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Keeping children safe

Missing children

Over 80,000 are children are reported missing each year.

Children run away for all sorts of reasons, including trouble at school or arguments within the family. They may leave on impulse or in protest. Sometimes they may be drawn away by something outside of the home such as older friends. On most occasions they return home safely.

When a child runs away they are at risk of serious harm. You do not have to wait 24 hours before reporting somebody missing. 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. Dial 999 in an emergency or call your local police force immediately on 101.

Philomena Protocol

The Philomena Protocol is a scheme that asks carers to identify children and young people who are at risk of going missing, and to record vital information about them that can be used to help find them quickly and safely.

More information about the Philomena Protocol is available on the Devon and Cornwall Police website.

Why do children run away?

A child going missing is often a cry for help and a sign that something is wrong in that young person’s life. They may be experiencing violence at home, drug or alcohol issues, difficulties at school, bullying or sexual abuse.

Running away or going missing is also a key early indicator of criminal exploitation or child sexual exploitation (CSE). Research by The Children’s Society has found that many as 70% of children who are sexually exploited go missing from home.

Young people can run away for many reasons:

  • Problems at home – these can range from arguments with parents, to conflict between parents, to long-term abuse or neglect. Some young people in care run away to be closer to friends or family.
  • Problems at school – children who are being severely bullied are more likely to run away as are those who feel negatively about school in general.
  • Problems elsewhere – young people may run away after being groomed by adults who want to exploit them for criminal or sexual activity or simply encouraged to run by older friends.
  • In many cases running away will be a combination of these factors.

Children who run away may also exhibit other behaviour, which can include:

  • Skipping school regularly for either part of the day or more.
  • Expressing their unhappiness about any changes regarding adults who live in their home (for example if a parent or parent’s partner moves in or out).
  • Beginning to behave in a more challenging way.
  • Suddenly spending time with older friends or receiving a lot of text messages.
  • Showing signs of other unusual attributes such as tiredness, lateness, dirty clothes or being hungry.

All of these factors, including running away, indicate that there are more serious underlying issues that a child or young person needs help and support with.

The Children’s Society has a developed a series of guides with useful information and advice on what to do when a child goes missing and how to prevent children from going missing in the first place:

Parental child abduction

Parental child abduction is when a parent or relative, or someone acting on their behalf, removes a child from approved custody or violates their custody agreement. Read more about parental child abduction.


Getting help

UK Missing Persons Unit

The UK national and international point of contact for all missing adults and unidentified body cases. The public can review unidentified cases and send details regarding the potential identity via the online reporting form.

0800 234 6034


The NSPCC's Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC) provides free guidance and training to professionals concerned that a child or young person has been or is about to be trafficked into or out of the UK.

0808 800 5000

Action Against Abduction

Aims to fight parental child abduction by raising awareness and campaigning for better laws to protect children. Does not provide front-line services, but offers advice for parents or carers if their children have been abducted or fear that they will be abducted.

Railway Children

Exists to help and work with vulnerable children all over the world who have become detached from their families and are at risk on the streets where they suffer abuse and exploitation.

01270 757596


Offers excellent online advice and a free helpline for parents and carers who might be worried about the safety or welfare of a child. They also provide resources for professionals and teachers about child trafficking (see Child Trafficking Advice Centre details above).

0808 800 5000


Children and young people aged under 19 can call the confidential helpline (available 24 hours a day) or email or chat online with a counsellor. They can also speak to other young people on the message boards online.

0800 1111

If you are worried about the safety or wellbeing of a child or young person in Devon,
please complete the request for support online form.


If you think that the child is at risk of significant harm,
contact our Front Door directly by calling 0345 155 1071.


In an emergency call 999.