UK & World News
Missing Children Policy 'Is Sex Abuse Risk'
A children's charity has accused police chiefs of putting vulnerable children at risk of sex abuse with a new definition of "missing persons".
Chief constables say a new two-tier definition will give better protection to children and vulnerable adults.
Full investigations will still be launched into "missing" cases, but specialist officers will record and monitor only those who regularly go "absent" and explore the reasons why.
From next month the new approach will be applied by all police forces to the 327,000 people reported missing each year, two-thirds of whom are children.
But David Tucker, of the NSPCC, said: "We are very concerned that the new definition of 'missing persons' will put vulnerable children at risk of being groomed and sexually exploited. The length of time a child goes missing is irrelevant because they can fall into the clutches of abusers very quickly.
"Children go missing for a variety of reasons; they may be bullied, abused or are generally unhappy. But whatever the reason, this problem must be taken seriously.
"We expect all professionals including the police to invest the right amount of time and take the necessary action to protect all children as soon as they go missing."
Until now all missing person calls were treated the same, with response officers called out to investigate until the person was located.
Police call handlers will now put calls into one of two categories: missing or absent.
The new definition of "missing" will be: "Not at the place they are expected to be, but the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests they may be subject of a crime or at risk of harm to themselves or others."
The definition of "absent" will be: "Not at a place where they are expected or required to be."
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) hopes the new policy will cut bureaucracy and stop officers from being seen as 'taxi drivers' sent to collect runaway children who regularly abscond.
Chief Constable Pat Geenty said: "The police are often the first agency to take a missing person report and our aim is to ensure we get the best possible response to those most at risk of harm.
"This means identifying these cases early so that policing resources go where they are most needed. We need to move beyond a one-size-fits-all response".
The new policy will be introduced nationally in April after being piloted in three police forces as part of the joint Home Office and Acpo Reducing Bureaucracy programme.
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