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Eight children go missing from Northern Ireland children's homes every day

By Joanne Fleming

Police investigated nearly 2,700 reports of young people going missing from children's homes in Northern Ireland in the last year, it has emerged.

The shocking total is equivalent to almost eight cases a day and cost the PSNI more than £3m.

The figures also account for almost a quarter of the 12,189 missing persons cases investigated by officers in the 12 months to April 2016.

One in 10 missing person reports analysed by police also mentioned foster care.

It is possible that a child absconded more than once, and therefore accounted for more than one missing person's report. But the staggering total will undoubtedly raise concerns.

The latest figures were revealed in a question submitted to the Policing Board by Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney.

He said the number of children and young people who have gone missing from care in Northern Ireland was alarming.

"Many of these young people are vulnerable and it is concerning that so many have gone missing from care homes," he said.

"I will continue to raise this issue at the Policing Board and with the PSNI to ensure that the safety of children and young people in care is a priority."

In his response, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said police were now working very closely with the Health and Social Care Board to help prevent missing persons incidents at children's homes.

"The annual costs attributed to dealing with missing persons reports linked to children's homes is approximately £3.1m," he said.

"These reports often lead to complex and dynamic investigations diverting police from other core functions, but are about managing risk and keeping the most vulnerable in our society safe.

"We are currently engaged in a programme of joint training with the Health and Social Care Trusts and Social Services.

"A corporate training package has been developed in conjunction with these agencies; the aim of which is to better educate and inform staff about vulnerability issues, particularly in relation to young persons reported missing or those at risk of child sexual exploitation.

"This is due to complete in January 2017.

"The objective being to enable both agencies to provide a more comprehensive service in terms of safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children from risk and harm."

In one example, the Chief Constable referred to Beechcroft, a mental health facility for children and adolescents in Belfast, where there were 174 reports of missing persons.

"We have developed a similar protocol this year with Beechcroft and, since July of this year, reports of children going missing from there have been reduced by more than 50%," he said.

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