Children Missing from Care

Produced in partnership and led by organisations including NPCC, ICHA, The Fostering Network, Keys Group and NYAS, the Children Missing from Care framework was launched in 2022. Initially being piloted across West Yorkshire, the framework aims to ensure that all children in the care of a local authority in England receive a proportionate and timely response when they are not where they are expected to be; and that everything possible is done by all multi agency partners to reduce risk and harm, enable a child’s safe return and support each to child to prevent further missing occurrences. 

It can be extremely worrying if a child or young person goes missing, or is not where they are expected to be. It can cause anxiety for foster carers and other supports until children and young people are found safe and well, and everyone will want to make sure they are found as quickly as possible.

There are lots of complex reasons for children or young people to go missing. It may be because they are not happy or that something is not right in their life, and it’s important to take a restorative and child-centred approach to exploring this behaviour. But all children can be late home for legitimate reasons, including testing the boundaries, and it’s very important that children who live with foster families are not treated differently to their peers who are not looked after. Any decision to involve the police by reporting a child as missing must always be made with the best interests of the child in mind.

For some children, coming into care or moving placement can be a positive experience, alternatively it can be very challenging, and the experience may contribute to an increased risk of going missing and increased vulnerability when missing. Understanding these factors and any patterns related to a child’s missing occurrences can help professionals identify potential risks and harm a child may be experiencing.  

Carers informed by knowledge of a child, the circumstances surrounding a missing occurrence, and robust placement and care planning are often in the best position to determine if the child is at risk of harm or poses a risk to others when the child’s whereabouts is unknown. When to report a child as missing to the police should be agreed in the child’s placement planning, and allow for a level of carer discretion, depending on the individual circumstances. A decision to report a child as missing, must always be undertaken with the best interests of the child in mind. 


Key points to consider 

  • The reasons as to why children go missing from care are complex. A child or young person being missing, or not being where they are expected to be, can be an indication relating to a wide range of risk and vulnerability factors and it is important that a restorative and child-centred approach is taken. 

  • Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships should have clear and accessible Missing Children Policies and Procedures in place, alongside learning and development pathways to ensure practitioners and carers respond appropriately to missing occurrences and are confident in their decision making, together with a Missing Children Escalation Policy.  

  • The premature or unnecessary reporting of children who are looked after as missing when they are late home or are testing the boundaries can lead to avoidable police contact and those children have told us they can feel stigmatised when being treated differently to their peers who are not looked after. 

  • This framework should be read in line with the current DfE Statutory Guidance for Children who go Missing from Home and Care.  

  • It is recommended that Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships use the principles of this framework to develop their local Missing Children Policies and Procedures to ensure their local arrangements comply with the statutory guidance. 


Any missing occurrence should not be viewed in isolation and may be an indicator that something is not right in the child’s life. All absence or missing occurrences should warrant professional attention to help safeguard children. It is important that local policies and procedures, and individual missing risk assessments and plans for children and young people provide clarity about expectations, roles, and agency responsibility for when children go missing from care; to ensure that professionals and carers respond appropriately to safeguarding concerns and reduce unnecessary police contact with children. 

Updated briefing: Officially launched on 25 May 2023, the framework includes updated sections on:

  • The Escalation Policy
  • House Searches
  • The Evaluation of the Pilot

Webinar presentation 

Chief Inspector Alan Rhees-Cooper, NPCC Lead for Missing People, presented on the Framework on behalf of The Fostering Network to foster carers and service staff in February 2023. 

“It was really informative and definitely gave us both food for thought on how we manage missing children and what changes we will be making following this event.”  

"Wowwww! Very impressed with the webinar! Very informative! It’s great that carers have the backing of making decisions! Just the confidence we needed! Thank you I really enjoyed it! " 

"Very interesting session, and makes so much sense...." 


"I will stop and think about the steps i will take when a child is late or missing, enabling me to feel more confident with my decisions. I will also have a conversation with my SSW about risk assessing with a child-centred approach."

See also:  


Useful links:

  • Missing People are a lifeline when someone disappears. Their free helpline is 116 000, available 7 days a week, 365 days a year along with online chat and a service called SafeCall specifically for exploitation.

Updated July 2023