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Unexplained absence from care

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For information related to home services please refer to missing consumers.

What is unexplained absence from care?

Unexplained absence from care is the absence of a consumer from a residential care service where there are reasonable grounds to contact the police.

You must notify the Commission when:

  • a consumer is absent from your service
  • you are not aware of any reason for the absence
  • there are reasonable grounds to contact the police.

You do not need to notify the Commission if a consumer returns to their service before you become aware they were missing unless the police are aware of the absence or involved in returning the consumer. In these cases, you must still record the incident in your IMS and the consumer’s care plan. This helps you to understand and manage the consumer’s behaviours and wandering patterns.

Work tool

The SIRS Decision Support Tool can help you explore what kinds of incidents are unexplained absence.

Vulnerable consumers

Some consumers are at a higher risk of unexplained absence. These include consumers who:

  • are new to a service

  • receive respite care

  • have a history of wandering

  • live with dementia.  

Responding to unexplained absence from care

When an incident happens at your service, your first priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your consumer.

In unexplained absence, this could mean:

  • searching your service for the consumer

  • notifying the consumer’s family to assist in the search

  • contacting the police within a reasonable timeframe.

While managing the incident, you must practice open disclosure by letting the consumer’s family and/or representatives know the steps you are taking to respond.

Whenever a consumer is absent without explanation, you must record it in your IMS and the consumer’s care plan.

Reporting unexplained absence from care

Unexplained absence, like any reportable incident, must be recorded into your IMS and the Commission must be notified. You must also notify the police if there are reasonable grounds to contact them.

All unexplained absences are Priority 1 reportable incidents and must be reported to the Commission within 24 hours.

A quality incident notification requires more than simply transcribing the details from progress notes about the incident or copying text from your IMS. You must provide the Commission with as much detail as possible about the incident to allow us to assess your response and take appropriate action.

It is important that the person making the notification is familiar with:

  • what happened

  • when the incident happened

  • where the incident happened

  • who was involved including the affected consumer, worker(s) involved with the incident and other affected people

  • what actions were taken after the incident

  • what caused the incident (if known)

  • what changes will be made as a result of the incident (if known).

If you become aware of further information after submitting an initial notification, you should update the Commission.

When you provide clear and comprehensive information early on, it is less likely that the Commission will need to:

  • ask for further details

  • require you to conduct an investigation

  • directly investigate the matter.


It is easier to make a good quality notification to the Commission if you have the information you need at hand.
Educating workers to report incidents correctly within your IMS will make it easier to notify the Commission when a reportable incident happens.

Work tool

The fact sheet, Reportable Incidents: unexplained absence from care, provides more detailed guidance for reporting of incidents in a residential service relating to this incident type

The example Unexplained absence notification shows the level of detail the Commission expects when receiving a notification about this incident type.

You can use the Practical tips guide to ensure your notification contains all of the required information.

Contact us

If you have a question about the SIRS, you can call us on 1800 081 549.

This phone line is open 9 am to 5 pm (AEST) Monday to Friday and 8 am to 6 pm (AEST) Saturday to Sunday.

You can also email us at

Facilitated workshops

The Commission provides facilitated workshops to sector participants. All current workshops are available on the Commission’s Workshop page.

The Commission’s Aged Care Learning Information Solution, Alis provides free online education for employees of Commonwealth-funded aged care providers, including a module covering unexplained absence from care.

You can access Alis at


The information contained on this page is intended to provide you with general guidance; however, it is your responsibility to be aware of your legislative requirements.