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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks Investigation Report

Contents

G.1: Introduction

1. It is well recognised that there is a link between children going missing and child sexual exploitation. When a child goes missing, this can be both a cause and a consequence of the child being sexually exploited.[1]

2. In 2018/19, there were 143,453 incidents of children going missing, involving 51,408 children across England and Wales.[2] Almost all children who go missing will return or be found.[3] National Crime Agency data indicated that 9 percent (22,786) of all missing children incidents in 2018/19 had a child sexual exploitation ‘flag’ associated with them. Of those, 69 percent (12,392) involved girls and 26 percent (4,595) involved boys.[4]

3. Children in care are much more likely to go missing than children who are not in care.[5] In England and Wales, 19 percent of children who went missing in 2018/19 were in care, although only 0.65 percent of children across England and 1.09 percent of children in Wales were in care.[6] Children in care accounted for 36 percent of children’s missing incidents.[7]

4. A recent investigative report by The Times identified that:

  • since 2018, children known to be at risk of abuse, some as young as 11 years old, have gone missing more than 55,000 times in Britain;
  • at least 26 children have been reported missing 100 times or more;
  • four children each went missing more than 100 times in the Humberside Police area, with one of them going missing 156 times within three years;
  • a child went missing 36 times in North Wales before the police added a marker to the file to suggest he was at risk of sexual abuse; and
  • internal police reports included a finding that there is “little evidence of the exploiters being investigated” and child protection experts said officers wrongly viewed victims who went missing repeatedly as lost causes.[8]

5. Despite the significant scale of the challenge, police forces and local authorities must take steps to prevent children from going missing, to protect those who do go missing and to conduct meaningful return home interviews (RHIs) when children return.[9]

6. Department for Education statutory guidance (which is under review) makes clear that a local authority in England should agree a protocol with local police and other partners (as well as neighbouring authorities or administrations) for responding to children who run away or go missing in its area. In addition, a child’s care plan should include details of the arrangements to be in place to minimise the risk of a child going missing. Where a child in care has an established pattern of going missing, the care plan should include a strategy to keep the child safe and minimise the likelihood of future episodes of the child going missing.[10] Similar procedures for missing children in Wales are contained within the All Wales Protocol for Missing Children (revised and reissued in November 2019).[11]

References

Footnotes

  1. INQ005148_002 para 7; A Safer Return – An analysis of the value of return home interviews in identifying risk and ensuring returning missing children are supported, Missing People, NCA000410_004; Briefing report on the roundtable on children who go missing and are criminally exploited by gangs, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, March 2017, INQ006569_002
  2. INQ006431_024
  3. As set out in the National Crime Agency’s Missing Persons Data Report 2019/20, in England and Wales, there were 4,543 long-term missing (adults and children) on 31 March 2020.
  4. UK Missing Persons Unit Missing Persons Data Report 2018/19, National Crime Agency, June 2020, INQ006431_025-026
  5. No Place at Home: Final report on the Inquiry into children and young people who go missing from out of area placements, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, September 2019, INQ006285_006
  6. INQ006431_024-025; INQ006445_004; Experimental statistics: children looked after by local authorities, Welsh Government, 2018–19, INQ006562_001
  7. UK Missing Persons Unit Missing Persons Data Report 2018/19, National Crime Agency, June 2020, INQ006431_024-025
  8. ‘Police “failing to protect” thousands of girls at risk of sexual abuse’, The Times 27 May 2021, INQ006484; ‘The Times view on protecting vulnerable girls from abuse: Missing Children’, The Times 28 May 2021, INQ006496; and ‘Police “covered up” failings on child sex cases’, The Times 27 May 2021, INQ006495
  9. HOM003339_048; INQ005148_002 para 7; A Safer Return – An analysis of the value of return home interviews in identifying risk and ensuring returning missing children are supported, Missing People, June 2019, NCA000410_004
  10. Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care, DfE, January 2014, INQ006447.
  11. WGT000464_010 para 51; All Wales Practice Guide: Safeguarding children who go missing from home or care
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