Vulnerable children who run away from home or care in England are more likely to ‘fall through the gaps’ because of new police definitions, the Children’s Society charity says.
Earlier in 2013, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) introduced new definitions of ‘missing’ and ‘absent’ persons. In a change to previous guidance, children and adults defined as ‘absent’ do not require an immediate response from the police.
The Children’s Society has welcomed the new research – published by Portsmouth University, ACPO and the National Crime Agency – on how children defined as ‘absent’ are safeguarded, something it says was missing when the police introduced new definitions in April 2013.
Children who run away from home are at serious risk of harm, including abuse or sexual exploitation. But the report published today reveals a worrying lack of robust risk assessments when children are reported missing, inconsistent training and oversight of ‘absent’ cases and a lack of joined-up work.
The charity says the report raises issues that the police need to urgently address to keep vulnerable children safe.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, commented: "The police have said these changes are about better targeting resources. But without proper training and oversight, these changes are in danger of becoming a cost-cutting exercise that puts children at risk of serious harm.
"We know children who run away are more likely to be abused or exploited. But the report reveals that most police call handlers have not been trained in spotting the signs of child sexual exploitation. And in some police forces, call handlers are not even expected to risk assess ‘absent’ cases.
"I think most parents or carers would be extremely concerned to know that the police might not even make a decision about whether their child is at risk of harm if they report them as missing.
"'We’re pleased the police have listened to our concerns and published this research, but now they must set out how they are going to urgently address these failings and ensure that children who run away from home are kept safe," said Mr Reed.
Missing children who the police judge to be at risk should always be treated as ‘missing’ rather than ‘absent’, but the report reveals that the police are failing to consistently or robustly carry out risk assessments.
The Children's Society is a widely known Christian charity that works with children and families regardless of their religious or non-religious background. "Our Christian values of love, justice and forgiveness underpin the way we work with children and young people," it says.
* Children's Society: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/