Concerns raised over risks missing children face

Rob Jackson from the Children's Society
Rob Jackson from the Children's Society
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Concerns have been raised over the risks vulnerable missing children face as it emerges many haven’t been interviewed once they are returned home safe.

Statutory guidance is that ‘return interviews’ must be offered to all children reported missing to find out what happened. As an investigation by The Yorkshire Post shows just a third of children in some areas are questioned, charities have voiced fears over a “postcode lottery” of provision.

Rob Jackson, north of England area director at The Children’s Society, said: “When a child goes missing it’s often a cry for help, so it’s very worrying to see such a disparity in the provision of return home interviews across the region. Sadly, this is a postcode lottery we’re seeing across the country. Children who go missing may be running away from conflict or violence at home and face serious risks of abuse, harm and exploitation while missing, including child sexual exploitation.

“When they are found, it’s crucial that they have someone to listen to them, and give them the help they need to stop them going missing again. Return home interviews are vital, giving missing children the chance to speak to an independent professional who can support them to deal with the issues that make them run away.”

The analysis, based on Freedom of Information requests, details the number of children interviewed when they return. It comes after The Yorkshire Post revealed a child is reported missing every 96 minutes in the region, with a fifth being in care.

Return interviews are intended to identify children at risk, understand the risks and issues they faced while missing, and reduce the likelihood of any future disappearance. But the new figures show that despite high numbers of children being offered interviews in the year to March 2017, there was a huge variance in acceptance rates from 35 to 100 per cent. Now the chair of an all-party group for missing people has said the key issue is around the sharing of information. MP Ann Coffey, who called for an inquiry into Britain’s care system in 2012 amid accusations it wasn’t fit for purpose, said she fears “nothing has changed since that time”.

“The more we know about a child’s life and activities, the more able we are to keep that child safe,” she said. “But data sharing is still a huge problem.

“We need to deal with the reasons why a child is running away. We need to deal with the quality of care we are providing.”