Supporting unaccompanied children who arrive in the UK and are at risk of going missing:
Summary of key research findings and good practice recommendations for professionals

Our research, the findings of which were collected through interviews and focus groups with professionals from a range of different agencies working with unaccompanied children across the country, identified three main themes which were subsequently used in the structure of the good practice guidance. These broad themes were:

  1. How to prevent unaccompanied children from going missing in the first place
  2. How to prepare with unaccompanied children to minimise risk of harm in the event that they do go missing
  3. How to best carry out and support the search for any unaccompanied children who do go missing

1. Prevention

  • Placement planning – specialist placements should be used where possible. Placement decisions should also take into account what the young person says they want and need. This links directly to…
  • Listening to the young person’s needs – the voice of the young person should be central to all decisions made about them.
  • Building trusting relationships – professionals should, as early as possible, work to gain the trust of the young person so that they feel able to open up to them about any concerns or worries.
  • Addressing immediate needs and providing meaningful opportunities – it’s important to ensure the young person’s safety and physical wellbeing immediately, but also understand what they want long-term and find genuine opportunities for education, growth and fun.
  • Specialist advice and support – ensuring that the young person has ongoing access to mental health services to address any trauma they might have experienced, and to high quality immigration and legal advice to support them through the complex immigration and asylum process, is vital.
  • Transitional safeguarding – it is important to ensure the young person is sufficiently prepared for turning 18 by making sure they understand clearly what will happen and how they can continue to access help and support.

2. Preparation

  • Gathering relevant information – on arrival to the country, and each time they are placed somewhere new, a social worker or third sector worker should visit the child at the earliest possible opportunity to gather key information that can safeguard them if they do go missing.
  • Open conversations – professionals should have conversations with unaccompanied children to understand and address any possible reasons why they might want to run away in the first place, so that steps can be taken in advance to address any unmet needs and reduce the likelihood of them going missing.
  • Safety planning – accepting the reality that despite your best efforts, some young people will still run away, it is critical that conversations are had with unaccompanied children about how to stay safe if they do go missing.

3. Search / investigation

  • Timely information sharing and multi-agency involvement – it is crucial that key information is accessible to all agencies involved as soon as an unaccompanied child goes missing, and that relevant agencies such as police, local authorities, care workers, and others work together to enable an immediate and effective response.
  • Community-based approaches – any relevant locations where the young person might have gone – such as advice centres, and cultural or nationality-specific centres – should be contacted by police to check if the young person visited these locations while missing. The police should build relationships within the community to ensure their role in finding and safeguarding missing children is understood and trusted.
  • Peer and family contact – a crucial investigative process is to identify the missing young person’s family and friends, including those not in the UK, and reach out to them for possible information of their whereabouts.
  • Specialist knowledge – often, unaccompanied children will build a particularly strong relationship with a specific professional in their life. That professional may be best-placed to reach out to the young person directly, as they may be more happy to stay in touch with and share information with that person while missing.
  • Cross-border action – where intelligence suggests that the child might have travelled to a different police force area, those police forces should take the missing person investigation seriously, allocating the necessary resources to assist in finding the young person.

Please note that the above summary is far from exhaustive and is intended only as a brief overview of the findings of the research and important good practice measures for professionals to consider while working with at-risk unaccompanied children.

We strongly encourage professionals to read the report in full, which includes further recommendations not mentioned above, in greater detail and in fuller context, as well as real-world good practice examples and direct quotes from professionals.

You can access the full report by clicking here to be redirected to our main webpage from which the full PDF is available for download.

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