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Local authorities miss opportunities to safeguard children

Return home interviews only occur in 50 per cent of missing episodes, charity warns

Published on 5th May 2019

Local authorities are missing opportunities to safeguard children who go missing from home or care, according to research by The Children's Society.

On average, just 50 per cent of missing episodes where children went missing from home or care resulted in return home interviews taking place. This is despite there being a statutory requirement on councils to offer return home interviews each time a child goes missing.

Sam Royston, Policy and Research Director at The Children’s Society, said: "Going missing is often a cry for help from a child. A return home interview not only shows this young person that someone cares, it also enables safeguarding professionals to understand how best to support them. It is deeply concerning that so many children who go missing are not receiving a return home interview, which could be crucial to keeping them safe."

A Return Home Interview (RHI) is an in-depth discussion between an independent trained professional and the child or young person which aims to find out what happened to them during their missing episode – for example who they met and where they stayed and any risks they may have been exposed to.

The research, which was commissioned by the National Police Chiefs Council Lead for Missing People with funding from the Home Office, found:

- In some areas, one in five missing incidents resulted in interviews

- In others, nearly all episodes of children going missing resulted in interviews taking place.

- Many councils were unable to provide any data on the number of children going missing in their area, how many return home interviews were offered and carried out, or what help was offered to children as a result of RHIs.

- Just 24 local authorities in England could provide data for the uptake of return home interviews for children who go missing from home.

- Only 21 authorities could provide information on looked after children who go missing from placements within their home area.

- Only 14 offered data on looked after children missing from placements outside their home area.

There are additional challenges with data for looked after children who are placed ‘out of area’. There is increasing evidence of a growth in the numbers of these placements for children, which can lead to greater levels of vulnerability when children go missing, as children often try to return to their home area to see family or friends.

There is also confusion over who is responsible for doing the interview and how that information is shared.

Across return home interviews for all groups of children, how information is recorded and shared was also an issue. The 2014 statutory guidance on missing children from the Department for Educations states interviews should find out why the child went missing, the experiences they had; such as the people they saw and the places they went; and identify and deal with any harm they may have suffered. However, the report found that one in five local authorities are not recording information from interviews in any consistent way.

Sam Royston concluded: "It is deeply concerning that in many areas return home interview data is not consistently collected or shared. There needs to be clear good practice guidance across the country on what should be recorded, shared and followed up. Without this the RHI risks becoming little more than a box-ticking exercise that ultimately fails young people."


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