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‘Shocking’ number of Calderdale children in care services going missing

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Children in Calderdale’s social services have been reported as missing 275 times in the last three years.

Seventy-four children have gone missing since 2015, with the annual figure rising from 11 in 2015 to 35 between April 2017 and March 2018.

But some children have been reported as missing more than once, with the overall figure rocketing from 35 reports in 2015 to 129 between April 2017 and March 2018.

One 16-year-old child went missing 17 times in 2015, a 15-year-old child went missing 21 times in 2016 and a 14-year-old child went missing 15 times in 2017.

A nine-year-old child went missing eight times between April 2017 and March this year. A 13-year-old went missing 10 times in the same period.

The youngest child to go missing was a one-year-old, who was unaccounted for in 2016 for nearly five minutes.

The child was in the company of a parent and had been reported missing from a refuge.

Holly Lunch MP (Lab, Halifax) said: “These figures are shocking, but do not come as a complete surprise to me. Safeguarding issues now account for 20 per cent of all the incidents that West Yorkshire Police have to respond to with 20,000 missing people cases recorded in 2016, an increase 258 per cent since 2013. Of those 2,500 were young people who went missing on more than one occasion in 2016/2017.

“The responsibility for missing vulnerable young people has increasingly fallen to the police and I have repeatedly argued in Westminster that we need to look to empower other agencies, who are in a much better position to work with young people, to put a package of measures in place to tackle this more proactively.

“We cannot have these young people repeatedly going missing and being at risk of exploitation, in all its ugly forms.

“However the current system is broken and whilst we know all front line services are stretched under this Government, we need to establish what powers and resources social services, mental health professionals and the other supporting agencies need, to change this worrying pattern.”

Rob Jackson, North Area Director at The Children’s Society, said: “When a child goes missing, it’s often a cry for help. These children may be running away from conflict or abuse at home, or they may be children in care who are running away because they are unhappy, or because they want to get back to their friends or family.

“Whatever the reason, young people who go missing can face serious risks such as child sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation including drug trafficking.

“Any child who runs away is one too many, and although the rise in reports in Calderdale may indicate that more parents and carers are alerting the police when this happens - and increased awareness of the issue - we know that in many cases children are not reported missing.

“It is vital that this happens so that children get the support they need to deal with the issues they are facing and they should never be dismissed as troublemakers.

“But an increase in the numbers of children reported missing may also indicate that there are more who need help.

“All agencies including police, councils and children’s homes need to work together better and share information to make sure swift action is taken to protect children.

“We also want to see the Government speed up the introduction of its promised Missing Persons Database to enable the sharing of information across police borders to ensure missing children can be identified even when they are found far from home.”

An NSPCC spokesperson said “Going missing from care puts children at greater risk of physical abuse, grooming and sexual exploitation.

“We know from calls to our Childline service that children go missing for many reasons including bullying, abuse or being unhappy about life at home or in care. Sometimes it can feel like their only option is to run away.

“Whatever a young person is going through, it’s important they remember help and support is always available.

“Childline is here to listen to children and young people who feel like they have no one else to talk to. Childline can be contacted 24 hours a day 7 days a week online and over the phone on 0800 11 11 or via www.Childline.org.uk.

“For parents and adults concerned about a child you can contact the NSPCC Helpline 24/7 on 0808 800 5000 or for more information visit www.NSPCC.org.uk.”

Coun Megan Swift, Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services, said: “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.

“We have a strong focus on early intervention and early reporting, and work very closely with the Police and other organisations. For example, we have regular meetings with the Police and care providers, and continually share information about missing children. These are often troubled individuals, so doing this is vital to ensure we understand each child and their circumstances and do everything we can to safeguard and support them.

“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.”

Detective Chief Inspector Fran Naughton of West Yorkshire Police’s Safeguarding Central Governance Unit, said: “Every instance of a child being reported missing is clearly of huge concern.

“In 2016 we changed our policy around missing people to incorporate an even more detailed risk assessment from the outset of every missing person’s report. Any child who is considered vulnerable will always be recorded as a missing person on police systems. This naturally means the numbers will increase and should be seen as a positive response to protect children.

“We continue to work alongside partner agencies, such as local authorities, the NSPCC and missing people charities to get to the root cause of the missing episode and identify why individual children may go missing. We seek to engage in proactive work to address these causes and to prevent children being exposed to risk during missing incidents.

“It’s important to remember that going missing is often a symptom of deeper challenges in a young person’s life and it is often the case that it is a few individuals who make up the majority of missing episodes due to having complex needs. Teenagers will push boundaries such as being out later than a curfew, or may be in placements a significant distance away from their home area and may miss friends and associates. The carers of any child in local authority care are obligated to report any instance where the child may be at risk of, or may come to harm.

“Regular partnership meetings take place to discuss those who are missing most frequently and information is shared between agencies to assess the risk presented to the child should they go missing so that an appropriate response is taken.”