Secret social worker: missing children

Something’s missing from the care system and the public can play a part, says Lila Halliday

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Record numbers of children are going missing from local authority care and that is concerning but not for the reasons you may think.

When people hear about missing children they think Madeleine McCann, but in the vast majority of cases these kids haven’t been abducted or worse. They have stayed out late and won’t tell their carers where they are, they’ve run off because they don’t like where they live or sometimes they’re just being teenagers. Of course there are times when we have reason to believe they are at significant risk and any child whose whereabouts are unknown could be at risk but mostly they’re just being teenagers and pushing the boundaries, like we all did at one stage.

I once worked with a boy who was reported missing to the police every day for two months. The police were going mad about the impact on their resources and why we couldn’t manage our child. Thousands must have been spent in the name of ensuring his safety and trying to get him to settle in his placement, yet little did we know he was very settled in his placement!

Years later he told me that throughout that time he had been climbing out of his window and up the fire escape to his girlfriend’s bedroom, in the same children’s home, and hiding under her bed when staff were checking rooms. He wasn’t even leaving the building. He had been sitting through meetings and return interviews being asked why he was running away that entire time and didn’t say a word. It’s kind of romantic if you think about it.

Police Facebook pages are now used regularly to support missing persons appeals and provide us with valuable information and endless hilarity in the comments section. It is not uncommon for children to be found from comments like: “I’ve just seen him down the chippy.” Sometimes the child in question gets involved to cast some light on their whereabouts by saying something helpful like “U’ll neva find me, [insert expletive]” or, my personal favourite, “Spend dat dollar on sum1 who needs it! Just chillin wiv ma mates me!” At least we know they’re safe enough to sass the police.

Quite often concerned members of the public chime in to provide their thoughts – “Must have a terrible home life, thoughts and prayers.” As well meaning and sometimes vaguely accurate as that may be, your thoughts and prayers aren’t solving this particular situation. These concerned commenters are also fond of blaming the police, social services, parents and the children themselves for repeat missing children. “Again?” they cry. “This is the fourth time I’ve seen this boy’s face on here. Something needs to be done!”

Of course, they’re right. Something does need to be done and what these social media appeals highlight is the failure of the system and society to care for all its children. We have children both at home and in the care system who are out of our control. They listen to no one and are doing whatever they like. These children don’t fear the consequences of their actions because they don’t believe a good future awaits them whatever they do. They’ve checked out of society. It isn’t for them.

So continue to comment on these appeals expressing your outrage, sharing the appeal and any sightings of these children. It really can help, even if it’s just to get people thinking – or to give them a bit of a laugh in an otherwise desperate situation.

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