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Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual
Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual
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6.16 Unauthorised Absence of Children from Their Foster Placement

This chapter was added to the manual in February 2012.


  1. Aim
  2. Legislative Summary
  3. Key Policy Objectives
  4. Key Actions
  5. Guidance
  6. Procedure

1. Aim

To contribute to the safety of children looked after by providing a clear course of action in the event of an unauthorised absence.

2. Legislative Summary

The Children Act 1989 places a clear obligation upon local authorities to protect children from the risk of significant harm.

Fostering Regulations 2011define the training, informing and support of foster carers.

Joint protocol for children missing from care.

Statutory Guidance on Children who Run Away and Go Missing from Home or Care

Nottingham City Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures (MyNottingham website)

3. Key Policy Objectives

To provide foster carers with clear, concise guidelines on what to do in the event of a child or children being absent without authorisation.

To provide managers, supervising social workers and other personnel with information to guide them when advising foster carers.

To inform children placed with foster carers what will happen should they be absent without permission.

4. Key Actions

Children’s Services and Nottingham City Council will provide written direction to all foster carers, supervising social workers and other personnel on the course of action to be taken when a child is absent without authority.

Such direction will be included in training for foster carers and in the foster carers’ handbook.

5. Guidance

Clearly, some children absent themselves from home for short periods with minimal risk to themselves or others. It will depend heavily on the age, understanding and vulnerability of the individual child how long the absence should be before a report is made to the relevant authorities.

All children should be risk assessed to determine the level of seriousness that should be attached to any absence.

An unauthorised absence is any instance when a child is not where she/he should be. This includes the foster home, school, an authorised activity venue, etc. The police do not need to be informed of an unauthorised absence.

A child should be defined as missing, where the child’s location or reason for absence is unknown and/or there is cause for concern for the child because of their vulnerability or potential danger to the public. A child in this category must be reported to the police.

An absconder is a child who is missing and who is in care as a result of a criminal court order or subject to bail conditions e.g. remand, curfew, conditions of residence or other bail conditions. A child in this category must be reported to the police immediately they are absent or overrun their time of arrival.

When informing the Looked After Designated Officer, (LADO) professionals will take into consideration the age and vulnerability of the child and whether any urgent action needs to be taken.

The LADO has overall responsibility for ensuring the Local Authority operate in accordance with the Working Together guidance, with regards to safeguarding children.

This document must be used in conjunction with the Joint Protocol for children missing from care.

6. Procedure

All approved carers will be provided with guidance on the course of action to take in the event of a child or children being absent without authorisation.

The guidance will explain the difference between an unauthorised absence, a child who is defined as missing and a child who is defined as an absconder, (see Guidance).

Whatever category, the foster carer will inform the child’s social worker or team manager as soon as there is concern for the child’s safety, whether this is an unauthorised absence, missing or absconding. If it is “out of hours”, the Emergency Duty Team should be informed.

Once contact has been made, Children’s services staff and the foster carers should be clear into which category the child’s absence falls.

For children who fall within the category of “missing”, all reasonable steps should be taken by all responsible agencies to locate and return the child to the foster carer. The police should be informed if the child falls within this category.

No missing child must remain unreported to the police after 24 hours.

If a decision is taken to inform the police, the social worker/EDT and the foster carer can agree who will inform the child’s parents.

Within 24 hours of the child going missing there will be a strategy discussion between relevant parties to determine courses of action to be taken. Further strategy discussions will take place within every subsequent 7-day period.

The Looked After Designated Officer, (LADO), must be informed of any unauthorised absences before the end of the next working day, unless circumstances suggest she should be informed immediately. (See Guidance). This will be the responsibility of the childcare social worker or team manager. The LADO will then inform OFSTED.

Where a child is on a Child Protection Plan, a Child Protection Review Conference must be held within 7 days.

The situation must be subject to continuous risk assessment by the foster carer and Children’s Services while the child remains absent and the police should be informed if circumstances require this.

Where there is potential danger to the public, a report must be made to the police immediately. (as per ‘missing’).

A child defined as an absconder, (see Guidance for definition), must be reported to the police as soon as it becomes apparent that the child is not where she/he should be.

The following information should be made available to the police:

  1. A description of the child;
  2. The child’s legal status;
  3. What clothes the child was/may be wearing;
  4. The circumstances of the child going missing;
  5. When the child was last seen and with whom;
  6. A recent photograph, (if possible);
  7. Family addresses;
  8. Known acquaintances/addresses;
  9. Any previous history of being missing/absconding;
  10. The name and address of the GP and dentist;
  11. Known indicators of risk to self and others;
  12. Any circumstances which increase the risk to the child;
  13. Any previous link with street based agencies;
  14. Any medication the child is taking and/or any medical condition;
  15. Any other information that may be relevant or helpful.

If a decision is taken by Children’s Services to close the placement and remove the child from the foster home and the child has already been reported to the police, the Social Worker managing the case will inform the police and the EDT of the following:

  1. The name and contact point of the case-managing social worker;
  2. What is the agreed strategy when the child is located.

Any new information coming to light about a missing child should be shared with the other agency.

When a child is located, a decision should be taken as to how the child will be returned and what further action, if any, is needed.

Parents, police, social worker and anyone else informed about the absence should be notified immediately about the child’s return.