More than 1,500 reports of children going missing from care over last five years
There were more than 1,500 reports of children going missing from care over the last five years, new figures have revealed.
Young people disappeared on a regular basis across the region, raising fears they could be a risk of being exploited by drug gangs or paedophiles.
Most were found quickly but 23 children went missing for more than a year and a child from Wolverhampton went missing for 851 days. At least three children have never been found. Eight babies also went missing.
Wolverhampton Council admitted a child ran away from 2016 and was never found. It is though the child may have been Vietnamese and gone to live with that community in Birmingham. Staffordshire County Council said five "unaccompanied asylum seeking children" went missing shortly after their arrival and have never been found.
Children went missing 45 times in Shropshire, 313 in Dudley, 195 in Sandwell, 193 in Wolverhampton, 269 in Walsall and 556 in Staffordshire. Some children may have gone missing more than once.
Five of the babies were from Staffordshire, three from Walsall and one from Sandwell.
It comes amid concerns that children in care are being drawn into a life of crime or abused in the wake of scandals in towns such as Telford.
The figures show authorities lost track of a total of 1,571 children in care over the last five years.
Nick Machnik-Foster, from the Wolverhampton Lib Dems, said: “Every time a vulnerable child goes missing they are in danger and I am extremely concerned by these statistics. I fear that some of these children could have been groomed or exploited by drug gangs.
“If your child was missing, you’d move heaven and Earth to find them and then ask why and what could be done differently. These are our children and they should expect that same response.
“Strong relationships and information-sharing between children’s service and the police are necessary to help safeguard vulnerable children, and ensure we see fewer going missing from care.”
A Wolverhampton Council spokesman said: “We have well established procedures which we employ as soon as we become aware that a child is missing. We notify police immediately, who then check known addresses and locations which the child may frequent.”
A Sandwell Children’s Trust spokesman said: “Sadly both in Sandwell and nationally there has been an increase in the number of children in care so inevitably this is a contributing factor to the increase in the number of missing episodes.
“Numbers have also increased as we now have a much better reporting system.”
Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley said: “Unfortunately we do see a number of cases each year where children go missing but we work swiftly with key partners to make sure they are found and returned to safety. At this point we carry out an urgent review to look at what support we can offer the young person to prevent a similar incident in the future.”
Mark Sutton, cabinet member for children at Staffordshire County Council said: “We have comprehensive systems in place with our police colleagues to record and track all missing children in Staffordshire, and this includes children placed here by other local authorities. The numbers of missing children reported includes those children in care placed in Staffordshire.”