Procedure for when a child leaves the group unaccompanied


This should never happen. The groups should have in place the following systems for the protection of children:

  • All exits from the premises should be locked/guarded in a way which makes it impossible for a child to leave unobserved/unattended, while allowing rapid exit for the whole group in the case of an emergency.
  • An accurate and up to date register must be kept and both adults and children, including visitors, should be signed in and out whenever they enter and leave the premises.
  • Keyworkers of new children should take special care to ensure that both children and their parents know where they may and may not go. Keyworkers will also seek advice from parents new to the group so that they are forewarned about particularly adventurous children.
  • All children in the group should know the rules, and the reasons for them.
  • Prominent notices should alert any visitors to the need to keep doors closed and to the reason for this.
  • The group should conduct a risk assessment in consultation with all the adults in the group so that they are aware of any potential dangers and can work together to avoid them.
  • Parents and staff should work together for the safety of all the children in the group. New parents should be helped to take an active role by being made aware of the group's safety procedures and being encouraged to alert a member of staff if they notice a child whose behaviour suggest that s/he might be thinking of trying to leave.
  • The group shall take advice from the local authority Registration and Inspection Officer.

In the best regulated situations, however, accidents can happen. These are the procedures to follow if you cannot find a child.


Find out quickly

The chances of finding a missing child safe are greatest if the child's absence is soon discovered. Know how many children should be present and make someone responsible for regular counted checks.

The keyworker system offers enormous advantages, as it is very easy for a keyworker to be aware of the few children for whom s/he is especially responsible - and if one seems to be missing, the keyworker will know at once who it is.

Search systematically

The group is responsible for the missing child and also for the other children in the group. One advantage of the high adult:child ratio is that in any emergency some adults can be freed to respond to the new situation without neglecting the needs of the other children. It can be useful to gather the remaining children into one large group -having a story perhaps while the other adults search.

Without alarming them, ask the children themselves whether they have seen the child who is missing. They can sometimes be a useful source of information.

Check that all the adults are present and that all know the problem. It is useful to establish, if you can, who last saw the child, when and doing what. It can also be helpful to have prepared in advance a checklist of possible hiding-places in and around the pre-school's premises.

Check every room in the building and also any accessible outside area.


Alarming them as little as possible, call the child's parents to warn them that the child may be attempting to get home. If the child lives within walking distance of the group, one adult should make the journey on foot in order to catch up with, or intercept, the child if possible. Remember that as soon as parents are informed they will need advice and support.

The Police

If the above steps do not locate the child, the police must be called. They have the resources to conduct a search and speed is important.

Informing other people

Make regular checks to ensure that if an incident of this sort does happen, you have all the necessary phone numbers at hand. They should be correct, up to date and all kept together.

If you have to call the police, tell OFSTED that you have done so. If the relevant person is not in the building, leave a message with the duty officer.

  • What systems you operate for preventing such occurrences.
  • What happened.
  • What you did, at what time and in what order.
  • Whom you informed, and when.


They will want to conduct their own investigation. The chair must be informed as soon as possible. Contact your insurance company.  

The accident and incident book

Start to build up a record of the event as soon as an adult has time to do so. This is important, even if, as is likely, the child is found safe within a few minutes. Your Accident & Incident book provides an invaluable ongoing record of potential hazards as well as actual accident. Include in the record the last definite sighting of the child and anything unusual that day about the behaviour of that child or of any other children.

Dealing with people's reactions

The child's parents will be frightened, distressed and probably angry. These feelings are natural.   Because powerful emotions are involved, people's behaviour can be unpredictable. People who seem quite calm about the incident at the time can later on become very angry, threatening legal action or recourse to the local press.

It is therefore important to be very careful from the beginning about the words you use to talk to people about the incident. Do not say anything which might invalidate your insurance by implying that you accept liability. However, that does not mean that you have to appear uncaring. Do not say, "No Comment" which can make you appear indifferent and unhelpful. Instead say:

  • How sorry you are that the incident has happened.
  • That a full investigation is in hand.
  • That OFSTED have been informed and will also be investigating.

Dealing with the media

Distressed parents may contact the local press, or reporters might hear about the incident if police are involved. It is sensible for one person -usually the chair - to be the one who speaks for the group to the media. However, you cannot be sure that reporters will approach the group direct; they may call other staff or parents for views. As early as you can, advise all

adults about what they should say, as above, or ask them to refer all enquiries to the agreed spokesperson.

In handling this situation you will have support from the Pre-school Learning Alliance. If you are insured separately is a good idea to inform the national or regional centre. National centre staff will be able to draw upon the services of the charity's PR company, who will advise you.

Informing other parents

Other parents need to be given brief, accurate information as rapidly as possible. This is the best way to prevent the spreading of gossip. It might be possible to call a short meeting when parents and carers come to collect children, or when they arrive next day, or to send home a note with each child.

There is no point in trying to hide what has happened. The important thing is to enlist the support of the whole pre-school community in learning from the event in order to ensure that it does not happen again.

Be sure in advance of such an event that the group is aware of any procedures required by the registering authority.

When the child is found

During the time a child is missing, however briefly, all the adults involved - parents and others - suffer great fear, guilt and distress. It is not always easy to control ail these emotions when the child is found. It is important to remember:

  • That the child also might have been afraid and distressed and might now be in need of comfort.
  • That the child may be completely unaware of having done anything wrong (one child found quite safe after a terrifying few minutes simply said "I just went to get my mummy.")
  • That the incident provides a good opportunity to talk to all the children to ensure that they understand that they must not leave the premises and why.

Further advice may be sought from:

  • Your pre-school Learning Alliance development worker
  • Pre-school Learning Alliance National Centre.
  • Local Authority Registration & Inspection/Daycare Adviser.
  • Procedure for when a child fails to be collected after a session


  • Wait 15 minutes, ensuring that the staff ratio remains correct, with two staff members remaining with the child at all times.
  • Telephone each contact name and number on the child’s admission form in turn.
  • If not able to contact anyone on the list continue trying the numbers for a reasonable amount of time.
  • If other family members are known to us it may be possible to contact them for information.
  • Ensure that the child is not unduly upset or worried during the time they are with you.
  • If all these measures fail:

    Contact police general enquires



    Who will assist and advise on the next course of action to be taken, on the merit of each individual case.





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© Julie Nicholls