Children missing from Devon and Cornwall care 356 times

Boy sat on a bench Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The NSPCC said missing children were at risk of grooming and sexual exploitation

Children went missing from council care in south-west England more than 350 times in the past five years, official figures have revealed.

One child aged six was missing for four days, while a teenager disappeared for 529 days, freedom of information requests have shown.

The NSPCC said the figures were "hugely concerning" as missing children are at risk of sexual exploitation.

Councils said they worked with agencies to protect and find them.

The data shows many of the children - who were mostly teenagers - went missing on multiple occasions.

Headline figures

  • There were almost 150 instances of children disappearing from Plymouth City Council care during the five-year period
  • A six, eight and nine-year-old disappeared from Torbay Council care for four days each in 2013
  • A 16-year-old went missing from Plymouth City Council care in 2013 and was gone for 529 days
  • Of the 135 instances a child was missing from Devon County Council care, four lasted between 35 and 50 days and one was away for 64 days

Source: Freedom of information requests

Image copyright BrianAJackson/Thinkstock
Image caption A six, eight and nine-year-old disappeared from Torbay Council care for four days each in 2013

Tom Rahilly, from the NSPCC, said: "Children go missing for many reasons - they're being bullied, they've been put in a home miles from their family and they miss them and their friends, or they just don't trust staff enough to tell them where they are.

"Many will have been abused before being placed in care and they need a lot of attention and protection."

Devon County Council Cornwall Council Torbay Council Plymouth City Council
Number of missing episodes 135 At least 43 29 149
Number of missing children 61 43 13 75
Total number of children in care between 2010 and 2014 2,197 during the five-year period Between 667 and 746 each year Between 121 and 208 each year Between 383 and 567 each year
Source: Freedom of information responses

In Torbay a 15-year-old disappeared on 11 separate occasions last year.

Torbay Council said it could not comment on individual cases but care plans were reviewed to ensure children and placements were matched correctly.

Plymouth City Council said: "In the case of a 16-year-old who was missing for 529 days, this refers to a young person from another country who did not want to remain in our care.

"We worked with police and other agencies to ensure that we followed all the necessary safeguarding procedures."

The council added it had a "thorough training programme" for foster carers and specialist support for those children affected.

Devon County Council said: "The number of children that have gone missing while in our care is very small, less than 3%, but any is too many."

It added that all children's social workers were undergoing new training to help them better support vulnerable young people.

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