Over 100 children go missing in Dorset between April and June

Over 100 children go missing in Dorset between April and June

Published by George Sharpe at 12:01am 3rd September 2019.

MANY DORSET children who go missing from home, school or residential centres are not being questioned about their absence within the three day deadline.

Concern about the situation is being expressed in a report to this week’s Dorset Council’s Corporate Parenting Board. It says changes may be needed to increase the number of formal interviews being completed, helping ensure that young people remain safe.

Social services say a better way of interviewing children in the care of the council who live outside Dorset in residential placements needs to be found as these are likely to be the most at risk of exploitation.

Runaways at increased risk of exploitation

Those who do run away are said to be 25 per cent more at risk of serious harm – sexual or other exploitation; at risk from county lines drug gangs and other criminal activities, including modern slavery or radicalisation.

Children who runaway are believed to be at increased risk of exploitation

The council has a target to complete a return home interviews face to face within 72 hours, although the target is frequently missed. There are exception to the rule although these only apply to a small percentage of cases. Dorset Council only has two workers dedicated to the task.

Councillors will be told that the way the council deals with return home interviews for children in its care who are placed outside Dorset is ‘inadequate’, with interviews often carried out by a social worker connected with the child, and often by telephone. Ideally they should be carried out by someone independent.

Between April and June the council recorded 189 ‘missing episodes’ involving 105 individual children
Between April and June the council recorded 189 ‘missing episodes’ involving 105 individual children

The report says its two workers dedicated to return home interviews do not go outside the county because it would: “significantly impact their ability to undertake the local interviews.”

Instead out of county children are offered telephone return home interviews and interviews as part of routine social work visits, but the report says:

“These measures are not adequate as they offer no independence, are not timely and are unlikely to be successful in reducing risk,” says a report by director of children’s services Sarah Parker.

Over 100 missing children in 3 months

Between April and June the council recorded 189 ‘missing episodes’ involving 105 individual children although these are only absences of concern which are reported to the police. The actual figure is likely to be much higher.

The report to councillors says:

“return home interviews are rightly not imposed on children and young people, and although there should be a positive approach made, we do need to respect the views of the child and their family unless there is an evidenced risk of significant harm. I am however concerned that in some cases there was not a robust enough offer and persistence would support a better outcome. In the first quarter of the year 65 (60%) young people or their family declined the offer of an interview. This is an area of practice that required further examination.”

An audit of the service is currently underway into why families or children decline a return home interview.

“To improve timeliness, we need to work with police to ensure notifications are sent through immediately the young person is located or returns, ensure the return home interview is assigned to a missing practitioner quickly, and that the importance of a timely visit is understood by the family.

 “We are not consistently offering our looked after children placed outside of Dorset return home interviews, and when they are completed, these are often not independent. This is a concern as these are potentially the young people at the highest risk of exploitation,” says the report.

By Local Democracy Reporter, Trevor Bevins