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Families to share their MISPER experience with police specialists

Project to be part of research funded by the Home Office with data from all forces

The NPCC and the Missing People charity are to set up workshops involving Black families with lived experience of reporting their loves ones missing to share their perceptions of how their cases were handled with strategic police leaders.

The workshops are part of the Police Race Action Plan and will help inform police MIPSER training alongside academic research into the issue.

DCC Catherine Hankinson told a national police missing persons conference in West Yorkshire last week that these conversations were difficult to have but were important for police forces to listen to and improve their response.

“We know there are individuals and families from the Black community who have reported loved ones missing to the police and have felt that the response that they have received has been discriminatory,” DCC Hankinson told the conference.

She added there are a number of high profile cases that have highlighted these issues. The Missing People charity works closely with individual forces and the NPCC and are helping to set up the workshops.

“We have got to understand what the perceptions of those families are so we can think about how we can do things better in the future,” she added.

A recent report from London’s Police and Crime Committee into missing children and the police response showed that in every financial year since 2016-17, Black children have consistently accounted for the highest number of missing incidents compared to other ethnic groups.

DCC Hankinon has also commissioned some research from Goldsmiths University and the University of Portsmouth to look at disproportionality and discrimination in MISPER cases. This will take in data from all UK forces and will be funded by the Home Office.

Once the findings from the research and the workshops are completed that will be fed into APP training.

West Yorkshire Police has begun to pilot a new framework to deal with missing young people in its area in order to improve the response and reduce unnecessary police interventions.  

The new framework looks at the premature or unnecessary reporting of children in care as missing, which can lead to avoidable police contact or potential criminalisation of those children.

DCC Hankinson who is national police lead on missing persons said: “Over-reporting can damage that child’s relationship with their carer and ultimately do the exact opposite of what we don’t want to happen which is to push children into the hands of exploiters who they perceive as caring more about them. That is a very difficult balance and I understand that.”

She told the conference that “curfews are not binary” and young people are at risk five minutes before 9pm as much as they are after that time if they haven’t returned. Similarly vulnerable young people do not suddenly become mature adults when they turn 18.

“The magic age of 18 is not a point where they wake up as adults and change their behaviours,” she said. “The fact that the provision of services changes for young people when they hit 18 means that quite a lot of our vulnerable young people are left less supported.”

One of the important things that has been added into the framework is escalation processes for missing young people.

Carers have said there is no genuine recognised route of escalation if there is a discrepancy or disagreement about how police are dealing with a young person. Similarly police forces can be unhappy about how a care home is dealing with childen who are reported missing. Part of the framework is a really clear right to escalate as the incident is happening or afterwards if issues are raised subsequently on either side.

“If a carer of somebody from children’s services feels that the duty inspector isn’t getting that decision right and if they strongly disagree about how it’s being risk assessed there is a point at which they can escalate that as the incident is unfolding,” DCC Hankinson said.

The process of escalation will go through a chief inspector or superintendent who is on duty for that district or area.

There is also a partnership escalation process in which the police can address issues with care homes where they feel they are not properly recognising the risk or managing the children in their care well.

“They also have the ability to come to us if they feel we are consistently making unhelpful decisions about risk,” DCC Hankinson added.

Some of the partners to the framework including the Children’s Home Association and Keys Group have adopted the framework across their homes not just the ones in West Yorkshire.

The pilot will be evaluated by academics. DCC Hankinson says this is crucial as “we need to be clear there are no unintended consequences as a result of this intervention model.”

She added: “The message is absolutely not don’t ring the police when young people go missing. Choice and the difficult decisions people have to make is around when is that police intervention appropriate and in the best interests of that young person.”

If the pilot goes well DCC Hankinson hopes it will gain the support of the Home Office and Department for Education.

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