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Redesigning the response to reports of missing young persons. Can demand be prevented?

This report identifies improvements that can be made to help reduce demand and resource requirements to deal with young missing persons. 

The work is based on data from Hertfordshire Constabulary and other sources from agencies in the same area, including local authorities and associated charity providers of services. 

The report addresses three high level research questions:

  1. What action can prevent children, who are at most risk, from going missing?
  2. What activities can agencies undertake when a child goes missing that are most likely to ensure the return of a child to a safe environment?
  3. What follow up activities to a missing episode in a child is most likely to prevent repeat missing episodes from occurring?

The work includes an analysis of all 9,184 records of missing incidents involving children that occurred in the Hertfordshire area between 2019 and 2022. It then analyses smaller samples of this data in greater depth, incorporating, where possible, information from other sources in this later analysis. Nine case studies of individual children who went missing in 2022 highlight the factors associated with their motivation to go missing and the practices to deal with the missing child and prevent future missing incidents. Our final piece of analysis was to review the end-to-end process for missing incidents to identify fail points and recommend change.

Key findings

The research produced a wide range of findings including:

  • Most missing incidents are of a short duration, with over 90% being resolved within the first 24 hours. Many last a short time, with most being found within 2 days of being reported missing.
  • Incidents of missing from Care Homes are more likely to occur between 22:00 and 01:00, especially at weekends.
  • 10% of children who went missing most frequently in 2022 accounted for 54% of all missing incidents, showing that there is a small number of children responsible for most of the demand.
  • Children who go missing frequently often do so in intense periods of missing events that can be reduced by addressing underlying causes and motivations.
  • High repeat missing children are not just those placed in care homes. Children who are living in familial homes can demonstrate similar behaviour.
  • Long-term and persistent missing is often associated with County Lines or gang-related activity.
  • Out-of-county placements did not appear as significant a factor in demand, contrary to expectations.
  • The processes associated with preventing missing incidents and managing missing incidents have not been formally designed as an end-to-end process. There is much work that can be done to improve these processes.
  • The “Philomena protocol” to assist with missing incidents is potentially a valuable tool but has not been widely evaluated.

The work also generates a large number of process improvement recommendations for local public services.

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