High incidences of ‘missing’ children across Scotland

Categories: Education, including vocational education and Protection from abuse or neglect

16th October 2017

In the 2016 State of Children's Rights report, Together highlighted member concerns around the link between children missing from school and practices such as early marriage. Recently, the BBC have reported on the many children missing across Scotland's local authorities.

Background

Schools are frequently unaware of the dangers involved in children traveling abroad for significant periods of time during school holiday. Together's members have highlighted the link between children missing from school and HBV practices such as child marriage. Often, if a child does not return to the UK, no alarm is raised and no effort is made to locate them and return them to the country. This is a particularly high risk for children approaching the age of 16 as they will no longer be considered the responsibility of the school. Professionals have emphasised the lack of awareness, understanding and support in secondary schools regarding HBV, which disempowers teachers who may otherwise be well placed to recognise, report and support child victims.

Children are categorised as "missing in education" if the authorities are unable to track them down after four weeks or more - or two to three days in the case of vulnerable children.

FOI requests

The BBC has sent Freedom of Information requests to all Scotland's 32 local authorities. The responses indicate that about 390 children aged between four and 16 have been recorded as "missing in education" in each of the past three years. In the past year, 139 of them went missing in Glasgow. Local authority body Cosla said the highest incidences were found in Scotland's cities where there were "very mobile" populations and families from a range of backgrounds.
Councils told the BBC they followed clear and prompt guidelines when a child goes missing including contact with social work and the police where it is deemed necessary. In some cases, authorities have contacted Europol and Interpol to try to locate them. At least 32 school pupils who went missing in the past three years have never been found, the figures indicate. In many cases children may have moved abroad without the school being told.

Commentary

Education Secretary John Swinney told the BBC that "fundamentally" responsibility for ensuring children were in school rested with individual local authorities. He said there was "very clear guidance" in place about how they should be monitoring these issues:

"Clearly if there are children that go missing from education, those issues have to be followed up properly and fully by the relevant authorities and I would expect that to be the case," he said.

A Cosla spokesman said keeping children safe was of the "utmost importance" and councils were taking a number of steps to monitor and trace school pupils.

Angela Voulgari, of the Bright Choices project which focuses on honour-based violence and forced marriage, said authorities needed to get quicker at raising the alarm but that improvements have been made in the past five years. She said children could go missing for a range of reasons.

"They could have been taken abroad to be married, or for female genital mutilation or it could be very genuine reasons like the family moving back to their country of origin," Ms Voulgari said.

She said things become a lot more difficult when the child was not a British national.

"Whenever a child goes missing without good reason, without warning, that should always be a reason for concern," she said.

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