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What is a Child Abduction Warning Notice (CAWN) ?

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The Children’s Society describes a Child Abduction Warning Notice ‘as an early intervention and disruption tool used by the police as an effective way of disrupting contact between a vulnerable child and a predatory adult’. This basically refers to an adult who is inappropriately associating themselves with a child against the wishes of the child’s parents or the carer of a child and the notice will effectively act as a mechanism to sever the relationship.

The CPS use this tool as a means of challenging incidences where ‘young people, under the age of 16 years (or under 18 if in local authority care), place themselves at risk of significant harm due to their associations, and the forming of inappropriate relationships’. This can include a number of situations including (but not limited to) a child running away from home repeatedly, a child who has been groomed or is in the process of being groomed or a child who is reported missing and later found to be with the suspected adult.

As parents, it’s safe to say that we all love our children more than life itself and that we essentially make decisions for them because we believe it’s in their best interests to do so. As part of being a parent, we always want what’s best for them, even if at times your child cannot see or understand the decisions you make that affect them. 

On most occasions we would probably worry over whether they are eating enough healthy foods, or if they are spending too much time on their phones or perhaps they’re not doing their homework and watching too much TV. Whatever the domestic dilemma may be, the vast majority of parents will almost certainly get through to their child one way or another because in essence children understand that, whilst parents can be ‘annoying’ or that we stop them from doing things, it’s because we are responsible adults to them and ultimately it’s because we care.  The hope is that, as your child gets older, they will surround themselves with peers who will help them grow as individuals and start becoming adults at some point.

When is a child abduction warning notice needed?

With that said, a small percentage of parents may experience a situation where their child is spending time with an adult which may lead the parent(s) to have some of the following concerns;

  • Your child is under 16 (or 18 if they are in local authority care) and is speaking to or interacting with an adult who you suspect is inducing or inciting them to run away from you
  • You are worried that your child’s behaviour has suddenly changed for the worse since their association with this adult which seems inappropriate to you
  • There is a large age gap
  • There are concerns for sexual exploitation
  • You believe there may be significant safeguarding concerns for your child, but your child doesn’t want to listen to you 
  • Your child is wilfully spending time with the adult where they are perhaps being taken to the adult’s home without your permission for prolonged periods of time with them being kept behind closed doors

If you are experiencing any of the above with your child, it’s important you speak to the relevant authorities like the police on how you can get your child out of this situation whether they want to or not. If the police are satisfied that your concerns amount to an offence of child abduction or if there are genuine safeguarding concerns, the police can issue a child abduction warning notice to the suspect. The purpose of the notice effectively safeguards vulnerable young people.

Who issues a child abduction warning notice?

The warning notice is not governed by statute or legislation but it is often used as supporting evidence by the police if further action is needed against the suspect if they fail to comply with the notice.

If the police are satisfied that a suspect is taking advantage of a vulnerable child, they will take swift action to issue a notice by taking a statement from the parent(s) with care at first instance. They will also search their database to see if the suspect is known to the police as well as notifying the Assessment and Triage team at the local authority who will carry out checks on the sex offenders register and Violent Offenders.

What does a child abduction warning notice mean for the recipient?

The warning notice will provide the suspect with details of the concerns, the child’s name, date of birth and age and it will confirm that the suspect has no permission to associate or communicate with the child. The notice will be served on the suspect and read out to him by a police officer. For the avoidance of doubt, the suspect will be shown a photo of the child to clearly identify the child that they should not be contacting.

If there is evidence that the terms of the Warning Notice have been breached the suspect can be arrested and potentially prosecuted. Examples of what constitutes a breach of the notice includes the subject child being seen with the suspect after a warning notice has been issued or the child is missing and later found to be in the suspects care.

Breaching the notice does not constitute a criminal offence, but the issue of such a notice will assist the CPS to be in a stronger position to build a case which can lead to the suspect’s prosecution under a different criminal offence or via civil proceedings for an ASBO or an injunction.

If the above information causes you concern for your child or perhaps someone you know, please get in touch with us to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Depending on your circumstances, we may be able to assist you and your children via civil proceedings.

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