Protocol to protect vulnerable youngsters recommended to all forces
A protocol to safeguard young people in County Durham and Darlington has been so successful that it is now being recommended to forces across the country.
Since it was introduced by Durham Constabulary in January there has been a 36 per cent reduction in missing person cases.
And with each missing episode costing the force at least £2,500, it is also expected that at least £500,000 will be saved by the end of the year.
The Philomena Protocol – named after the patron saint of babies, infants and youths – was the first of its kind in the country after being rolled out by Durham Constabulary.
Building on the success and learning from the Herbert Protocol – an initiative to support adults who are at risk of going missing – the Philomena Protocol is being used in the 48 children’s homes across the force area.
Working alongside partner agencies, it encourages carers, staff, families and friends to compile useful information that could be used in the event of a young person going missing from care.
The force says the streamlined approach protects vulnerable young people while respecting and understanding their need for independence.
Durham Constabulary Inspector Rachel Stockdale and Detective Sergeant Ian Haddick began developing the idea in 2017.
Det Sgt Haddick, who has linked in with all care homes in the area, said they had identified an increase in missing reports from children’s homes across the force area and started working closely with these homes to ensure that young people were being safeguarded.
“Last year, we discussed how we could build on this and identified the Philomena Protocol,” he explained.
“The protocol is for young people who are at risk of going missing and it’s designed so the carer, or whoever has responsibility for that young person, has all the key information at their fingertips to not only ascertain that the young person is missing from home, but also work with the police to locate that young person successfully.
“Part of the problem-solving is involving that young person and as part of the protocol, the carer will ask the young person what can be done to stop them going missing.”
Insp Stockdale added: “Children in care have some real complex issues and are really vulnerable so it’s really important to try to prevent them going missing because every time they do, they could be at risk of harm such as child exploitation, modern day slavery and County Lines.
“When people go missing it’s a really stressful time and it used to be that it was a sole issue for the police.
“There was not that responsibility from the care home to be that safeguard or act as that parent or guardian, so we looked at it in line with the Herbert Protocol to see what we could learn from that. Everybody has a part to play.”
Insp Stockdale said it was not just about saving money or time as these were people they want to support, but it allows any money saved to be put back into the community.
“It’s about future-proofing,” she added. “We ask how can we break that cycle to stop it from occurring and how can we not just empower the staff in the care homes but the young people themselves.
“We’ve had some great feedback from both carers and young people, with one girl saying it was the first time she had felt wanted and loved, when she knew the care home staff were actively looking for her rather than just the police. The feedback from the staff has also been really positive.”
Both MPs and the National Police Chiefs’ Council have recommended the protocol to other forces.
It has also been entered into the Tilley Awards – the national awards scheme that recognises problem-solving projects in police forces.
The team is now identifying fostering agencies across the force area and young people in their own homes who might benefit from it.