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Child exploitation

Push and pull factors: what causes a child to go missing?

Close-up of a young woman, taken from waist-height, as she looks at her phone. Her face is not visible. Overlaid is text that says: "Spot the Signs Poster Hub".

Awareness of Child Exploitation (CE) has risen dramatically in recent years as the scale of the problem was unearthed in areas across the country. The issue has since been covered extensively on the news, in documentaries and TV dramas; but our teams find the early signs of exploitation are often still missed by the adults around a young victim.

For this reason, we have produced a series of posters that shine a light on this issue, and the ways to help a young person. The materials are most relevant for professionals who work with children, but are useful for anybody who wants to know more about Child Exploitation and Missing From Home.

Children go missing for lots of reasons, but a missing incident puts them at an increased risk of encountering significant harm, including Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Criminal Exploitation. When a child comes back, they often need additional support- but we can only find out what they need through talking to them in what’s commonly called a return home interview (RHI).

Return home interviews allow a child to open up about whether they have encountered any harm whilst they have been missing. To allow to the child to speak freely, it’s best for these to be completed independently of Police, Children’s Social Care and Placement Providers. Independent people like Catch22 CSE and Missing Case Workers can conduct the interview and then relay key info to the other parties where appropriate.

Interviewers will explore the following areas with a child, to try to find out what caused them to go missing.

Push factors can include family conflict, parental separation, domestic abuse in the home, neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, parental substance misuse, mental health concerns, or issues with their care placement.

Pull factors can include criminal exploitation (including County Lines), sexual exploitation, negative peer relationships, anti-social behaviour, substance misuse, parties and gatherings, or visiting family away from placement.

What should parents or carers do when the child returns?

  • Stay calm: try not to be angry and shout at them, as this may only make them more distressed.
  • Talk it out: make sure they are ok, check that they are not harmed and try and have a calm conversation with them.
  • Let people know: ensure that you inform the Police if they have returned prior to the Police locating them; notify any other parties that were trying to locate them.