By Local Democracy Reporter
THERE has been almost 700 recorded cases of children going missing while under the care of Thurrock Council in the past 12 months, a new report has revealed.
The 670 missing incidents, which are recorded when a child is found to not be at the place they are expected to be for any length of time, represents a major increase from the 291 incidents the previous year.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked the council to explain the reasons behind the increase and what is being done to address it but did not receive a response, despite giving them four days to respond.
The data was revealed in a report published ahead of a Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on Tuesday night. It shows that the highest number of incidents occurred in June 2018 when there was 88 incidents, August 2018 also saw 74 incidents.
The report does not provide detail on how many children were involved in the incidents or how long they were missing for.
Figures also show that there has been no significant increase in the number of children being looked after by the authority.
Paul Joseph, head of helplines for the nationwide charity Missing People, said: “We would always consider any situation of a young person going missing as very worrying – regardless of what type of home setting they have.
“The risks they face, particularly around child sexual exploitation or gang involvement, combined with their age, makes them vulnerable.
“We would hope any local authority would do their best to prevent young people in their care from going missing, and ensure that when they do that care is taken to look at the reason why they left and give them the right support to avoid going missing again.”
An NSPCC spokesman for the East of England said: “It is concerning when any child goes missing from care as we know they can be extremely vulnerable to grooming and exploitation.
“Many looked-after children will have been abused before being placed in care and need a great deal of attention and protection. It’s therefore crucial that they have a caring and safe living environment with access to support.”
They added that any young people in a vulnerable position can talk confidentially to trained childline counsellors by calling 0800 1111 free of charge or via the one-to-one chat service at www.childline.org.uk.
Referrals on the rise
The number of children being referred to Thurrock’s children’s services department is on the rise, with more than a 30 per cent increase in the past 12 months.
The council’s performance report shows that on average there were 177 referrals during 2017-18 but 234 referrals in 2018-19. The borough’s information sharing group for safeguarding children, known as the Multi-agency Safeguarding Hub, also had 7,074 “contacts” up from 5,764 the previous year.
However, there were some improvements with the number of children requiring a protection plan – laying out how they can be kept safe – reducing from 271 in April 2018 to 162 in March 2019.
Details of the added pressures have been revealed just a week after the director of children’s services retired and the council’s management team appointed Roger Harris as the interim director – despite him already being corporate director of adults, housing and health.
The management team forced the change through after elected councillors voted against it over concerns that it meant reducing a role vital in protecting vulnerable children into essentially a part-time job.
At a council meeting when the change was discussed, the leader of the Labour group Jane Pothecary said: “I do not believe that placing responsibility for children’s social care, health, education, adult social care and housing on to one person’s shoulders is a responsible way to protect children, vulnerable adults or the homeless in this borough.”