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Monday, 22 December 2014

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More than 300 children go missing every year in Cumbria

More than 300 children are being reported missing every year in Cumbria.

Catalina Covaci photo
Catalina Covaci and Ricardo

A News & Star investigation has shown boys and girls are running away from home at the rate of almost one child a day.

Police say reports are always treated seriously and stress most children turn up safe within 48 hours.

The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, are revealed as the search continues for a 15-year-old girl who went missing from Penrith with her baby son in December.

Officers have appealed for the help of the public as they look for Catalina Covaci and her seven-month-old son Ricardo.

Police figures show 308 children aged under 16 were reported missing last year. The year before there were 329 and in 2010 there were 384.

Among the statistics are children who go missing more than once in a year, meaning the number of inquiries launched are higher.

Detective Sergeant Peter Goulston said work was carried out to highlight those at risk of going missing and efforts were made involving other public agencies to stop them disappearing again.

“Children will always be treated as a priority,” he said. “They would always be categorised as high risk.

“They are usually found quickly. It would be fairly exceptional for them to be missing for more than 48 hours.”

The responsibility among police to find the child lies at first with uniformed patrols. But if there is a suspicion the child is a victim of crime or abuse the case would be quickly referred to detectives in CID.

The cases are reviewed regularly and force systems will automatically flag up if they have gone missing before.

DS Goulston added: “If they are going missing frequently there will be some underlying issues – and because children who are in care very usually come from a fairly traumatic background they tend to be children that will feature in missing persons inquiries.

“But they are not exclusively children from care. It could be a child who has some issue at home and has chosen to run off rather than address it.

“Just because they go missing they are not bad children. It’s often part of a bigger picture.”

Details are circulated nationally on the police computer.

Other agencies, such as children’s services and care providers can be involved, as well as emergency teams such as the coastguard or mountain rescue squads.

DS Goulston said it was important officers worked with various types of organisations to help get to the bottom of any problems.

“It’s better to stop them going missing,” he added. “What we do need to do and is being done is trying to work with the other agencies to reduce the incidents.”

The NSPCC said common reasons for running away included abuse, because children are unhappy in their care placement, bereavement, drug or alcohol problems, pregnancy, trouble with parents and problems at school.

“Young people are most likely to run away between the ages of 13 and 15 and girls run away more often than boys,” said a spokeswoman.

“The majority of children who run away from home are found safe and well and are returned to their parents.

“However, running away can put some children at great risk of physical harm or sexual exploitation.

“In order to survive they may end up sleeping rough or staying with strangers, or they may have to resort to begging or stealing.”

Catalina Covaci and her son have not been seen since leaving home on December 19.

Catalina, who is originally from Romania but has lived in Cumbria for 18 months, was spotted on CCTV with her son at Penrith train station that morning, then again at Manchester Piccadilly station on the same day.

Officers have said they have “grave concerns” for them.

The NSPCC says it is important to encourage people to seek help who have, or are considering, running away.

They may benefit from talking things through with a ChildLine adviser (by calling 0800 1111 or chatting online).

“If you are a parent and you’re worried that your child may be thinking of running away, talk to your child about what is troubling them, or encourage them to talk to someone else,” added the spokeswoman. “Listen to what they stay, remain calm and be understanding.”

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