Ann Coffey MP has welcomed the introduction of a new National Missing Persons Register as the number of missing children incidents in Greater Manchester continues to increase.
The new Register, to be introduced in 2018, will allow police forces to access information about children going missing across force boundaries, which they cannot do at the moment.
PRESS RELEASE FROM ANN COFFEY MP
DANGEROUS POLICE RECORDING SYSTEM FOR MISSING CHILDREN SCRAPPED
Campaigning children’s MP Ann Coffey has expressed delight that a controversial police recording system for missing children – described as a ‘catastrophe waiting to happen’ – has been scrapped.
Ms Coffey, who is chair of the All Party Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, had persistently slammed the system introduced in 2013 because it left children in grave danger.
Under the two tier system, children were classed as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ – but crucially only a child classed as missing received an active police response.Last year an inquiry by the All Party Group into the safeguarding of “absent” children recommended the recording system should be abandoned because it left at least 10,000 children a year at ‘terrible risk’.
The report cited cases of children, who were classed as ‘absent’ and had gone off the radar, but who had, in fact, been groomed for sexual exploitation or forced to run drugs across County Lines
Now the College of Policing has issued new guidance which scraps the absent category in favour of a new system where all children will be classed as missing and will be assessed for levels of risk ranging from ‘no apparent risk’ through to high risk cases that require immediate action.
Today Ms Coffey addressed the Missing Persons Conference 2017 in the House of Commons attended by 300 delegates. The conference on ‘Improving the Response to Missing Persons’, was also addressed by Chief Constable Mike Veale, the National Police Chiefs‘ Council Lead on Missing. He also welcomed the scrapping of the absent category and the re-introduction of one definition of missing and said a letter had gone out today (11/01/2017) to all Chief Constables outlining the changes.
Ms Coffey said: “I am delighted the absent category has been scrapped because it did not safeguard children. Our inquiry found that some children had been recorded as ‘absent’ between 11 and 137 times despite many of them being at risk of child sexual exploitation and of being groomed by criminal gangs to run drugs.
“We heard of one mother whose daughter was classed as absent and so there was no police response. The mum was left alone to cope and so drove around all night long frantically looking for her daughter.
“Many ‘absent’ children were going completely off the radar and this was a catastrophe waiting to happen. It was introduced to save police time but has turned out to be a blunt crude assessment tool that leave children who are regularly classed as absent in danger of sexual exploitation and of being groomed by criminal gangs.”
Ms Coffey told the conference that there was still a need for better data sharing amongst the police children services and other agencies and for the introduction of a national data base for missing people.
“We are not making the most of the digital revolution to share intelligence,” she said.
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The All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults – Inquiry into the Safeguarding of ‘Absent’ Children
At least 10,000 children a year could be at ‘terrible risk’ because they receive no active police response when they go missing, according a parliamentary inquiry published today.
The inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, supported by The Children’s Society, has called for a controversial police recording system for missing children, introduced in 2013, to be abandoned because it does not safeguard children from harm.
Under the two-tier system, children are classed as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ – but crucially only a child classed as missing receives an active police response.
The inquiry heard that children who go missing but are classified by the police as absent slip under services’ radar until the risks, such as child sexual exploitation, become too serious.
The inquiry also heard of cases of children, who were classed as ‘absent’ but who had been groomed for sexual exploitation or criminal involvement such as drug running across county lines.
MPs on the APPG concluded that the separate ‘absent’ category should be scrapped and instead, all missing children should receive the response that is proportionate to the risks they face. The inquiry recommends that this response should always be informed by a joint assessment between the police and children’s services, in order to build up a picture of the child’s life and the risks they face when missing.
The latest figures show that 9,780 runaway children went ‘off the radar’ in a total of 21,399 incidents in 2014-15 because police classed them as ‘absent’ rather than ‘missing’.
The true figure is likely to be even higher as only 29 police forces, out of 37 who have implemented the system, could provide any data on absent children.
Ann Coffey MP, who chaired the inquiry, said:
“All the evidence shows that the new absent category is dangerous and should be scrapped. It is not fit for purpose.
“It was introduced to save police time but has turned out to be a blunt, crude assessment tool that leaves children who are regularly classed as absent in danger of sexual exploitation and of being groomed by criminal gangs. It is scary that exploited young people are falling off the radar and no one knows what is happening to them.
“From Rotherham to Rochdale we have seen a pattern of young people and their families not being taken seriously. Our inquiry heard of one mother whose child was classed as absent. She was left to cope alone and drove around all night long frantically looking for her daughter.
“It is also shocking that there are unacceptable inconsistencies between and within police forces in their approach to missing children. It is now time for all police forces to abandon this hit and miss system. Children deserve the same protection wherever they live.
“There needs to be a joint risk assessment by police and children’s services otherwise children can be left at terrible risk which could have been prevented.”
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:
“Children who go missing face serious risks of abuse, including child sexual exploitation. The absent category must be dropped. Not only is it preventing vulnerable children from getting the vital help they need, it leaves them in danger.
“Everything possible needs to be done to make sure any child who goes missing receives an active response and when they are found, that they are listened to.
“It is vital that all missing children have the chance to speak to an independent professional who can help them deal with the issues that made them run away in the first place to help stop them from going missing again. No child should feel that no one cares about them.”
The inquiry was also concerned that the initial risk assessment focussed on immediate risk despite the fact that for children at risk of being groomed for sexual or criminal exploitation or drug running, it is the ongoing and cumulative risk that is of most concern.
NB – You can find a link to the full inquiry report here – https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/appg-absent-inquiry-final-report-may-2016-embargoed_0.pdf