MPs have launched an inquiry into police responses to missing children amid concerns that new reporting categories may expose young people to risks, including sexual exploitation.
The inquiry, run by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Missing Children and Adults, is seeking evidence on whether the new police reporting category of ‘absent’, introduced in 2013 and applicable if a child is deemed ‘not in a place where he/she is expected to be’, leaves vulnerable children and young people exposed to exploitation and risk.
If a child is categorised as ‘absent’, it does not merit a safeguarding response from the police and other local agencies. Only when a child is reported as ‘missing’ – when they are not where they are supposed to be and there is a specific reason for concern, such as they may be subjected to a crime or are at risk of harm to themselves or another – should an immediate response be initiated.
Open to error
The inquiry will be led by Labour MP Ann Coffey, who said: “There is a fear that the new system is open to error, and that children who are regularly classed as ‘absent’ instead of ‘missing’ could be sexually or criminally exploited on a regular basis.”
She added: “Some people were concerned that the new absent category appears to be a way of screening out or camouflaging missing from home episodes.
“There are fears that the new police categories have not strengthened safeguarding and that the initial risk assessment by a call centre, which determines whether there is an immediate police response, could mean that a child might be exposed to significant harm because the level of risk was not assessed properly and they were reported as absent rather than missing.”
The group is looking for submissions on the risk assessments that decide whether a child is categorised as ‘missing’ or ‘absent’, what the risks are to absent children, what the safeguarding responses to these children are, and how these can be improved.
The deadline for written evidence is 22 January 2016. All submissions should be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.