A CHILD aged as young as eight is among those to have gone missing from council care in recent years, data obtained by The Northern Echo reveals.

From 2015 to 2019, children aged 11, nine, eight, 11 and ten, respectively, were the youngest to go missing in Darlington Borough Council care – all for less than 24 hours.

However, due to safety protocols, children may be reported missing after not returning from an activity at an agreed time, not because they have ran away, skewing statistics.

In 2017, a 17-year-old went missing for two weeks; the longest episode during the five-year time frame.

In comparison, the longest a child, who was 15, went missing the following year was five days.

Both of these teens went missing from Darlington, and a child is defined as aged 18 or under.

The council saw a “pleasing” drop in different children reported missing between 2018 and 2019, which went from 37, out a total of 249 children in care, to 27, out of 280. A reduction was also seen in the number of missing episodes, which went from 200 to 138.

This may be reflective of ​The Philomena Protocol, a project launched by Durham Constabulary in 2018 whereby carers, staff, families and friends are encouraged to compile information to be used in the event of a missing child.

Cross-organisation information sharing is in line with government guidelines on dealing with missing children.

The scheme followed a year (2017) when, as well as having the youngest child of the five years go missing and the longest episode, saw the largest number of episodes at 323. This is the result of 36 different looked after children, out of 222.

While total numbers of children in care were similar to 2016, which was 211, as well as the different children reported missing, at 37, episodes spiked from 178.

Darlington Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, Jon Clarke, said: “Every child is precious and deserves to be properly cared for. We work hard to ensure all children who are looked after by the local authority feel safe and are properly safeguarded.

“It is pleasing to see a downward trend in the data. It is an area where the statistics do not necessarily tell the full story.

"For example, not every case that is recorded as an episode of a child going missing is one where they have ‘run away’. Sometimes, they have simply not returned from an activity at the agreed time, but because of our safeguarding procedures they are recorded as having ‘gone missing’ for a short time.

“I would like to reassure the people of Darlington that genuine examples of children in care choosing to run away are rare.

“When this does happen, we have robust systems in place to try to minimise this and to understand, when it does, the reasons for it. We work closely with the police and other agencies to respond swiftly when a child or young person in our care does go missing.

“During this time of great uncertainty, I would like to take the opportunity to speak directly to all our looked after children and young people and urge them to do the right thing. I know it will be so tempting to arrange to see friends, but it is so, so important that you continue to resist. Your responsible actions could make a world of difference. Thank you to everyone who has been following the guidelines, please keep up the good work. Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.”