Missing children - guidance for professionals

Running away is when a child or young person chooses to leave home or care without permission.


The majority of young people who run away from home do so to avoid what's going on in their personal circumstances and usually see themselves as 'runaways' rather than 'missing' children or young people.

By running away, they could put themselves in a lot of danger. Sleeping rough is particularly dangerous for young people. Below are just some of the examples of difficulties that they might face.

They could:

  • Become a victim of street crime or get involved in committing crimes
  • Have increased health issues if they live rough
  • Find it hard to go home, as they might worry that they will be in trouble.

What does it mean if a child or young person is reported 'missing'?

If a child or young person runs away and no one knows where they are, whatever the reasons for running away or 'disappearing', they will be reported as missing. They will be 'missing' until they are found and are deemed to be safe. If a child or young person stays out later than they are supposed to, but the parent(s) or carer(s) knows where they are, they will not be seen to be 'missing'.

Why do some children or young people run away? 

There can be many reasons why a child or young person feels that running away from home is the only solution to their problems. Some of these reasons might be:

  • They don't get on with their family
  • They feel unsafe at home
  • They have other problems outside of their home, i.e., being bullied or involved in drugs, etc.
  • Some children and young people run away because they are being abused, neglected, or experiencing violence where they are living

There are complex issues facing Asylum Seeking Children. Information about some children's whereabouts is not always maintained due to the transient nature of their accommodation arrangements. Agencies must however be alert to the fact that some children are trafficked into, within and out of the UK for custom related reasons, to be abused and exploited for commercial gain, including through sex, for domestic servitude, etc.

Children who are missing from school may also be missing from care or home and are at risk. Education staff should follow LSCP Missing from Care, Home and Education and the Wandsworth Children Missing from Home and Care Policy and Protocol.

What can I do to help stop it happening?

Whatever the problem, there are many organisations that can help, and it's never too later to try and sort out the situation. Getting help whilst the child or young person is still living at home is usually a better option than having him/her running away.

If the child or young person feels that he/she has to get out straightaway due to his/her own safety for example someone with whom they are living is being violent or abusive towards him/her, he/she must get help immediately. If you know a young person that is in such a situation, you can:

Speak to a social worker by contacting:

Wandsworth Multi-agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)
2nd Floor Town Hall Extension
Wandsworth High Street
SW18 2PU

Telephone: 020 8871 6622
Email: mash@wandsworth.gov.uk

Outside of normal office hours (after 5pm weekdays or on weekends): 020 8871 6000.

In an emergency contact the Police by calling 999.

Call National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247

You may also find some useful sites on our Links and resources page.