One in eight of the 8,000 children in care across Greater Manchester had a “missing incident” this year, according to government data.
The North West saw the highest number of missing incidents – of all UK regions.
The ages of those missing ranged from newborn to 18 years old – most of whom went missing more than once.
CEO of care leaver charity Become Katharine Sack-Jones described the statistics as “shocking”.
She said: “Worryingly, exploitation can be a factor in children going missing, including gangs recruiting young people into county lines.
“Any child going missing is hugely concerning and a sign that something is not right in their life.”
Published in 2022, the Children Missing from Care Framework suggests children in care are three times more likely to go missing than children living at home with birth parents – although the reasons why are complex.
Children may attempt to leave care due to unhappiness, mental health issues, and child exploitation.
One young person told a report conducted by the charity Missing People: “When you aren’t in a family home it’s not the same, you don’t wanna go back to a care home.
“Young people go missing for a reason, try to understand that.”
The National Picture
With 12% of children in care going missing at least once, the North West has the second highest rate in the UK after London, alongside the East, and South East of England – despite not being the most populous region.
Although the percentage of children going missing from care in the North West is two percentage points lower than in London, the North West had the highest number of total missing incidents in 2023 - with 16,860 - because the North West has more children in care than any other UK region.
Both Yorkshire and the West Midlands have the lowest percentage - with 9% of children in care going missing at least once.
But as Sack-Jones said: "One runaway is too many."
The Local Picture
Across the UK, local authorities are responsible for overseeing care services for children.
To better understand the crisis in care, Mancunian Matters issued Freedom of Information requests to Greater Manchester’s 10 borough councils. Combined with data published by the government, the extent of the care crisis in the area was revealed.
As the same children often go missing from care multiple times each year, and each borough has a different total number of children in care, percentages are the best way to visualise and compare this data. It must also be noted that each council uses different reporting practices when providing statistics to the government. The impact of this has been mitigated by combining government data as well as Freedom of Information requests from each of the 10 councils.
In 2023, the percentage of children who had a missing incident in Tameside was higher than all other Manchester boroughs at 16%.
A Tameside Council spokesperson said: “We take incidents of missing children very seriously and work closely with partner organisations to ensure the safe and swift return of some of our most vulnerable young people.
“The 16% of children who had a missing incident in Tameside in 2023 does not distinguish between missing children and children who are away without authorisation but where we know their location. It also includes children placed in Tameside by other authorities.
"In addition, it is not recommended that the figures are used to compare authorities due to different reporting practices.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Trafford saw one in 10 of their cared-for children go missing - the lowest of all of Manchester’s boroughs.
The average child who went missing in Manchester's worst-performing borough Tameside would repeat this behaviour 10.7 times on average.
But in Oldham, the average number of missing incidents per child who had already gone missing was 12.5.
It seems as though the highest percentage of children in care go missing from Tameside, but children who went missing from Oldham would continue to do so more times on average.
The Freedom of Information requests also revealed what age children in care were most likely to go missing in each borough.
Across all of Manchester's boroughs, most runaways were between the ages of 15 and 17.
Eighteen-year-olds were far less likely to go missing than 17-year-olds - perhaps as this age is the time many are allowed to leave the care system and live independently.
In Bolton, the most common age to go missing from care was 17 - although a newborn, one-year-old, and five-year-old were recorded as missing in 2023, according to the Freedom of Information request.
In Manchester, it was reported that seven children under the age of 10 went missing from care in 2023.
Throughout 2023, one in four of those missing from Oldham were under 14 years of age.
Time for change?
Overall, there were 8,535 "missing incidents" among children in care across Greater Manchester in 2023 - a higher figure than the number of children in care (8,100).
The average child in care who goes missing from across Greater Manchester will go missing seven times.
Sack-Jones added: “The care system is a place where children who’ve experienced significant trauma should have the love, support, and stability to heal and thrive, but they are being let down by a care system in crisis.
“We urgently need to see ambitious action and investment from government so every child in care gets the support they need when they need it.”
Featured image: Fernando via Unsplash