If your child is missing

If your child is missing you must report them as missing to the police.

One of the most frequent indicators of child exploitation is your child going missing. It is really important that you report your child missing to the police every time they go missing, even if it is occurring on a daily basis.

Reporting a child missing

You can report your child missing by visiting your local police station, or over the phone by dialling 101, which automatically transfers you to your local police. You can also find your local police station online.

101 or 999?

If you know that your child is in immediate danger and threatened with violence, injury or loss of life, then call 999.

Making the call – what you need to know

It is commonly thought that you must wait 24 hours before reporting somebody missing, but this is not true. You can make a report to the police as soon as you have done as much as possible to locate your child and that you consider them to be missing. There is no minimum waiting time. Before contacting the police, check to see if they have left you or another household member a message on your phone voicemail, text message or social media.

When you call the police, you are usually put through to a call-handler rather than an actual police officer. You should tell them right away that you are calling to report a child missing. If this is not the first time you have reported your child missing, you need to state that your call relates to an on-going concern about child exploitation. The call handler will then ask for your location and the length of time your child has been missing.

If you have concerns your child could go missing, it might be helpful to have the information required by the police on hand. Check out our Missing Information Log template for a guide you can use to collect this information, as well as to record any missing events that occur.

Once you have given this information, the call handler will either put you through to a police officer, or request a police officer to call you back or visit you at home. It is important that you ask for a police incident number for future reference.

When you are contacted by a police officer, you should also ask them for:

  • Their name, collar number, telephone extension and email address.
  • Contact details for the child exploitation specialist team within the force (if they have one).
  • Contact details for the Missing Person Coordinator.
  • An alternative police contact, should the named person not be available to take your calls (ie when they have gone off-duty).

Making the call – what the police need to know

Make a note of the date and time you report the child missing and record the officer’s number and the crime reference number.

It may be useful to have written notes about your child to hand when you are reporting your child missing. The sort of information the call handler or police officer is likely to ask will include:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Identification marks
  • The clothing they were wearing last time you saw them
  • Unique physical attributes (eg birthmarks)
  • An up-to-date photograph (preferably electronic)
  • Details of any medical conditions they may have (eg asthma, diabetes)
  • Names of known associates (particularly any new friends)
  • Financial details (bank account, credit and debit card details)
  • Telephone numbers and social media account names
  • Details of any recent events that could be linked with their disappearance – this is the point where parents can express their concern about child exploitation. If you suspect that your child is being groomed or exploited, you should say so. You should also say if your child has been missing before.

It may be useful to give examples of other aspects of your child’s recent history including:

  • Change of behaviour
  • Recently frequented locations
  • New relationship/social groups/networks
  • Recent drug and alcohol use

Possible responses to a missing child report

Once you have reported your child missing to the police, they will make an assessment of the level of risk to them. Your child’s age and circumstances of their disappearance (eg whether or not they have been reported missing before) will dictate the level of investigation they undertake. This may include:

    • Searching the areas where your child was last seen, or is known to frequent. This will include your own home and garden, shed and/or garage.
    • Attempts to contact them by phone or computer.
    • Checking local hospital admissions.
    • Locations previously found, associates addresses known to have been with previously.
    • Reviewing CCTV footage.

Many parents continue to search for their child once they have reported them missing to the police. However, it may be advisable for somebody to stay in the family home in case your child returns of their own accord. You should be able to reach an agreement with the police as to what you will do whilst they are conducting a search, to avoid duplication. For example, you may choose to:

  • Continue to contact your child’s friends and/or friends’ parents.
  • Pass on the police contacts you have to other parents who may have information about your child’s whereabouts. Parents of other children exposed to exploitation may not want you to know that they have information, for fear of implicating their own child.

It may be helpful to use a landline or somebody else’s mobile phone to make phone calls, so that your own mobile line is free to take any calls/ texts from your child.

You could also make an agreement with the police as to how often you expect to hear from them and if you don’t, how frequently you will contact them for an update.

What happens when my child returns home?

Your child may return of their own accord, but if the police locate them then they will most likely undertake a ‘safe and well check.’ This should be within 72 hours of the child’s return, but can vary from force to force.

In some areas a Return Home Interview (RHI) is carried out. It is worth asking your force or social services department if they offer such a service. It may be carried out by a third party or independent person, to whom the child may find it easier to disclose exploitation.

The RHI aims to explore the reasons why the child has gone missing and looks for opportunities to prevent further episodes. However this is rarely straightforward in the case of child exploitation. The child may refuse to disclose their whereabouts out of loyalty to the exploiters, or because they have been groomed to believe they are in a consensual relationship.

Nonetheless, it is worth persisting and asking for repeated RHIs if necessary. It is vital that your child knows there are people who will listen to them, whenever or wherever they feel ready to talk.

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