5,000 children have disappeared from council care over the past two years, according to figures.
Figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show that between January 2012 and December 2013 there were 24,320 missing children reported. The majority were teenagers, however, dozens were much younger. The figures included a one-year-old girl who disappeared in July 2013 and still remains missing.
Of 138 councils in England and Wales, Kent County Council topped the list, with 458 children disappearing on 2,623 occasions.
Peter Oakford, Kent County Council cabinet member for specialist children’s services, said: “It is always a huge concern when children and young people go missing, even if just for a few hours.
“In Kent, we face particular issues due to being a port authority and receive the highest number of unaccompanied minors in the UK.
“When unaccompanied asylum seeker children arrive from abroad, we don’t know what sort of ordeals they have gone through on their journey. They are scared and many have been told by traffickers to run away and meet contacts when they arrive in England.
“Children in care are vulnerable and KCC offers them all the support and care they need but they are not locked up. When a child goes missing, we work closely with the police to find the child but we also need the government and other authorities to help us to address these wider issues including breaking down international trafficking networks which can lead to vulnerable children going missing.”
Nottinghamshire County Council came in second, where 215 children disappeared during the period.
Tom Rahilly, head of strategy for looked-after children at the NSPCC said: “When children and young people in care go missing it should be no different to when any other child disappears from home. This is very alarming.”
He added that: “Children who go missing from care are at great risk of drug and alcohol use, violence and sexual exploitation and our work shows that not enough is being done to understand why children go missing from care.
“It is vital that more is done to give these children a voice so they can explain what is happening to them and we can learn the reasons why they go missing.”
Rahilly acknowledge that children often disappear because parents remove them from the system without going through the correct channels. On other occasions teenage parents in care sometimes leave with their child without informing people.
Hertfordshire County Council was ranked third highest for the number of children who disappeared from the care of councils across England and Wales. The figures show that 209 children went missing between January 2012 and December 2013.
Richard Roberts, cabinet member for children’s services at HCC, said: “We take our responsibilities in this area very seriously and have worked hard with the police and other partners to improve the procedures we have in place for finding missing children.
“We have also improved our systems for detecting missing children. Along with the fact that Hertfordshire is a large county, this explains in part why the number of cases is relatively high.
“In some cases, children are classed as having gone missing when in fact they may have simply returned to their home later than expected. Nevertheless, we have a multi-agency panel which looks at all reported cases and where necessary puts measures in place to try and prevent repeat occurrences.
“There has been a significant reduction in the number of missing children since we improved our procedures, and we will continue to work hard to bring down the number of cases. If anyone has any concerns about a missing child, please do not hesitate to contact the police.”