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Keeping children safe

Missing children – information for professionals

Children can go missing for a variety of reasons, but in most instances they return home safely. Girls are more likely to go missing than boys at a young age and the harm to the child increases with younger children. In some cases, children might run away because of family issues or conflict with parents and carers. Sometimes children run away to escape abuse or rejection. Sometimes problems at school can be the cause for children to go missing. Sometimes children are not running away but running to somewhere, for example, in cases of child sexual exploitation.

More information about Devon’s multi-agency information sharing forums (MACE) to safeguard children who go missing or are at risk of child sexual exploitation is available here.

Safeguarding practice guidance for professionals about children and families that go missing (including unborn children), including indicators and protection action to be taken, can be found in the Devon Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures Manual.

Help, guidance and assistance is also available from Missing People.

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.

Patterns of going missing

  • Four out of five children who run away do so only once or twice.
  • Twenty percent of children going missing under the age of 16 had been forced to leave home.
  • Very few children go outside their local area while away.
  • Children under 16 are most likely to run away because of abuse and neglect. Whilst those who first run away or are forced to leave at the age of 16 or 17 are more likely to do so for reasons of family conflict and breakdown.
  • Children in residential placements were likely to have gone missing more often in the past than those going missing from foster placements. Children aged 14 and 15 tended to stay away longer.
  • For children who go missing often, there is a progressive risk of detachment from family, carers and school (exclusion or non-attendance).
  • Evidence would suggest that once patterns of school non-attendance and running away become established they are mutually reinforcing.
  • Children who go missing often are also more likely to have problems with depression, drugs and alcohol and to have involvement in offending.
  • Children with previous convictions were far more likely to run away than those who had none.

Guidance and downloads


If you are concerned that a child is being abused, or to request support, you can:

Call 0345 155 1071

Complete the request for support online form

If it’s an emergency call 999