What is MISPER?

  • FosterWiki
  • Author:Dominique Dunning
  • Published:2021
  • Country: United Kingdom

What is MISPER?

This is a short guide to what happens when a child absconds and everything you need to know from a Carers perspective.

This bite-size training will help you, the Foster Carer, navigate the journey of a child who doesn’t return home, when and who to notify, what information you may need, how to look after yourself and what happens when they return.

Published statistics define a “missing child” as “a looked after child who is not at their placement or a place they are expected to be (school) and their whereabouts is unknown”.

We all understand that at this time the child’s needs are paramount, their safety and safe return are without a doubt a priority.

So what’s missing?

Well as a carer while the standards inform you of the guidance underpinning our role and the legislative framework, nobody can prepare you for that first experience of a child who goes missing or absconds.

What’s missing is the real-life experience and impact of what happens when a child doesn’t return home. How to report and what you might expect from an investigation into a child being reported as a MISPER.
What you, as a foster carer, can do? Do you go to bed, stay awake all night? How to manage the feelings of powerlessness and frustration?

On this wiki, we will take you through this journey, provide TOP TIPS of useful advice, strategies and resources which will help you fulfil your professional role but also your personal self-care which is often taken for granted.

A child missing on one occasion can be an emotionally exhausting experience however when this becomes a pattern of behaviour this can not only lead to fatigue but this is also when complacency in reacting and responding by other agencies as well as carers can lead to the “child that called wolf” becoming a child in genuine danger and a significant safeguarding situation.

11% of the LAC population go missing every year.
In the year to 31/3/2018, 11,530 children were recorded as a missing incident.
52% of them involved under 16’s.

It goes without saying that the risks of a child going missing are minimised through the support they receive from carers. This in turn should also reduce the risk of harm if a child is missing.

But what happens when they do?

“J was 13 when it was decided that she needed to be looked after as mums alcohol use and the arguments this was leading to at home made it unsafe, Mum was often inviting strange men over and one of them had started to make J feel uncomfortable with comments about her clothing and calling her “sexy”.Because mum was often hungover she would ask J to stay home and clean the house which meant she was missing school. While J was not happy at being told she needed to come and live with us, mum had agreed to a Section 20 for J to be accommodated while she got help, she seemed to be happy enough for the first few days. J liked the new clothes she got and her own room which she asked who else could use it and was surprised when we told her nobody, it was her room. J mentioned that often mum had people staying over and she would get kicked out of her room for the night.

It was a total surprise when she went to school on Wednesday and didn’t come home. I didn’t feel too concerned at first but when I couldn’t reach her on her mobile and had a call from school to say she hadn’t been in for the last lesson I became quite anxious. I called my SSW and she suggested giving J 4.30 pm just in case her battery was flat and she had been held up with friends. By 4.30 pm I was beside myself with worry. I tried calling the CSW and SSW again and was told to “report her missing”.

As the foster carer explains this is a really stressful moment. So many thoughts will be going through your mind and nothing makes sense. Suddenly you are in a situation where calling the Police and notifying them you have a child missing is the only course of action open. The “golden hour” for children who are at risk of harm is a window of opportunity not to be missed.

So, who do you call? Do you dial 999, is this an emergency? Or do you contact 101 if it’s a non-emergency?

What will the Police ask you?

  • They may ask for a photo or a description including what the child was wearing, their height and hair colour, what shoes or bag they had.
    TOP TIP: We can take photos for children’s life story work, make photos a normal daily event and be sure to lay eyes on the child before they leave the house and make a note. It’s not until you are asked at 11 pm when you have reported a child missing that you ask yourself “did they have black or blue jeans on.
  • Details of friends and relatives and places they may visit.
    TOP TIP: Keep a record of all names and addresses in one place, usually the child’s file. This should include all family you are aware of and close friends or names you may hear. Often disruption by the police visiting friends and family, especially when it is late at night, is enough to remind a child that returning home is the better option.
  • Whether they have any medical condition, or might harm themselves.
  • Where they were last seen or when they were last in contact.

In all circumstances where a child is reported missing from home the Police are expected as the protocol to search the premises, this may seem ludicrous after all you are the person the child is placed with for safety and have reported the child missing.

Sadly it is often the case in tragic circumstances that children have been found within the family home. As foster carers, we are not exempt from this and while it can be disruptive and distressing having the boys in blue traipsing through your house at 11 pm it is a process and one to be prepared for if you have a child who regularly absconds.

What next?

We keep calm and carry on, there is little more you can do at this time unless the child returns of their own volition, are returned by Police or Social Services the best thing you can do is try and get some sleep.

Sitting up all night trawling social media will exhaust you, by all means, keep notes of known friends and contacts for the child which will assist the police in locating the young person, but spending hours as a “virtual detective” will lead to burnout, assumptions and second-guessing.

Keep a clear recording of what has happened and follow your service providers “Missing Persons” policy. This may mean contacting an Out of Hours Service, reporting to the Child’s Social Worker as well as your Supervising/Link/Placement Social Worker.

More often than not a child is happily enjoying their short break with a friend or family and while it is not what we would want to be happening we need to be rested to respond in a calm and caring way when they return.

This may seem a bizarre suggestion but this is because it can feel so personal. It usually isn’t and we need to remain in a mindset that shaming and blaming a child for “not having slept”, “being worried out of our minds” is neither helpful nor constructive. De-personalising the behaviour is key, this is not about us, this is about them and it can be for reasons we may never understand but our role is to set clear boundaries and expectations: agree when young people will contact you and what time they are expected home. Be realistic about your expectations and also with young people pushing these boundaries, after all, that is part of normal child development.

Changing a child’s perception of adult responses is key, greet them with a smile and an offer of a hug in a mug (hot chocolate), be open to them wanting to talk calmly in the morning when they have slept and avoid joining a child in any escalation as a result of being forced back to a place they don’t yet see as home, to people they may not yet trust are genuine and care about them, into routines that are alien.

Children must be offered an independent return interview. Note that this is something the child has to agree to. This has to be completed within 72 hours of the child agreeing to be interviewed. If the child returns and is angry it is not beneficial to have this interview until they have had some rest, food or time to reflect. This is when it is our professional role to advocate for the child and support their decision to be interviewed.

We hope that this bitesize training will help if a child goes missing while in your care. Further training will be available through your social worker to evidence your understanding of the National Minimum Standards along with resources for recording your learning.

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