Big rise in vulnerable children under Essex County Council care reported missing

The number of cases of looked-after children going missing increased from 1,122 in 2013/14 to 1,812

The number of cases of looked-after children going missing increased from 1,122 in 2013/14 to 1,812 in 2014/15. Stock photo: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. - Credit: PA

The number of incidents of vulnerable children under the care of Essex County Council reported missing rose by 62% last year, the EADT can reveal.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information found the number of cases of looked-after children going missing increased from 1,122 in 2013/14 to 1,812 in 2014/15.

Children under local authority care may be placed with foster carers, live in a children’s home or a residential school or, for 16 and 17-year-olds, live in supported lodgings.

The NSPCC warned children who go missing from care face a “great risk of violence and sexual exploitation”.

But county council chiefs said the increases reflect the “improvement in data collection” after a new recording and reporting system was introduced in 2014.

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They insist the numbers have been “stable” since summer last year which, in addition to reports from practitioners, suggests there has been no “significant change year on year”.

Broken down, the research, released by Essex County Council, showed the number of 17-year-olds reported missing more than doubled, from 255 to 642. For children aged 12, the number shot up from 10 to 52.

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In the same time, the number of children reported missing rose by 24%, from 177 to 220.

Meanwhile, the number of children under Essex County Council care dropped from 1,135 to 1,034 last year. The figure stood at 1,585 in 2010/11.

A spokesman for the NSPCC said: “Children who go missing from care are at great risk of violence and sexual exploitation and our work shows that not enough is being done to understand why so many run away, often dozens of times.

“When any child or young person goes missing from care every effort should be made to ensure they are found safe and well and then to discover why they are putting themselves in potential danger.

“These cases should be dealt with in just the same way as if it was a child going missing from home.”

A spokesman for Essex County Council said the authority has a “clear policy” to handle missing cared-for children cases and treats each report “very seriously”.

He said: “Essex social workers interview young people on their return to their care placement and an independent return interview and independent advocacy are offered, as additional safeguards for the child.

“This enables children to talk about their concerns and the reasons for running away, so that appropriate action can be taken.

“Furthermore, social workers work closely with Essex Police and other agencies, to ensure there is a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach, once a young person is reported missing from care.

“In cases where there may be a risk of significant harm to the child, a multi-agency strategy meeting is held. This considers the level of risk the young person faces and what additional support and action needs to be taken to help prevent the likelihood of the child running away again.

“To avoid complacency, the details of children missing from care are reviewed regularly, by senior managers within the county council and its partner agencies, to help make sure that the multi-agency arrangements already in place remain effective and that children are cared for more safely.”

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