Kids under Lewisham Council's care went missing 180 times in 2022

Lewisham Council's headquarters in Catford
Lewisham Council's headquarters in Catford

Kids in the care of a South London Council went missing for a day or more 180 times last year.

At least one child in Lewisham Council’s care disappeared up to eight times in 2022.

Cllr Chris Barnham, Lewisham’s cabinet member for children’s services revealed the information in a written response to a question from a member of the public.

A total of 27 kids looked after by the council went missing for 24 hours or longer last year,  Cllr Barnham said.

Out of these children, 13 were being cared for in the borough, while 14 were being looked after outside of Lewisham.

Kids in placements outside of the South London borough vanished for a day or more 107 times.

All but five of these incidents involved older children aged between 13 and 17.

Children placed in Lewisham disappeared for 24 hours or longer on 73 occasions last year. Out of these kids, 58 per cent were aged between 16 and 17, but the rest were younger.

Lewisham Council said it had tightened up how it dealt with children who go missing as part of its improvement efforts.

Ofsted told Lewisham that its children’s social care service needed to improve following an inspection in 2019.

A follow-up visit in 2021 found that council bosses had “improved and strengthened services for children in care.”

In a written response to a separate question, Cllr Chris Barnham revealed three kids aged under 16 were being looked after in homes not monitored by Ofsted – the children’s social care watchdog.

The government banned councils from putting under 16s in unregulated homes in 2021.

But Cllr Chris Barnham told a Lewisham Council meeting on January 18 that in practice the council sometimes had “no alternative” but to put kids in accommodation not monitored by Ofsted.

Referring to the case of one of the three children placed in an unregulated home by the council, Cllr Barnham said: “A boy of 15 who’s been through repeated placements, including two very high need therapeutic placements.

"They’ve repeatedly broken down because of severe mental health issues and because of violence and aggression.

"This is a young person who is a danger to himself and others.

“No other placement will take him.

"We cannot find a place for that young person. So what we’ve done is we’ve worked with a specialist independent provider to develop a bespoke placement just for that one boy, with a high level of staffing, constant monitoring and visiting.”

He added: “That’s obviously unregulated because we’ve just created it and even the fast-track to Ofsted registration takes eight months.

"There is no alternative to us but to put that child in an unregulated placement.”

A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “We take incidents of children going missing from their family homes and from care very seriously.

"We have a dedicated team for children and young people who go missing that works closely with our partners, particularly the police, to respond to incidents.

“When a child goes missing from home or care our team and social workers are notified and we review the circumstances and make plans for locating and securing the safety of the child.

"This may involve a child protection strategy meeting with police, health and education agencies.

“When the child is located our team makes contact within 72 hours to conduct an interview. We then try to take steps to reduce the risk that the child will go missing again.

"The intelligence gathered from these interviews is collated to identify patterns and themes and this helps us strategically plan what we can do to help reduce child exploitation in the community.

“We also work closely with foster carers and children’s home providers to put in place strategies to try and prevent children going missing in the first place and have updated all our policies and procedures for dealing with incidents of missing children to improve their effectiveness.”