Shocking figures have revealed that three babies and children in care were reported missing as the West Yorkshire Crime commissioner warns of the strain in resources.
A child is reported missing every 96 minutes in Yorkshire, the new figures reveal, with children under the age of one among those whose disappearance has been investigated.
Figures compiled through a series of Freedom of Information requests to local authorities, reveal that 7,344 children have been reported missing in Yorkshire since March 2016.
In Calderdale 1,459 children were reported as missing - 557 of those were in care.
Tackling the issues around why children go missing is a key priority for the region, police and councils have said, as concerns are raised over what children are exposed to while they are unaccounted for.
And, as West Yorkshire’s crime commissioner warns that public-sector cuts “add to the challenge”, there are calls for all authorities to work together to tackle the root cause.
“Missing children are not only at risk of ‘accidental’ harm but also of being exploited,” said Mark Burns-Williamson. “Over a quarter of people who go missing do so more than once; these are often the individuals with the most complex needs. The need to safeguard them is imperative.”
The investigation, examining the number of children reported missing in the 17 months to this August, looked at the ages of those involved and whether they were being looked after by local authorities at the time of their disappearance.
It found that dozens of babies, including 21 under the age of one, had been flagged by authorities in the region as being missing, usually in the care of a parent. And it revealed that in some areas like Calderdale, 48 per cent of all missing children investigations were for those in care.
In Calderdale, where three babies were recorded as missing, the council said they had disappeared with their parents and were quickly found safe and well.
The Council has also said it has a strong focus on early intervention and reporting.
“Keeping Calderdale’s children and young people safe and well is of utmost importance to us, and we take the issue of missing children extremely seriously,” said Coun Megan Swift, cabinet member for children and young people’s services.
“A third of the missing children in care are children who have been placed in Calderdale’s care from other areas, to which the children are trying to return.
“We are totally committed to tackling this and are working with other councils to create more rigorous joint procedures.”
A Government spokesperson said: “It is vital that our most vulnerable children are protected from harm. That is why we have strengthened regulations on children’s homes and placed a duty on local authorities to tell us about all incidences of children going missing from care, even those lasting less than 24 hours, and encourage local authorities to share that information locally.
“Many residential settings do important work to provide placements and support for children with complex histories of going missing. In 2015, we introduced Quality Standards to improve the care in homes and we are taking action by reviewing our cross-Government strategy on Missing Children and Adults.”