Government pledges to improve missing children data

Ministers vow to resolve the "huge discrepancies" between official missing children figures and incidents recorded by the police.

The government has pledged to improve the quality of data on the number of children who go missing from care under major child protection reforms unveiled today.

Announcing the measures, children’s minister Tim Loughton said he was alarmed that there is no coherent set of figures for the number of children who go missing from care, preventing children at risk of abuse and exploitation from being properly identified.

He confirmed a new expert group will be established to develop a “robust, transparent and high quality” data system to resolve the “huge discrepancies” between official missing figures and incidents reported to and recorded by the police.

Last year an investigation by Community Care revealed councils across the country are flouting their legal duties by failing to keep accurate records of children missing from care. As a result, senior police sources and child protection experts said this cast serious doubt on the credibility of the government’s figures.

Official figures, released in response to a parliamentary question in March 2011, showed 920 children went missing from care in 2010, while senior police officers told Community Care they believed the real figure could be “closer to ten thousand”.

Letters from the Department for Education have now been sent to local authorities asking them to review their own data collections alongside local police figures.

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Over the years we’ve seen a number of interventions by government and other organisations creating a statistical fog around how many children are reported as missing.

“We need a single agreed definition of the term ‘missing’ for all agencies to work to, so that we have a clearer picture of the problem.”

Reforms outlined by the government today, alongside the interim findings of the children’s commissioner’s two-year inquiry into child sexual exploitation, also include measures to improve the quality and management of children’s homes after it emerged a disproportionate number of victims were in residential care.

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