CHILDREN in Oxfordshire went missing more often this year despite safeguards put in place after the Operation Bullfinch child sex grooming case.
Figures from Oxfordshire County Council show it missed its target for reducing the number of children who go missing from home three or more times in a 12-month period.
According to a report to the council’s children and young people’s partnership board, the number of children going missing rose from 630 in 2012/13 to 636 in 2013/14.
This was an increase from 2011/12 when 598 children went missing.
An increasing number have gone missing three or more times – 97 this year compared with 77 the year before. The figure was 85 in 2011/12.
The figures show that between January and March this year, 15 per cent of children who have gone missing from home have done so three or more times over a 12-month period. The council’s target is 12 per cent or less.
Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood’s Childhood Lost campaign, launched in August 2013, resulted in a change in the law which gives police extra powers, including banning suspects from contacting children.
She said: “I will be contacting the county council to discuss their strategy for missing children.”
The mother of one of the victims of the Operation Bullfinch grooming gang spoke of the terror of discovering your child was missing.
Known as Girl 3 in the trial at the Old Bailey, the rape victim went missing repeatedly while she was being abused.
She said: “It is indescribably stressful knowing your child has gone missing and knowing that there doesn’t seem to be anyone in any kind of authority who knows what’s going on.
“The trouble is that the children don’t realise they are in danger themselves, certainly not if they have been groomed.”
The county council’s figures were obtained from Thames Valley Police and relate to people under the age of 18 who were reported missing to police officers by their family or carers. The figures were not broken down into girls and boys.
Colin Peak, NSPCC regional head of service said: “Children who run away place themselves at great risk and it’s important they seek help.”
County council spokesman Owen Morton said the figures “may reflect greater awareness and willingness to report instances to local authorities”, adding: “The monitoring and reporting system that has been developed in Oxfordshire is considered robust and an example of national good practice.”
Thames Valley Police was asked to comment but didn’t respond.
The NSPCC’s free 24-hour ChildLine service is available on 0800 1111 or childline.org.uk
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