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Preventing and responding to children abandoning alternative care

This step explores some ideas that may encourage children not to abandon their place in alternative care.
A teenage boy is photographed straight on though the boy is looking to his right. He is wearing a green tshirt and is not smiling. There are people out of focus behind him.
© UNICEF (UNI195504) / Klincarov

In this course step we will explore some ideas that may encourage children not to abandon their place in alternative care. Missing Children Europe advise us that many children tend to go missing within a few hours after identification or placement in care. It is therefore important we collect information, assess needs, and identify possible risks of a child moving on as soon as possible.

Preventing children abandoning alternative care

Steps for preventing unaccompanied and separated children abandoning care can include:

  • Interacting carefully and in a child-friendly manner – making them feel safe and secure
  • Ensuring children receive the most suitable alternative care placement – care that meets their individual needs, circumstances and wishes – as quickly as possible. Poor quality care is likely to act as an incentive for children to leave
  • Providing timely and reliable information to children about their next steps, the duration of the stay and their future. If you do not have this information, communicate this with the child and make sure that new information becomes available to them as soon as possible. Be honest and do not create false expectations
  • If there is time, prepare a Safety Plan for each child. This is an assessment of the risks that the child may go missing and the response if this happens. This plan could be a part of a Care and Protection Assessment and Case Plan requiring:
    • Developing and using a set of indicators that assess the likelihood of the child going missing and the risks they might face
    • Consideration of any influences which might lead to the child going missing – for example, the influence of a trafficker
    • Being aware of migration paths, national and international patterns of trafficking, and known criminal activity that could have an impact on the safety of the child
    • Providing additional supervision and support if the risk of going missing is identified
    • Developing an action plan to be used if the child does go missing

Appropriate responses when children do go missing

Steps to prepare for, and respond to, children in care going missing include:

  • Quickly reporting the missing child to law enforcement or other agencies who hold responsibility for tracing the child. Please make sure, however, this will not create a situation that places the child at risk – such as being put in detention or acts of punishment
  • Using social media for purposes of tracing – for example, hotlines have been used successfully. However, think about ways to guard against smugglers, traffickers and others abusing these methods and using them to contact vulnerable children
  • Ensuring effective cooperation and coordination between different organisations including care providers, social services, and law enforcement
  • Developing systems of cross border cooperation between care providers, law enforcement agencies and other agencies and networks to help trace missing children
  • Developing a memorandum of understanding for cooperation between all the relevant service providers as well as using shared protocols that clearly define each person’s tasks and responsibilities
  • Developing a standard form to be used by all stakeholders for reporting a missing child. Being careful that information is only shared with the necessary people and data systems are secure.

The ‘See Also’ section below has a links to other reading materials that may be of interest to you.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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