Hundreds of at-risk children go missing from care homes and foster placements in South Yorkshire every year, new figures have revealed.
And many of the children under local authority care in the region disappear from their placements repeatedly, often while at risk of grooming and sexual exploitation.
Figures from South Yorkshire Police provided to The Star following a Freedom of Information request show the numbers of children going missing has increased over the past two-and-a-half years.
In 2012-13, 205 looked-after children were reported missing on 808 occasions. That increased in 2013-14 - with 226 young people involved in 946 missing incidents.
The number of missing children has increased again so far this year, with new recording processes introduced by the police that also include ‘absent’ episodes, where a child is not at a place they are expected to be, in its figures.
Between the start of April and the end of September, a total of 763 missing incidents and 483 absent episodes were reported, involving a total of 294 children.
A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said the way information is stored does not break down where missing children who are subject to a care order had been staying. But the information includes children living in local authority care homes, privately run care homes, supported accommodation for those aged 16 and over, or with foster placements.
It comes after South Yorkshire Police revealed it has had 6,753 reports of missing children aged under 18 in the past two-and-a-half years.
The police have said some of the incidents involving children in care relate to young people moved to South Yorkshire from other parts of the country who then try to return home.
The Jay Report into Rotherham’s child sexual exploitation scandal said that, in the cases examined by the inquiry, 63 per cent of abused children had been reported missing more than once.
The inquiry also found that many groomers targeted children in care, with Rotherham having a higher-than-average proportion of missing looked-after children.
Jayne Ludlam, executive director of Children, Young People and Families at Sheffield Council, said: “As recently as April this year, we revised our missing children’s policy in partnership with South Yorkshire Police and other key stakeholders.
“We have a consistent, joined-up and clear approach which means that when children go missing the issue is identified quickly, recorded and responded to appropriately.
“The safety and wellbeing of children and young people, particularly the most vulnerable in our society, is absolutely our number one priority.
“We work with those children to get to the very heart of the problem and try to identify why they go missing in the first place, to give them the support they need.”
A Rotherham Council spokesman said: “Rotherham Council has a very clear protocol in respect of runaway or missing children from care as soon as any child is reported missing. This involves working closely with the police, out-of-hours teams, other services and, when applicable, friends and family of the child.
“Whenever a child goes missing from care it is a concern, no matter what the number. We work with the children and young people in our care to get to the root causes of why they go missing to try and solve the issue at the outset.”