Parents not reporting missing children due to low trust in police, report warns

Posted: 2nd May 2023

Low trust and confidence in the Police means some parents may be reluctant to report their children missing, the force has been told.

Just weeks after Baroness Casey’s damning review – which found institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia at Scotland Yard – warned that the Met was “still not gripping child protection”, a new City Hall report highlights fears that these failings are hampering the search for missing children.

Following an investigation into the causes and handling of missing child cases, London Assembly’s police and crime committee found that distrust of the police could be forcing parents to search for their children themselves instead of asking the Met.

Furthermore, the committee found that families “face frustrating delays and inaccurate information when reporting missing incidents to the Met”, whose “inconsistent” and “fractious” response across different parts of the capital can “hinder” the search for highly vulnerable children.

While some 9,370 children went missing in London in 2022-23, many did so more than once – resulting in nearly 30,000 separate incidents beings recorded by the Met, the report found.

But charity Missing People told the committee that the true number is likely much higher, claiming that up two thirds of missing incidents are not reported to the police.

“For many people within London, the fact that parts of the Met have issues around misogyny and racism will impact on a community’s engagement with the police at all sorts of times,” Sherry Peck, chief executive of youth organisation Safer London, is quoted as saying.

YouGov polling last week found that 51 per cent of all Londoners surveyed said they did not trust the police – compared with 42 per cent who did. Distrust rose slightly to 55 per cent among minority ethnic Londoners, while trust fell to 38 per cent.

In written evidence, the charity Catch22 said that, anecdotally, communities lacking confidence in police “are more likely to involve relatives and friends in the search for a missing child, especially if they have concerns that their child will get into trouble”.

One peer outreach worker pointed to a “recurring cycle” of people “not trusting the police, and police not showing that they can be trusted”. They advised that Scotland Yard remedy this by ensuring “every case has that equal reaction and is dealt with dignity and care and respect”.

Another outreach worker said of parents who do not trust, or feel trusted by, police: “If a child goes missing, how quickly are the parents likely to report them to the police, which then has a direct impact on the likelihood that the child is able to be found.”

The committee itself expressed concern that not all missing children receive “an effective and proportionate police response” – as it warned that “all children who go missing are highly vulnerable to exploitation”, with some exposed to “the most appalling harms”.

While missing children exploited into criminal activity “should be seen first and foremost as victims, and everything should be done” to avoid criminalising them, evidence “suggests this is not always happening in practice”, the report states.

It also highlighted concerns that, when a child returns home, opportunities to understand what happened and prevent future disappearances “are often missed”, and that there is “little understanding of what drives the overrepresentation of Black children in missing-child figures”.

Despite making up just 17 per cent of London’s child population, Black children accounted for 43 per cent of missing incidents in 2022-23, according to the report.

The Met’s Public Protection Commander, Kevin Southworth, said the investigation of missing children “is treated with the utmost seriousness”, adding that Scotland Yard has teams in every local policing area dedicated to locating missing people.

He “weclomed” the committee’s report and said it will help to inform the force’s “vital work” in “actively developing our approach to missing persons” as part of new Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley’s “turnaround plan”.

“The safety and wellbeing of children from all London’s communities remains an absolute priority for the Met,” Mr Southwork said, adding: “Investigating missing person reports is a complex area of policing and we recognise the distress such incidents cause the family and friends of the person involved.

“When a child or young person goes missing it is clear that we, alongside key partners must recognise risk and vulnerability and prioritise our response consistently and accurately. Parents and carers must have trust and confidence in the Met to locate and safeguard our young people, and the onus is on us as a police service to earn that trust.

“We recognise all of the issues raised in this report and will continue to work with the Mayor and [Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime] to address the recommendations; all of which are informed by valued partners.”

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Source: MSN

Categories: News