RESPOND: To respond consistently and appropriately to missing persons episodes

The National Missing Persons Framework Implementation Project identifies good practice in local areas that we work with. This good practice is listed below.

For more information about this good practice, please contact one of our National Coordinators for Scotland, Emily ( or Emma (

Reporting looked after children missing

The Framework Implementation Project identified the following good practice in Dundee around reporting children missing from residential care. In the context of children missing from residential care, good practice involves but is not limited to, clear professional roles and responsibilities; well-known warning signs of risk; and no unnecessary police involvement.

The following is useful good practice for residential care workers to consider when a child or young person is not where they are expected to be, and captures some of the learning summarised in McIver and Welch (2018) ‘Just out having a good time,’ an evaluation of a pilot project that focuses on Police Scotland’s and local authorities’ responses to children and young people that can be found here.

Missing policies in children’s residential care should consider and include the following steps when drafting action plans or missing-specific risk assessments for each child.

Missing policies for children’s residential care should consider the following

Particularly when drafting action plans or missing-specific risk assessments for each child
  • If there are immediate concerns about the child’s wellbeing or safety...

    they should be reported missing immediately to the police

  • If there are NO immediate concerns about a child's wellbeing or safety...

    the professional or carer should make initial inquiries to try and find the child themselves. These inquiries should be based on their knowledge of the child and detailed in the risk assessment and care plan. They may include:

    • Contacting the young person’s phone
    • Contacting family members where appropriate
    • Contacting friends that the young person may be with
    • If possible visiting the locations where they may be
    • Talk to other children in the care setting or home to ascertain whether there are any previously unknown risks and disclosures

    Care staff should keep a record of the actions that they have taken both before contacting the police and once they have done so (if reporting is necessary)

  • The most appropriate action to be taken...

    Every incident is different and will need to be thoroughly considered to understand the most appropriate action to be taken. The professional or carer should maintain a thorough level of professional curiosity during any missing incident.  Any recent changes in the behaviour of the child, or previous missing incidents should be taken into account when deciding whether there is an immediate risk.

    The immediate context of the child’s safety should also be taken into consideration. For example if they are known to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol this will increase the level of risk that they will come to harm and may therefore inform an escalated response.

    Carers and the professionals responsible for the child’s care should, together, know them well and be able to identify if there has been a ‘trigger incident’ before the missing episodes which indicates they might come to harm, or if there have been other longer term indicators that there might be an immediate risk.

  • Warning signs that a child or young person might be about to go missing...
    • Frantic phone activity before leaving
    • Sharing concerning information on social media or with other children in the care setting
    • Preparations to stay away for a long period of time (packing clothes, taking personal items)
    • Turning their phone off as soon as they leave
    • Talking about self-harm or suicide
    • Recent changes in behaviour
    • Withdrawing socially or expressing hopelessness
    • The missing episode being out of character
    • Away with other young people who are known to be at high risk of harm

    This list is not exhaustive and professionals and carers should be trained to spot warning signs.

  • Whether the child or young person be experiencing exploitation...

    Some of the indicators that they may be experiencing criminal and/or sexual exploitation may include:

    • Missing episodes
    • Withdrawal from usual family and friends
    • Sudden loss of interest in school or declining attendance
    • Using new or unknown slang words
    • Holding unexplained money or possessions
    • New clothing/trainers/expensive items
    • Staying out unusually late
    • Sudden change of appearance
    • New nickname
    • Expressing aggressive or intimidating views
    • Carrying weapons
    • Multiple mobile phones
    • Excessive phone calls or text messages
    • Unexplained amounts of cash
    • Train tickets/travel cards to locations normally not associated with the young person
    • New ‘friends’ or older associates
    • Low-level drug use
    • Needing to be somewhere at the same time each day/week. Significant distress if this cannot happen.
    • Unexplained physical harm

    This list is not exhaustive and professionals and carers should be trained to spot warning signs.

  • Appropriate reporting...

    If the carer has immediate concerns they should contact the police. Or if they have undertaken reasonable actions to try and establish the whereabouts of the child, and the child has not returned or been found as expected, and they are therefore concerned that the child may suffer harm, then the carer should then contact the police.

    They should explain any concerns thoroughly as well as providing any relevant information that may help to inform the investigation.

    A child or young person may be reported missing according to a pre-agreed action plan or due to any new information about them being at risk of harm. Decisions should be informed by the carers professional judgement.

    The child should not be reported as missing to the police arbitrarily (for example because a child has missed curfew by a short amount of time, unless the circumstances imply that this means there is an immediate risk) or as a disciplinary measure, only when there are concerns about their welfare or safety.

    Call-takers within the police will take concerns from the carer seriously and follow Police Scotland missing person process when a report is made. Relevant information pertaining to the missing person will be recorded and background and intelligence checks will be completed to inform a risk assessment.


  • Local partnership working...

    Once a missing report has been made to the police, all partners should work together to take any appropriate action to locate the child.

    Good practice sees ongoing partnership working in place between local relevant agencies. Missing reports and a review of actions should be regularly reviewed in partnership meetings and agencies should hold one another to account in a positive way.

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