Revealed - Why police visited children's homes 800 times in 2018
PUBLISHED: 07:30 28 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:14 29 April 2019
Police were called to children's homes in Suffolk more than 800 times last year - the equivalent of twice a day - in what a top detective admits is a "massive pull on their resources".
Most of the calls – 520 out of a total 812 – were for children going missing from the county's 21 homes and follow-up admin visits.
And while Detective Superintendent David Giles said the issue takes up a lot of their time, he remains devoted to making sure youngsters are safe.
Why were police called to children's homes and how many times did they visit?
Anti-social behaviour and illness were among other reasons for police visits, according to Suffolk Constabulary data for 2018 retrieved via Freedom of Information laws.
Even if a child is missing for just 15 minutes they can be exploited, he warned – especially by county lines gangs – adding that officers always have to think 'what if'.
“I will admit more than 800 times is high,” said the police chief, who heads up Suffolk's crime, safeguarding and incident management team.
Crime, safety concerns and wanted appeals were also listed as reasons for police visits.
What happens when a child goes missing?
“A lot of children's homes have curfews, and the minute the child isn't back on time the home will call us to report them missing, which is completely understandable,” explained Det Supt Giles.
“We have to get it right every time.
“Even if they have just gone missing for 15 minutes, we need to know the reasons why and we always take it seriously.
“We visit them afterwards and ask where they have been, and if they have been exploited. If they have, it will typically be county lines.
“Every time a child goes missing they will be considered a high risk missing person, they are often teenagers.”
But he admitted: “It does take up a lot of our time. It's a massive pull on our resources.
“It is hard sometimes because they will often know what's going to happen and that we have to be called out to find them, it is often teenagers who are streetwise and know the system.”
Is it a particular problem in Suffolk?
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Children are less likely to be reported missing from homes in rural locations, he said, as there is more temptation for youngsters in towns.
Police were called to one particular home 209 times, which Det Supt Giles thinks may be due to its size.
Specific homes are not being identified by police, though the figures include two considered 'inadequate' by Ofsted in recent reports, one of which raised concerns about 'missing from home' incidents.
“I don't think we are on our own with this nationally,” the police chief added.
“Even if someone has been missing 60 times, we can't risk the 61st time being the time they go missing for good, or something bad happens to them.
“The issue is of paramount importance to us and we remain devoted to making sure children are safe.”
What did children's charities have to say about the news?
NPSCC chiefs said: “It is concerning when any child goes missing from care as we know they can be extremely vulnerable to grooming and exploitation.
“Many looked-after children will have been abused before being placed in care, and need a great deal of attention and protection.
“It's therefore crucial that they have a caring and safe living environment with access to support.
“Young people in this position can talk confidentially to one of our trained Childline counsellors anytime by calling 0800 1111 free of charge or via our 1-2-1 chat service at www.childline.org.uk.”
What role does Suffolk County Council play?
Allan Cadzow is corporate director for children and young people at Suffolk County Council.
He said children who regularly go missing from children's homes are overseen by experts.
“When children go missing from their home of care we have an approved approach for managing the situation,” he added.
“We work closely with partner agencies, particularly the police, to understand why someone has gone missing and how best to support them.
“In Suffolk, there is a strong awareness of the vulnerabilities of these children which is why police officers are linked to children's homes.
“The officers become familiar to the children and can forge relationships with both the young people and staff at each home.
“Our process incorporates return interviews and regular management oversight of children who regularly go missing.
“We collect data from these incidents to review and improve our services.”