing:
    • For children who do not reside in the local authority or are not Looked After by Islington, CSCT will notify the local authority in which the child resides or is looked after;
    • For children who are allocated to an Islington statutory social work team - CSCT will forward the missing report to the allocated Social worker, allocated team’s Social Work Coordinator and the Exploitation and Missing Social Work Coordinator. It is for the allocated team to then open the missing episode on the LCS system;
    • For children who reside in the borough but are not open to a statutory social work team – CSCT will create a missing episode on LCS and monitor the case through communication with the police and on-going risk assessments. If a child remains missing the child will be referred to a statutory social work team for a safeguarding response on the 5th day of being missing unless information indicates that a statutory social work service is needed more swiftly.
  2. The Social Worker or Emergency Duty Team (out of office hour’s service) may be notified directly by another professional, a parent / carer, member of the public or placement provision:
    • If notified by another professional, care provision unit or foster carer then the Social Worker will advise them of their duty to report the child missing to the Police by calling 101. It is the duty of the Social Worker to put a case note on the system to inform the allocated social worker that the child was reported missing;
    • If notified by a parent or member of the public that a child is missing then in first instance the Social Worker will encourage and support the contact person to report the child missing to the Police by calling 101. This may need to be confirmed by the Social Worker through calling 101;
    • If a Social Worker is contacted by a parent, member of the public or professional to advise that they have already reported a child missing to the Police then the Social Worker will need to request the Police CAD number from whom ever reported the child missing and it is the duty of the Social Worker to inform the allocated Social Worker that the child has been reported missing.

For children that go missing from care, it is the responsibility of the social work team to coordinate the immediate response and agreed actions with the police, parents and multi-professional network – this includes providing the Police with an up-to-date risk assessment along with key information (listed below). For children missing from care, the foster carer or placement staff member is usually the last one to have seen the child and therefore in most circumstances they will be the most appropriate person to report the child missing and ensure that the Police receive a copy of their risk assessment.

When reporting a child missing to the Police, the following key information should be provided (where possible):

  • 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.

Philomena Protocol

The Metropolitan Police have updated the process when it comes to reporting 13 – 17 year old, Looked After young people who are placed in semi-independent or residential placements within London.

If a child is over 13 and their location is not known the placement staff are required to:

  • Consult the individual child’s grab pack
  • Fulfil the agreed required checklist of actions in the grab pack
  • Use the online portal to report concerns and progress on agreed grab pack actions to the police.

This online portal replaces calling 101. However if there are any issues with reporting via the portal the placement should telephone the police. The placement are also only required to contact EDT if there are additional risk factors or immediate guidance is required.

If the young person has been reported missing via the portal or is considered away from placement without authorisation, instead of contacting EDT the senior placement staff member on duty should email the allocated Social Worker, Practice Manager and to update them of the details and actions taken. All these contact details will be on the child’s Grab pack.

The allocated Social Work team and the Placement staff should have contact with one another as soon as possible on the next working day.

4. The Safeguarding Response

For children open to a statutory social work team the following process should be followed when the child goes missing from care or missing from home:

A. Risk Assessment

All cases should have an up to date risk assessment on file. It is important that risk assessments are up-to-date and clearly recorded for children and young people that go missing. The generic risk assessment can be accessed in the LCS Missing episode record. The risk assessment should take into account individual circumstances.

The risk assessment on LCS should be updated as and when the risk changes or every 3 months.

The LCS risk assessment should be shared with Police and the professional network. If a child has additional risk concerns (such as serious youth violence or child sexual exploitation) and there is a specialised risk assessment on file, then this should also be shared with Police.

All young people aged 13 to 17 who are placed in residential or semi- independent accommodation should have an up to date Grab Pack completed which can be used as the risk assessment and action plan if they are missing.

B. Missing Strategy Meeting

In the following situations the Social Work team is required to hold a strategy meeting where the missing risks and safeguarding response is discussed and agreed:

  • For children who go missing from home a missing strategy meeting should be held within 7 days of the missing episode;
  • For children looked after who go missing from care a missing strategy meeting should be held within 3 days of the missing episode.

The strategy meeting should be convened with the Police, Health and other agencies. Missing strategy meetings are to be chaired by one of the Specialist Exploitation and Missing Social Workers, Practice Managers or Team Managers. Missing strategy meetings should be recorded clearly in the strategy meeting template in the forms section of LCS.

For children that go missing or are away from placement without authorisation frequently, then review meetings should be held to share information and agree the updated missing safety plan. Missing meeting attendance should be the multi-professional network. Where possible the relevant missing Police should attend the meeting and/or provide input and updates.

The missing strategy meeting will consider:

  • Any further steps that could be taken to locate and recover the child / young person, this includes undertaking corporate parenting duties such as visiting addresses where children are suspected to be;
  • If the child has been located any steps that could be taken to prevent the child going missing again;
  • Whether to circulate the child / young person’s details via the police’s social media and publicity routes (if the young person is Looked After then authorisation for publicity is needed by the Director);
  • Notifying national authorities and agencies including the National Missing Persons Unit, Social Security, the Benefits Agency and Child Benefit Agency;
  • Appropriate legal interventions and consulting legal services if there is any suspicion that the child may be removed from UK jurisdiction (this may include contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office);
  • The use of Abduction notices by the Police where it is likely that a child/young person is being harboured by an adult.

The meeting should also address the following issues:

  • Is it safe for the child / young person to return to the previous placement / continue to stay at the placement?
  • How will s/he be taken to the placement?
  • Should a medical be undertaken?
  • Do police wish to make further enquiries before the child or young person returns to her/his placement?
  • Should a pre-disruption / disruption meeting be convened when they are located?
  • Is the child at risk of being trafficked or exploitation?
  • Is it appropriate to apply for a Recovery Order?
  • Should a pre-secure planning meeting be requested?

For Children Missing from care, the responsibility for returning the child / young person to her/his placement should be negotiated between the Children’s Social Care and the service provider. In some circumstances the police may agree to assist.

C. Missing Safety Plan

Within the missing strategy meeting agenda it is important to explore the wider multi-professional safeguarding response to the child and actions. This may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Responsibility of professionals/services in supporting the child upon return;
  • Considerations and focus that may need to be taken in the Return to Home Interview;
  • Information to be gathered and passed to Police to support in locating the child;
  • Preventative and support work that may be offered to the child;
  • Additional support to be provided to parent/s, carers or placement provision around reporting missing;
  • Review dates for any further Missing Meetings.

5. Missing Briefings

The Team Manager must complete a weekly missing briefing for any child who is missing at that time. The Exploitation and Missing Coordinator will send the requests for the missing briefings on a Thursday and the briefings are required to be submitted before 5pm on a Friday. The completed briefings will be reviewed by a member of the Exploitation and Missing Team and sent on to the senior leadership team.

The missing briefings are to evidence what multi-agency steps are being taken to locate the child and what the safety plan is for when they return.

Each missing briefing will be uploaded on to the child’s LCS file by the Exploitation and Missing  Coordinator.

6. Return to Home/Placement

All relevant professionals, parents/carer’s and police should be advised of the child's return without delay by the child’s Social Worker.

When a child is found or returns to home or placement then the Police will undertake a ‘safe and well check’ (often referred to as a ‘debrief’).

Every child that goes missing should be offered a Return to Home Interview (RHI) upon their return, by a professional independent from that child’s immediate safeguarding team (i.e. the Police, the Social Worker, parent or carer). There are allocated members of the Exploitation and Missing team who undertake the RHI’s.

The purpose of a RHI is to offer the child a space in which they can reflect upon, discuss and/or disclose information relating to the circumstances of why they went missing and what happened to them during their time missing. A RHI also addresses any concerns that the child may have and can be used as way of offering support to the child.

It is important that information gathered in a RHI is monitored and shared (as appropriate). For all children allocated to a statutory social worker, it is the social workers responsibility to review the RHI form (on LCS) and take forward any recommendations or information shared by the child. For cases open to Early Help Services, it is also important that they review the RHI document (saved on EHM) and address any concerns.

For Children Looked After the Social Worker will inform the child’s Independent Reviewing Officer when the child has returned.

7. Recording

Throughout the missing process the Social Work Team should provide clear recording of procedures, communication and rationale on EMH/LSC. Please refer to Appendix 1: Missing Practice Guidance for Statutory Services and Appendix 2: Missing Practice Guidance for Early Help Services for detailed guidance on how to record missing episodes on LCS and EHM.

Residential Units and Foster Carers should be advised to keep records of missing and absent episodes in their log-books. This information should be shared with the multi-professional team.

The Police will record all details of contacts and enquiries made as a part of the investigation into tracing, locating and the return of the child or young person.

8. Early Help Services Response to Missing Children

The following practice guidance is for professionals from Early Help Services to follow when any child under 18 years of age or relevant young person goes missing:

Reporting and Responding to Missing:

  • If another professional informs an Early Help Service practitioner that a child is missing: then the practitioner needs to advise the professional that it is their duty to report that child missing to the Police by calling 101and support them to do so;
  • If a parent or carer informs an Early Help Service practitioner that a child is missing: the practitioner should encourage the parent to report the child missing to the Police by calling 101, and provide support to enable them to do so. They should also encourage the parent or carer to write down the Police reference number (or CAD number) so that this can be recorded;
  • If the practitioner does not feel sure that a parent or carer has reported the child missing to the Police or the parent/carer does not feel able to do so and gives their consent – then the practitioner will need to report the child missing to Police by calling 101 directly;
  • If a parent or carer refuses to report a child missing and refuses to give the Early Help Service practitioner consent for them to report the child missing to police then an immediate referral to The Childrens Services Contact Team (CSCT) on will need to be made - advising them that the child is missing.

In all of the above situations the practitioner will need to record that the child is missing and their professional response on a case-note. If a practitioner has reported a child missing to the police then they will need to record the Police reference (or CAD) number on case-notes.

For the full guidance document circulated to Early Help Services – please see Appendix 2: Missing Practice Guidance for Early Help Services.

9. Monitoring

The Service Managers for the Children in Need and the Children Looked After services have responsibility for ensuring staff adhere to the agreed Islington Children Missing from Home or Care Guidance.

The Exploitation and Missing team will have oversight of missing cases, team compliance and work closely with services to develop response and ensure good practice. The Specialist Exploitation and Missing Social Workers will also chair strategy meetings for complex missing cases.

The Exploitation and Missing team work closely with the Performance team to gather data from the recording of missing. This data is fed into training, daily police tasking, MACE Panel as well as department reports and is used to develop safeguarding practice and response.


Appendix 1: Missing Practice Guidance for Statutory Services

Appendix 2: Missing Practice Guidance for Early Help Services