Disappearances of vulnerable children cared for by the council have increased more than tenfold in Southwark in just four years, according to new figures obtained by Liberal Democrat councillors.

In 2009/10, there were 14 incidents of young people in care going missing for more than 24 hours in the borough, involving 9 different children. Last year the figure had rocketed to a total of 168 disappearances by 36 separate children.

The figures were obtained in an answer to a Council Assembly question (22 January) by Liberal Democrat councillors. In response, the council’s Cabinet member for Children’s Services said the issue of missing children from care is of "concern" to the council as "there is a possibility that they could be at risk of harm or danger".

In 2012, a cross-party Parliamentary inquiry looked into the problem of children missing from care across the country, concluding that many of those disappearing were being exploited or abused. It reported that the current system "is far from fit for purpose and needs an urgent rethink".

The council says there has been an improvement in the way missing incidents are recorded, and they are normally returned within 48 hours.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat councillor Catherine Bowman, who sits on Southwark Council’s Corporate Parenting Committee, said:

"It is deeply worrying that so many children are going missing from care. There is a lot of evidence that many disappearing children are abused or exploited, often after being groomed by adults targeting vulnerable young people."

"This is clearly a complex problem, but the fact that young people in care are going missing so regularly is utterly unacceptable. The council needs to get a grip on it without delay.

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