All children who go missing from home or care will receive an independent interview on their return so agencies can find out the reasons behind the missing episode, the government announced today.
Local authorities are meant to organise return interviews with every child who runs away or goes missing, yet this can be subject to something of a postcode lottery.
Children’s minister Edward Timpson said current support for missing children is “patchy”.
“Our new rules mean that every child will now have the chance to talk to a sympathetic, independent person,” he said. “Only then will we find out why they ran away and if they came to harm, and help to make sure they don’t run away again.
“Councils must now rise to the challenge. Within the next six months I expect all to have made dramatic improvements to the support they provide missing children, and for all to offer return interviews to every child that has been missing from home or care.”
The rules are part of a package of reforms to children’s residential care, designed to improve safety and stop children running away. They have been developed with The Children’s Society and are part of revised statutory guidance on missing children and runaways.
“Homes will now work much more closely with police and councils – and all will follow tighter rules when children are at risk of going missing,” Timpson said.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, called the new rules a “crucial step forward” for child safeguarding.
“We’ve been campaigning for these changes because we work with runaway children across the country. As we know from our work, simply having someone independent to talk to when they return can make a huge difference and help keep children safe from harm.
“The spotlight is now on councils to make sure these changes happen. It is crucial that they rise to this challenge so that every child who runs from home or care gets the help and support they need,” Reed said.
Local and national government have been criticised in the past for failing to keep accurate data on missing children. As part of the reforms, the Department for Education has also started recording details of every child missing from care, even for an hour, and changed the rules so police know where children’s homes are located.