New research shows youth in out-of-home care highest risk of going missing

Young people living in out-of-home care are at the highest risk of going missing, being exposed to harm, exploitation and crime, according to new research commissioned by the Australian Federal Police.

AFP National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC) Coordinator Jodie McEwan said the report – titled ‘Children and Youth Reported Missing from Out-of-home Care in Australia’ – was prepared to help police better understand why children go missing in Australia, and how those at risk can be protected.

“While police stand ready to respond to missing persons reports and bring these young people home, we want to take preventative steps to support these vulnerable children before harm comes to them.

“Examining more than 3000 reports of missing children across a 30-day period in 2019 has revealed a number of ‘push and pull’ factors that drive young people, particularly those in out-of-home care, to go missing,” Ms McEwan said.

“Worryingly, the research shows that, while young people aged 13 to 17 in out-of-home care make up less than 1 per cent of the youth population in Australia, they make up more than 70 per cent of missing youth reports. Of these, females and indigenous youth were identified as being most at risk.

“This is due a range of factors, such as the desire to reconnect with important aspects of their life outside of the out-of-home care, a lack of support services, unhappiness with their placement, or to escape an unsafe or unsatisfactory environment.

The findings also demonstrate the heightened vulnerable status of young people in out-of-home care, and the need for greater preventative action.

The research found that some young people had been exposed to harm while missing, with children returning home drug-affected, exhibiting mental health issues or with unexplained physical injuries.

It also identified cases of under-age girls being returned to care homes by unknown adult men, and associating with older youths known to police.

“This research provides State and Territory police with an opportunity to inform social service agencies, government departments and NGOs in seeking whole-of-sector solutions to support our young people, particular those in out-of-home care, and help reduce the demand on police resources in the process.”

The report in numbers:

  • There are about 44,900 people under 18 years of age living in out-of-home care in Australia, which equates to under one percent of all young people.
  • Young people in out-of-home care made up 53 per cent of all young people reported missing and were responsible for 77 per cent of missing episodes.
  • Almost 40 per cent of children reported missing were just 12 years of age.
  • More than half of the youth reported missing were female.
  • Indigenous children comprised over a quarter of missing children, and 18 per cent of missing youth.
  • 2 per cent of youth missing from out-of-home care were Indigenous, compared to nine per cent of missing youth not in care.
  • Almost 60 per cent of all missing youth went missing more than once.
  • Youth in out-of-home care comprised 54 per cent of all missing individuals, but 70.5 per cent of all repeat missing youth.
  • Nationally, 77 per cent of youth missing from out-of-home care went missing on more than one occasion.

You can read the report on our website.

The report was written by Dr Kath McFarlane, Director of Kath McFarlane Consulting Pty Ltd and Adjunct Associate Professor, The Kirby Institute, UNSW Medicine, University of New South Wales, under the auspices of the Community Restorative Centre Limited.

Interviews are available on request with the AFP NMPCC Coordinator Jodie McEwan and researcher Dr Kath McFarlane.

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