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New Ofsted report highlights failings in data for missing children
Children’s Minister announces pilot to improve data collection
The Chief Inspector of Ofsted has published a new report that highlights the need for urgent action to establish a single register to track accurately the number of children who go missing.
Sir Michael Wilshaw said that at a time of heightened concern about vulnerable children falling victim to sexual exploitation, it was profoundly worrying there was currently so little reliable data on the issue – including numbers, characteristics and trends.
He spoke on the day Ofsted published a report, Missing children, which found data sets recorded and held by local authorities and the police were significantly different in most areas, reflecting concerns that data about missing children is flawed at a national level.
For the report inspectors visited a sample of 10 local authority areas. The report draws on evidence from 105 cases and from the views of children and young people, carers, and professionals from the local authority and from partner agencies.
The Children's Minister, Edward Timpson, touched on this issue in the course of a speech on vulnerable children and the Children and Families Bill, made on the 5th February. He said:
"[C]hildren who go missing from care are at serious risk of being exploited and harmed. Reports issued last year by the Joint All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry and the Office of the Children's Commissioner illustrated this only too starkly.
"So, if we're to get to grips with this abuse, it's clear we must have robust data on children who go missing to work with.
"The Working Group we set up last year to look at this has now reported and I can announce today that we will begin piloting a new data collection in the next few months.
"This will, for the first time, collect information on all children who go missing from their placement - not just those missing for 24 hours – enabling better analysis and more effective practice to prevent and combat the problem.
In addition, we will shortly issue revised statutory guidance on Children who go Missing from Home or Care based on the best local practice. This will complement guidance issued to police forces by the Association of Chief Police Officers.
"Ofsted's new looked after children inspections and the new multi-agency inspections, which will begin in June, will also shine a powerful light on progress being made on the ground."
The Children's Society welcomed the Minister's comments, saying:
"We look forward to hearing more details about the government's plans to protect children who run away. It will be important to make sure that the forthcoming guidance for both local authorities and police forces on runaways sets out detailed safeguards to protect all children who run away from home. No child who runs from home or care should fall through the net."
Children represented approximately two thirds of the estimated 360,000 missing person incidents in 2009–10.
The reasons for running away are varied, complex and unique to individual children. The most frequent reason given is ‘problems at home’. Physical abuse from adults, mental health and substance misuse problems, and involvement in criminality are commonly associated with children running away. Missing children are at high risk of physical and sexual abuse, criminality and homelessness. Persistent running away is increasingly understood to be an indicator that a child may be a victim of sexual exploitation.