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https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/recommendation/west-midlands/8796/

Cause of concern

The force’s response to missing and absent children is a cause of concern to HMIC. HMIC found that the assessment of risk for children who go missing from home was inappropriate in some cases. We found some instances where children were classed as ‘absent’ when they should have been recorded as ‘missing’, and risk levels for missing children were sometimes incorrectly assessed at a lower grade. We also found incidents where the risk had not been identified, even where good information was available on the police database. In some cases there was information to indicate that children were at risk of sexual exploitation, but this did not influence the assigned risk and categorisation. Children were incorrectly graded at a lower level and could have been exposed to an increased risk of harm. This is an enduring cause of concern from HMIC’s report on vulnerability in 2015.

Recommendations

To address this cause of concern the force should immediately review its approach to reports of missing children and take steps to ensure that:
• call takers understand and use the missing and absent category appropriately; • call takers and frontline staff have the necessary knowledge to identify risk factors associated with child sexual exploitation and how to respond to such cases; and • supervisors provide the correct oversight of missing person enquiries and direct appropriate and timely investigative and safeguarding action

[on]2nd March 2017 [status]awaiting-review[/status][/on][on]8th May 2018 [status]being-progressed[/status][/on][on]8th May 2018 [comment]

The force has introduced a new process and governance structure to manage HMICFRS recommendations. An initial meeting to discuss recommendations was held with WMD Force Liaison Officer Steve Barley and Sharanjit Dhillon on 26 April 2018. There is now a nominated owner (senior officer) for each recommendation, an action tracker system on Sharepoint where activity undertaken to address the recommendation is recorded and a scrutiny/sign off process that is led by chief officers.

The force has begun collating information from different sources about activity and actions taken to address recommendations and the process to summarise the force position for each one is underway. The HMICFRS Force Liaison Lead will work with the force to review activity to date, assess the current position for each recommendation and monitor progress through the new process. Recommendations will be submitted to the HMICFRS regional chief of staff for sign off when appropriate.

The nominated owner of this action is: Ch Supt Rachel Jones.

[/comment][/on][on]8th May 2018 [comment]

This recommendation is linked to 2363 and will be assessed jointly.

[/comment][/on][on]3rd July 2018 [comment]

Owner is Supt Sean Phillips

[/comment][/on][on]9th July 2018 [comment]

8796 (was 6042) – Owner: Supt Sean Phillips, Mission Support (missing children)

In addition to being a cause of concern/recommendation in Effectiveness 2015 and 2016, this subject was also noted as an area for improvement in Effectiveness 2017. The two main areas of focus were i) the control room response and ii) the operational investigative and safeguarding response, to reports of missing children.

The response of the force has included:

• The creation of a force wide LOCATE team (2 inspectors, 12 sergeants, 66 constables) whose responsibility is to coordinate and conduct investigative activity to find missing persons.• Increased use of data to analyse patterns of missing behaviour.• Increased awareness of CSE through the force CSE strategy.• Increased intervention and prevention work, eg return home interviews, greater use of intelligence.• Increased partnership working• More training and use of THRIVE+ in the control room.

However, the force is not yet compliant with the CoP APP on missing persons and is still using the ‘absent’ category for missing children. There are still examples of control room staff not properly recognising the risk associated with missing children, increasing their vulnerability.

The force continues to improve its response in this area, eg adoption of APP and policy adherence by the workforce, increased partnership working in risk areas like CSE and county lines, plus additional staff training.

HMICFRS will re-assess force performance in this area in coming months, including reality testing and assessing the work of the LOCATE teams, and as part of IPA 2018.

[/comment][/on][on]7th August 2018 [comment]

A meeting to discuss this recommendation with Supt Phillips has been arranged for 28th Sept 2018.

[/comment][/on][on]14th January 2019 [comment]

The force response to this recommendation has been measured over a long period of time. A brief summary of the work completed to date is relevant:

• Following the creation of the Locate team in Birmingham in 2016, the Locate function became a force wide resource in June 2018.• The force continues to use a standard set of 12 questions in the control room to assess the risk of newly reported missing persons alongside the existing THRIVE+ process.• All high risk missing persons are reviewed daily at the force TRM (threat and risk management) meeting with medium and low risk reviews being conducted less frequently.• The force adopted a new missing person policy in November 2018 that is almost entirely compliant with the relevant college of policing APP document. The only slight variations are the initial question set used in the control room and the ability of the force to adjust medium and low level review periods if it deems it appropriate to do so.• The absent category was removed in Nov 2018 as part of the move to become complaint with APP – it was replaced with a category of NAR (no apparent risk).• One consequence of moving to the APP is the expected increased workload on partners who will have to conduct more follow up visits to missing children once they have been located (because of the removal of the absent category).

The new missing person business processes introduced in November 2018 came after the IPA inspection so no review of their effectiveness has yet been undertaken.

Overall, the force has significantly revised its processes for dealing with missing people (and children) and they are now reported to be largely compliant with APP.

A review of how the force managed a number of missing person incidents (not specifically missing children) was completed in November 2018. It showed that the force was generally applying the risk assessment process correctly and response times/management was mostly acceptable, but with a small number of instances where the initial response time seemed longer than was appropriate.

The summary position is that the force has improved and modernised its response to missing persons/children. However, due to the changes in working practices in late November 2018, further work is required to understand the impact of this work on the three main elements of this recommendation, namely:

• call takers understand and use the missing and absent category appropriately; • call takers and frontline staff have the necessary knowledge to identify risk factors associated with child sexual exploitation and how to respond to such cases; • supervisors provide the correct oversight of missing person enquiries and direct appropriate and timely investigative and safeguarding action

[/comment][/on]