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11.2.18 Child Missing and Recovery Orders


This procedures relate only to children who are looked after by the Local Authority and are removed or go missing from accommodation. They do not apply to instances of Children in Need or at risk missing from the wider community - see NSCP Procedures Manual, Children Missing from Home and Care Joint Protocol and Children Missing From Care, Home and Education.


Children Act 1989

Child Abduction Act 1984

Statutory Guidance on children who run away and go missing from home or care

Missing persons - College of Policing  Authorised Professional Practice (APP)

Missing children/young people will be classified by the police as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ after a risk assessment has been carried out by police call handlers.

The National Police Chiefs' Council (formerly the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)) definition of a missing person is:

Missing - ‘Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be the subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another’.

Absent - ‘A person not at a place where they are expected or required to be’.

The `absent’ category should comprise cases in which children/young people are not presently where they are supposed to be but there is no apparent risk and they are not believed to be immediately at risk of harm.

Police will not be sent to cases where children/young people are defined as being ‘absent’. Instead the onus will be on care providers to take steps to locate the child/young person, with monitoring by the police and escalation to ‘missing’ if there is a change to the circumstances that has increased the level of risk. It is expected that all reasonable steps should be taken by care providers to locate the child/young person prior to making a report to the police. Where they remain absent, and the care provider feels that they may be at risk of harm, then a report should be made to the police.

Police will attend reports of ‘missing’ children/young people’.

Away from placement without authorisation – a looked after child whose whereabouts is known but who is not at their placement or place they are expected to be and the carer has concerns.


In January 2016, this chapter was extensively updated and should be re-read throughout.


Caption: contents list
1. Legal Requirements
2. Child Looked After by Agreement
3. A Child Absconding from Local Authority Care or Accommodation
4. A Child Absconding from Accommodation Ordered in Criminal Proceedings
5. Refuges
6. Recovery Orders
7. When is a Child Deemed to be Missing
8. When is a Child Deemed to be at Risk?
  8.1 Urgent Cases
  8.2 Non-Urgent Cases

1. Legal Requirements

When a child is subject to a Care Order, the Local Authority has Parental Responsibility and is empowered to determine the extent to which other people with Parental Responsibility may exercise their responsibilities, subject to any limitations necessary to safeguard or promote the child's welfare. Thus, although Parental Responsibility is retained by a parent or guardian etc., they may not remove the child, except with the agreement of the Local Authority after the making of the Care Order.

When a child is subject to an Emergency Protection Order, although the parents retain Parental Responsibility, the Order specifically authorises the applicant (the LA) to remove or retain the child.

It is an offence if a person shall knowingly and without lawful authority or reasonable excuse take a child away from anyone who has care of him by virtue of a Care Order, Emergency Protection Order or Police protection. The offence extends to keeping a child away from their carer or inducing, assisting or inciting a child to run away or stay away from their carer. (Children Act 1989 Guidance Volume 1, Paragraph 4.88).

2. Child Looked After by Agreement

When a child is accommodated by agreement the parent who made the agreement, or any other person with Parental Responsibility, may remove the child from that accommodation at any time unless the parent who placed the child has a Child Arrangements Order, or care under the terms of a Wardship Order, in which case only that parent may remove the child from the accommodation. The agreement of the Local Authority is not required and no notice needs to be given by the parent.

If the Local Authority wishes to prevent the removal of an accommodated child by a person with Parental Responsibility, it must obtain a Court Order, usually an Emergency Protection Order, or request the Police to take the child into Police protection.

If the child is being accommodated it should not be removed from that accommodation by anyone other than a person with Parental Responsibility, or a person acting on behalf of the person with Parental Responsibility.

It is an offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984, Section 2 to take or detain, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, a child under the age of 16 thereby removing the child from any person with lawful control. A person inducing a child to remain with him or another person is regarded as detaining a child. The child does not have to be literally "taken".

3. A Child Absconding from Local Authority Care or Accommodation

It is an offence to encourage or assist a child to stay away from Local Authority accommodation even if the child has removed his or herself. The person should return the child or take the child to a person with Parental Responsibility.

However, if the child is over 16 and accommodated by agreement, then they may choose to leave and there is no offence in assisting them to do so.

If the child is over 16 and subject to a Care Order it is still an offence to assist them to remain away from care.

In 2011, the NPIA Missing Persons Bureau released guidance regarding the issue of Child Abduction Warning Notices (formerly known as Harbourers’ Notices). A Child Abduction Warning Notice (CAWN) is a valuable safeguarding measure to prevent children from coming to harm, through the disruption of the adult allowing the child to stay at a place of concern.

The aim of introducing Child Abduction Warning Notices is to enable Nottinghamshire Police to fulfil its duty of protecting vulnerable young people. The breaching of the Child Abduction Warning Notice is not an offence in itself. However, if the person served with the notice continues the relationship and/or allows the young person to stay at their home or property they may be open to prosecution.

4. A Child Absconding from Accommodation Ordered in Criminal Proceedings

The Children Act allows the police to arrest without warrant anywhere in the United Kingdom any juvenile who is absent from:

  1. Local Authority accommodation to which the child has been remanded under Section 23(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969;
  2. Local Authority accommodation in which the child is required to live under a Residence Requirement attached to a Supervision Order under Section 12(AA) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969;
  3. Local Authority accommodation in which the child has been detained on a police warrant under Section 16(3) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 (Arrest of a Supervised Person to ensure his attendance at Court).

(Children Act 1989 Schedule 12, Paragraph 27).

5. Refuges

The Secretary of State may issue certificates to voluntary or registered children's homes or foster carers approved by the Local Authority to act as refuges for children at risk. Such certification will exempt the refuge from prosecution for offences related to harbouring a child in care or running away from home (Children Act 1989, Section 51, Sub-section (7) lists the offences).

The aim of a certified children's refuge is to provide a breathing space for runaway youngsters. Refuge workers can work with the child or young person to help them to return to parents or Local Authority care, or to sort out some other solution if a return home is not appropriate. (E.g. where a child has been, or may have been, sexually or physically or emotionally abused at home

The criteria under which a child may be accommodated in a refuge are that:

  1. Any child using a certified refuge must appear to be at risk of harm;
  2. The police designated officer must be notified of the child's admission within 24 hours and supplied with a telephone contact number by which contact may be made with the child;
  3. The police designated officer must be informed of the child's name, their last permanent address and the name of the person responsible for the child as soon as possible or within 24 hours of finding out the information.

When notified of a child in a refuge, the police designated officer must inform the person responsible for the child that the child is being provided with a refuge, by whom the refuge is provided and must provide the telephone contact number, but not the address of the refuge.

No child shall be provided with a refuge for more than 14 days continuously or for more than 21 days in any 3 month period.

If a child in care is admitted to a refuge the Local Authority must be contacted as the responsible person, but it cannot remove the child from the refuge.

6. Recovery Orders

Where it can be shown that a child:

  • Has been unlawfully taken away;
  • Is being unlawfully kept away;
  • Has run away;
  • Is staying away; or
  • Is missing.

from a person who is responsible for him or her by virtue of a Care Order, Emergency Protection Order or Police Protection, the Local Authority may apply to the Court for a Recovery Order under Section 50 or the Children Act 1989. A Recovery Order:

The powers obtained through a Recovery Order would be additional to those obtained by virtue of an existing Care Order. They may, however, already be covered by orders and warrants obtained at the time of the making of an Emergency Protection Order (See Application for an Emergency Protection Order Procedure) and therefore may not be additionally needed.

A Recovery Order made in England or Wales shall also have effect in Scotland as if it had been made there and Recovery Orders may also be made in Northern Ireland.

A Recovery Order may also be obtained by the police designated officer if a child is removed from police protection. However, the police designated officer will usually consider it more appropriate to apply for an Emergency Protection Order with supplementary warrants and Nottinghamshire Police Standing Orders reflect this view.

Legal Action is only to be sought as a final resort, usually after discussion with the child or the person harbouring or detaining the child has failed or has been unreasonably refused.

The views of the child should be considered, taking into account age and understanding.

7. When is a Child Deemed to be Missing

The Inter-agency Practice guidance Children Who Go Missing From Home, Care or Education should be referred to for full details of when a child is deemed to be missing and the actions that should arise from this.

8. When is a Child Deemed to be at Risk?

The Inter-agency Practice guidance gives further guidance in relation to completing a risk assessment but the judgment about whether a missing or absconding child is at risk will be made by the Social Care Team Manager, the responsible social worker, Manager of a Children's Home or E.D.T. Team Manager. The following children will generally considered to be at risk:

  1. All children under the age of 12;
  2. All children or young person's up to the age of 16 years who attend Special Schools;
  3. All children against whom offences have been committed;
  4. Children whose behaviour and judgment are totally unknown quantities:
  5. Children whose behaviour is such that they are likely to place themselves or others at risk of harm.

8.1 Urgent Cases

If the child is subject to an Emergency Protection Order, or the circumstances are such that the child is in immediate danger of suffering Significant Harm and it is inappropriate to delay matters by seeking a Recovery Order, police assistance should be sought.

A police constable will be able to use his or her powers under Section 46(1) of the Children Act to remove a child into police protection or, alternatively, police powers under Sections 17(1)(e) and 25(3)(e) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 may be used. These would enable a police officer to enter and search a house for the purposes of saving life and limb, or to arrest without warrant a person who has committed an offence (in this case unlawfully removing a child from care or emergency protection) where the arrest is necessary to protect the child from that person.

8.2 Non-Urgent Cases

A Recovery Order should only be sought when the child is subject to a Care Order and it is clear that the child is in no immediate danger of Significant Harm.

When considering a Recovery Order, legal advice should be sought. The decision to apply will be made by the Team Manager and the application should be made by a solicitor from Legal Services (Child Care).

It is important that a clear record of actions and decisions taken in relation to this event are incorporated into the child's electronic file.