The number of cases where missing children are feared to have been at risk of sexual abuse has more than doubled in two years, new figures have revealed.
Between April and November last year, 1,047 reports of children missing from local authority care or family homes were ‘flagged’ as carrying a risk of sexual exploitation by West Yorkshire Police - up from 408 for the entire 2013/14 financial year.
The number, obtained from a Freedom of Information request, is also higher than the 897 cases identified for the whole of 2014/15.
Missing children reports are now recognised as a key indicator of risk and West Yorkshire Police have enhanced the force’s reporting process in response.
In December, 11 men from Bradford and Keighley were convicted of sexual offences against a young teenage girl, in 2011 and 2012, who had been reported missing from home on more than 70 occasions.
The largest number of cases linked to possible sexual exploitation involved girls reported missing from local authority care.
In the first eight months of 2015/16, there were 585 such cases - a rate of more than two reports every day.
A spokesman for children’s charity Barnardos said: “All young people that go missing are at particular risk of being groomed for child sexual exploitation and the police across the region are working closely with the care providers, partner agencies and social workers to ensure young people who have been missing from care receive the support they need to keep them safe.”
In total, there were 3,715 reports of children going missing in the first eight months of 2015/16 – 2,265 of them involving girls.
More than a quarter were flagged as carrying a risk of sexual exploitation.
West Yorkshire Det Supt Darren Minton said: “Since June 2014, we have changed our recording practices so that even when a missing person has been located within a short period of time, an occurrence is still created on our systems which helps us in identifying repeat missing people.
“This, and an increased awareness of child sexual exploitation both within the police, partners agencies and the wider public has contributed to an increased number of children being recorded as missing from home.”
The force declined to release a district-by-district breakdown for 2015/16 but figures for 2014/15 showed the highest number of reports of missing girls at risk – 279 – was in Leeds, with 167 of those missing from care.
Leeds City Council’s director of children’s services, Nigel Richardson, said: “Here in Leeds we take a child going missing from care very seriously and we have robust arrangements in place to locate and safeguard children who are classed as missing or absent from their placement.
“We work closely with the police and other agencies to share information regarding children who are reported and recorded as missing to ensure that the welfare of the child is safeguarded and to identify any patterns.”