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2.1.1 Children who are at risk of being abducted or removed or are missing

Last Modified: 16-Oct-2018 Review Date: 01-Sep-2021

Purpose

To guide child protection workers to respond to situations where a child in the CEO’s care has been, or is at risk of being, abducted or removed without permission by a parent, relative or other person(s) or who goes missing from a placement arrangement.

Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department for Communities (the Department).

Practice Requirements

  • If a child in the CEO’s care is at risk of being abducted or removed without permission by a parent, relative or other persons, safeguards must be implemented to minimise the potential risk as part of the child’s safety plan and an alert recorded in Assist.
  • If significant risks exist, any contact between the child and the person of concern must be supervised, and the contact supervisor must be fully briefed of the risk and how to respond if the child were to be removed unlawfully during the visit.
  • Any information that might reveal the location of the child’s placement, school or other services they attend (such as day care) must be kept confidential, and identifying information must not be provided to the person of concern (note: the child’s care plan must not include such identifying information).
  • Any services the child attends on a regular basis (for example, school or childcare centre) must be advised of the potential risk.
  • Child protection workers (CPWs) must discuss with the child (where age and capacity permits) the importance of keeping his or her placement details confidential.
  • If a child in the CEO’s care is abducted or removed without permission by a parent, relative or other person, every effort must be made by CPWs to locate the child. An alert must be placed in Assist and the Western Australia Police (WA Police) notified (131 444). For recording of alerts, refer to Chapter 4.1: Case alerts and the Assist User Guide - Adding, Extending and Completing an Alert (in related resources).
  • If a relative or other person has removed a child, the child's parents must be informed.
  • If a child in the CEO's care is removed unlawfully, CPWs must provide support to the child’s carer(s).
  • If a child in the CEO’s care goes missing from their placement, the carer (Department or non-government agency) and the CPW must make every effort to locate the child.
  • If the child cannot be located, the carer and/or CPW must make a ‘missing persons report’ to the local police office. A report must be made immediately if there are circumstances of high risk (refer to procedures below). In all circumstances, CPWs must check that a report has been made to the WA Police once the carer has advised that the child is missing.
  • Once advised that the child is missing, the CPW must place an alert in Assist and, where appropriate, inform the child’s parent(s)
  • If a child goes missing from a Department residential group home or secure care, staff must follow the procedures set out in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) CPFS and WAPOL Processes When a Child in the CEO's Care Absconds from a CPFS Residential Care Facility or Secure Care (in related resources).
Process Maps

Flowchart - Summary of Actions - CPFS

Procedures

  • Child is assessed as being at risk of abduction or removal from the CEO's care without permission
  • If a child in the CEO's care is abducted or removed without permission
  • Informing the child’s carer(s) and/or parent(s)
  • Recording the alert in Assist
  • A child in the CEO's care goes missing
  • High risk cases
  • Where a child is missing from a Department residential group home or secure care
  • Seeking assistance from the public to locate a missing child
  • When the child is located
  • Child is assessed as being at risk of abduction or removal from the CEO's care without permission

    Where the Signs of Safety assessment identifies that a child may be at risk of abduction or removal by a parent, relative or other person, the child protection worker must consult with the team leader and develop a safety plan to minimise the risk. With the approval of the team leader, an alert must be recorded in Assist (refer to Assist User Guides - Adding, Extending and Completing an Alert in related resources).

    A safety planning meeting should be arranged with the parents and other significant persons to discuss and agree on the safety plan. The safety plan must include details of the safety network, danger statement, safety goals, rules of the safety plan, and consequences if the rules are broken. All parties must be aware of what needs to happen should situations change.

    The child’s family must be informed at the meeting of our statutory role and authority if this has not already been explained at an earlier Signs of Safety meeting.

    Child protection workers must:

    • explain to the family and significant others that while the child is in the CEO's care, it is against the law to remove them without permission
    • notify the child’s school and other relevant services of the potential risk
    • discuss with the child the importance of keeping their placement and school details confidential (where age and capacity permits), and 
    • remove identifying information from any material provided to the person who is of concern, such as the care plan. Identifying information includes:
      • where the child resides, and 
      • the name of the child’s school, agencies or services he or she attends (including child care and medical services).
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    If a child in the CEO's care is abducted or removed without permission

    If a child in the CEO’s care is abducted or removed without permission, the CPW must advise the team leader and district director of the situation, and make every effort to locate the child and return him or her to their placement, if it is safe and practicable.

    When the child’s whereabouts may be known but there are serious safety concerns for the child and/or the child protection worker, the WA Police must be involved in the process of locating and returning the child to their placement.

    If the child cannot be located, an alert must be placed in Assist (with the approval of the team leader) and the WA Police notified that the child has been taken unlawfully (telephone 131 444). The police will need specific information about the circumstances of the child’s abduction or unlawful removal from the CEO's care, and any high risk factors. These include:

    • the child is sick, injured or on medication
    • the child is young or otherwise particularly vulnerable
    • it is suspected that the child may be forcibly removed to another state or overseas
    • the person who took the child has significant history of causing harm to the child or other children
    • the person has stated intent to harm the child
    • the person is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, or 
    • the person is highly distressed.  

    Section 84 of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (the Act) enables an authorised officer to require the handover of a child from a carer, parent or any other person who has the care or control of a child who is the subject of a placement arrangement. Non-compliance with such a requirement carries a penalty of $12,000 or imprisonment for one year.

    Section 87 of the Act enables an authorised officer or a police officer to apprehend a child without warrant if a person (including a carer) has failed to comply with the requirement under S.84 of the Act and there are reasonable grounds to suspect an immediate or substantial risk to the wellbeing of the child.​

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    Informing the child’s carer(s) and/or parent(s)

    If a child has been removed or abducted from the CEO's care, the carers must be provided with support as required. If the carer is not aware of the situation, they must be advised as soon as practicable.

    If the child has been removed or abducted by someone other than the child’s parents, or by one of the parents, the child protection worker must inform them (or the relevant parent) as soon as practicable and advise of the actions being taken to locate the child.

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    Recording the alert in Assist

    Child protection workers must enter an alert in Assist (from the child's 360 degree view) where:

    • there is a risk that the child may be abducted or removed from the CEO's care without permission, and/or
    • the child has been abducted or removed from the CEO's care unlawfully.

    Before placing an alert in Assist, CPWs must discuss the information to be recorded and gain approval from their team leader.

    Note: If it is suspected that the child may be taken interstate, an Interstate Broadcast Alert should be requested through the Interstate Liaison Officer:  WAInterstateLiaison@communities.wa.gov.au.

    For information on alerts and recording, refer to Chapter 4.2: Case alerts and Assist User Guides: Adding, Extending and Completing an Alert.

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    A child in the CEO's care goes missing

    If a child is missing from their care arrangement, the carer (Department or non-government agency) must:

    • conduct an initial search for the child
    • if the child cannot be located, report the child missing to the WA Police by filing a missing persons report at the local police station. If carers need assistance they should contact their district office or the Crisis Care Unit (CCU) if after hours.
    • contact the district office and inform the relevant child protection worker of the child's absence. If the CPW is not available, inform the duty officer or if it is after hours, inform the CCU on 9223 1111 or 1800 199 008 (country free call).

    It is important that the carer provide the police with the following information (the CPW will also need to provide any additional relevant information to enable the police to have as much information as possible):

    • physical description of the child including distinguishable features
    • a recent photograph of the child (if available)
    • where and when the child was last seen or heard from
    • places he/she may visit
    • list of any medical problems or medications the child may need, and
    • names and contacts of friends associated with the child.

    The police may speak with the carer and/or CPW about what happened prior to the child going missing and check what the child may be wearing.

    When we are advised that a child is missing, CPWs must:

    • check that a missing persons report has been made to the WA Police
    • advise the child’s parents where appropriate, enter an alert in Assist and record the movement to a placement type 'Unknown', and
    • liaise with police as required.
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    High risk cases

    In circumstances of high risk, the carer (Department or non-government agency) and CPW must lodge a missing persons report with the WA Police immediately.

    High risk factors include where the child:

    • may be, or is, suicidal or has a history of recent self-harming behaviour
    • is highly distressed and/or has mental health issues  
    • may be affected by alcohol and/or other drugs
    • is sick, injured or on medication
    • has stated intent to harm others
    • has stated the intent to commit a crime, cause damage or arson
    • is known to be in the company of someone of concern – for example, the person has a history of serious offending or inappropriate relationship with the child, or
    • is young or otherwise particularly vulnerable.
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    Where a child is missing from a Department residential group home or secure care

    The WA Police andthe Department have a MOU CPFS and WAPOL Processes When A Child in the Care of the CEO Absconds From a CPFS Residential Care Facility or Secure Care. This MOU forms the basis for the response, including responsibilities and procedures to be undertaken by each agency when a child is missing from a Department residential group home or secure care.  The MOU provides a flowchart (Flowchart - Summary of Actions – CPFS in related resources), summarising the actions residential care or secure care workers must adhere to, and a template of the form At Risk Person Assessment CPFS - Absconder Report (in related resources).

    Residential group home and secure care staff must follow the procedures set out in the MOU (in related resources).

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    Seeking assistance from the public to locate a missing child

    The CPW, in consultation with the team leader and district director may wish to seek assistance from the public to locate the missing child. During after hours or weekends, staff from CCU will do so on behalf of the district. Where it is deemed appropriate to seek assistance from the public to locate the missing child, this must be approved  by the Executive Director State-wide and South East or Executive Director State-wide and South West and the Director General, as a media statement will identify the child as being in the CEO's care. 

    Following approval (or concurrently), the district director must provide as much information about the child as possible to the Director Corporate Communications for a media statement to be prepared. This will include information about:

    • the child's name and age
    • when he or she was last seen
    • what the child was wearing, and
    • a physical description and a photograph (if possible).
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    When the child is located

    When the child is found and returned to their placement, the carer must check if the child requires immediate medical attention. If the WA Police are not aware of the child’s return, the carer must notify them as soon as possible. The carer must also notify the CPW or duty officer (or the CCU if after hours) if we are not aware that the child has been located and returned.  

    Child protection workers must:

    • determine whether the child has suffered any injury or harm and take any immediate action to address the needs of the child
    • notify the child’s parents (if appropriate) or significant others of the child’s return
    • if no safety concerns exist, debrief the child about his/her absence (this may be on the next working day)
    • remove the alert in Assist and update the placement type, and 
    • place all records in the Objective case file.
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