Guest blog Swindon Borough Council: Why are we worried about children who go missing?
Why are we worried about children who go missing?
It can be an early indication that something is not right in the child's life.
This could be for a number of reasons, including being bullied or abused, and they could be at risk. However some children only go missing on one occasion and no further support is required.
Some children are particularly vulnerable to being targeted by adults who may wish to exploit them criminally and sexually. Abusers will groom children with affection and gifts. They will be made to feel special by receiving attention they may not be receiving elsewhere.
What do we do?
Swindon Borough Council's Children's Services work with partners to provide a multi-agency response when children go missing. This will include health, education, police and schools. Each of these agencies have a role and responsibility in safeguarding Swindon's missing children.
Swindon has a multi-agency team based within Children's Services that provide a specialist service for children who go missing or those that are being criminally and sexually exploited. Within the team we have recently appointed Jackie Benson as our Missing Children's Coordinator.
On any given day Jackie could be meeting with social workers and other professionals to discuss the missing children they work with: the aim here is to ensure everyone is working together to safeguard and reduce risk to missing children. She also collates and analyses data on all our missing children. Another important aspect of her role is conducting return home interviews. This involves a conversation with the child about why they went missing. . It can help us to gain an insight and identify any worries children may have that are causing them to go missing. It may also highlight risks. This information is used to inform and plan support. Having Jackie in our team, focusing solely on Children who go missing, will help us to provide the best possible service for Swindon's missing children.
A child may go missing due to difficulties at home. The child may be running from shouting and arguments at home, or may have seen a parent being hit and therefore just need to get away. Whilst hanging around in the park, adults may target them and invite them back to their house where there are other young people. There they could be offered drugs and alcohol. We also know that the attention the adults give them makes the children feel special. The next stage could be the child is asked to drop a parcel at their mates for £20, which is criminal exploitation. Or they are told to pay for the drugs they have been given this can lead to a child being sexually exploited.
How do we help?
The child would be offered a return home interview where a practitioner would have a conversation with them about what happens when they go missing. This information would be shared with the police who would investigate the adults they were meeting, Children's Services and the young person's school would offer support to the child and their parents to help them understand the risks to children who are going missing and information about sexual and criminal exploitation.