Three of 27 children who were identified by Essex County Council as being potentially trafficked went missing, it has been disclosed.

The council, which has recently been rated outstanding for its children’s services, says it takes its responsibilities towards looked after children “very seriously”.

It adds that not all children with a factor of trafficking recorded at their assessment have necessarily been trafficked but they may have been at risk of trafficking which was then averted.

All 27 went missing for less than 72 hours in the past 12 months but three of them went missing for more than 72 hours.

Two of the nine children from that cohort of 27 who went into care are still in their originating placement and one of the nine children who went into care moved to another placement.

A spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “We take our responsibilities towards looked after children very seriously which obviously includes if a child runs away from care and there is potential for them to become involved with individuals who could cause them harm.

“Young people can go ‘missing’ for various reasons, including to visit friends or family members and it is not always the case they are ‘missing’ for long periods of time.

“A young person might be recorded as missing if they are a few minutes late returning for a curfew.

“However in all cases our social workers will meet with them on their return and an independent return interview and independent advocacy are also offered.

“This enables children to talk about their concerns and the reasons for leaving, so that appropriate action can be taken where required.

“We also work closely with Essex Police and other agencies to make sure there is a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach if a young person is reported missing from care.

“In cases where there may be a risk of significant harm to the child, a multi-agency strategy meeting is held. This weighs up the level of risk the young person faces and what additional support and action needs to be taken to help prevent them running away.

“Children and young people remain at the heart of everything we do in Essex and this person-centred approach to social care recently saw our children’s services rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.”