Exploitation risk to missing and runaway children

Exploitation risk to missing and runaway children too often ignored, says leading charity  
Catch22 launches ‘What’s Missing?’ campaign and calls for National Child Exploitation Strategy 

76,000 children are reported missing every year in the UK, yet many more missing episodes go unreported, meaning children at risk of exploitation are falling through the net.

Charity Catch22 delivers the Victim First service, and delivers Child Exploitation and Missing services across England, which supports victims across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, including young victims of criminal or sexual exploitation. Catch22 says that missing from home incidents, child sexual and criminal exploitation, and County Lines are too often seen as separate – when in fact they are intricately linked. Catch22 is calling for a National Child Exploitation Strategy that would bring together the different forms of exploitation, specifically addressing child criminal exploitation and County Lines, and including Missing.

The Victim First service is commissioned by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire, Rupert Matthews, who says: “Young people, particularly vulnerable people, must not be targeted by people who set out to harm others.  I want to see more co-operation between the police, local authorities and other agencies to safeguard and protect vulnerable children and young adults.

“Multiagency safeguarding must be made a priority. It is only through a co-ordinated response we can catch the criminals who prey on vulnerable children and young people and it is equally important to do all that we can to prevent children becoming offenders of the future.”

Kate Wareham, Catch22’s Director of Young People and Families, says professionals, agencies and the public often underestimate the risks to a child when they go missing – and therefore fail to make early interventions. She said:

“It is not enough to just find a child and be relieved they are home. If repeat missing incidences are happening, even if just for a few hours, we need to be asking ourselves where these young people are. Going missing from home or care is a key indicator of county lines-related child exploitation, but opportunities to intervene are often unrecognised and missed.  

“Too often, those in a position of care, including statutory bodies, missed the signs; by the time services like ours are involved, grooming has occurred over a sustained period and the young person may be deeply involved in criminal activity.”

Recognising the recently published Child Sexual Abuse strategy, this #InternationalMissingChildrensDay, Catch22 is calling for a national approach to child exploitation, recognising the crossover between victims of CCE, CSE and those going missing. It also wants to see updated statutory guidance for all professionals. The strategy should:

·         Incorporate other UK national strategies, including Child Sexual Abuse, Modern Day Slavery, Domestic Abuse. 

·         Provide a legal definition of CCE 

·         Recognise the links between CCE, CSE, missing children and county lines

·         Make provision for regular, up to date CCE training and awareness raising for practitioners, parents, and carers. 

Whilst policies do exist, many are not up to date. For example, updates to Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or Go Missing from Home or Care 2014 have been repeatedly delayed. 
Statistics from Missing People and from Catch22’s Services show that:

·     1 in 7 of the children who completed return home interviews had been sexually exploited.

·     1 in 5 children who completed return home interviews disclosed information about mental health issues.

·     1 in 10 children who completed return home interviews had been a victim of criminal exploitation. 

Kate Wareham added:

“County lines, child criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation, and children missing from home are too often talked about as separate issues. These tags are all symptoms, not causes, and we know from our experience that they are all inextricably linked.

“The focus should be on the vulnerability of young children, building awareness of risks, prioritising resilience, and doing everything we can to safely get a young child out of such dangerous situations.”


For more information about Catch-22, contact Josie Cochrane at media@catch-22.org.uk

Note to editors

What does it mean to be ‘missing’? 

A child is currently considered missing if they are not where they are supposed to be and their whereabouts cannot be established.

About Catch22:

Catch22 is a social business, a charity delivering public services to reform them for the better. What’s Missing? was launched due to the concern about exploitation across our CSE and CCE services, and across our education, youth justice, and employability services.

Additionally, Catch22

·     Runs gang intervention services in conjunction with schools to prevent gang involvement and to support those already in gangs to safely exit. 

·     Delivers 12 alternative provision schools and 7 Alternative Provision Colleges. Many of our pupils in these settings are at elevated risk of being exploited. 

·     And runs employability programmes focused specifically on working with those furthest from the job market, many of whom are vulnerable to exploitation

What does Catch22 do? 

When a child is found, Catch22 conducts Return Home Interviews with the individual. These interviews are entirely independent of police and statutory services, allowing for disclosures and referrals to be made to only the most relevant agencies. Last year, Catch22 released guidance for doing such interviews remotely.

As well as providing awareness training for professionals, parents and carers. Spot The Signs is an ongoing series of public awareness posters – you can download the resources here for your workplace.

Catch22 approaches child exploitation, missing and county lines using the same model for services, but bespoke to an individual’s situation – we find that when these services are commissioned together, we can have far more impact. We will be releasing more information about our model throughout the week.

Posted on Wednesday 26th May 2021
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