Identifying ‘pull’ factors vital in missing children cases

GARDAÍ and social workers should identify “pull” factors in communities which expose or exploit children to sex, drugs or crime, according to strict new guidelines on dealing with missing children.

The new agreement between the force and health chiefs also suggests that when missing children are returned to care after being a victim of crime or exposed to a danger, trace evidence from their fingernails, hair, body, clothes or mobile phone should be crucial for investigating gardaí.

In the guidelines, the HSE notes that children who are “repeatedly absent” are “often enticed away from their placements by activities that they see as exciting or by predatory influences”.

The Joint Protocol on Missing Children was signed off on by Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and HSE chief Brendan Drumm this week.

It comes after gardaí announced that they will use a new American-style “Amber Alert” system when handling missing children’s cases. The protocol will be reviewed after six months.

Signing the agreement at Garda headquarters, the Garda chief said: “I am very conscious of the devastation and stress caused to families and their relatives when a child goes missing.”

Latest figures show gardaí received almost 8,000 missing person reports last year.

The new protocol sets out agreed responses between social workers and local Garda sergeants about reacting to missing persons cases.

The code says it is not helpful to record every child’s absence as a formal missing persons report.

Where there is cause for concern about a missing child, carers are encouraged to follow up leads such as checking any recent web activity carried out by a minor and where possible mobile texts, diaries and letters.

A host of details should be checked by carers, such as the child’s history, any predatory influences on them which may relate to others wanting to involve them in crime, sex, child trafficking or drugs, any medication they are on, as well as their risk of offending.

Carers are obliged to inform parents and social workers almost immediately when necessary.

Once a child is returned into care, Health Service Executive officials are expected to interview the child within 48 hours in order to help prevent any further “missing episodes”.

Reviews of children’s situations are expected when they frequently go missing within a period of 30 days.

These priority meetings should include senior gardaí and social workers.

The meetings should help identify “push” or “pull” factors within communities that may influence the child.

“In the case of ‘pull’ factors, it may be necessary to target those in the community who harbour missing children or exploit them with regard to sex, drugs or the commission of crime,” explains the new agreement.


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