Charity Urging Help For Runaways

A national strategy is needed to help support the 100,000 children who run away from home every year, the Children’s Society has said. It is calling for a network of crisis accommodation, and measures to help tackle children’s problems at home.

The charity warns that of these “very vulnerable” children, nearly seven in 10 are not even reported missing. One in six runaways ends up sleeping rough, putting themselves at risk of violence and sexual assault, it adds. The charity says local provision is patchy and urges the government to take responsibility for runaways’ safety.

The society, which has been working with young runaways since the 1980s and is currently reviewing services, is presenting a number of recommendations at a conference in London on Friday. They include having a national co-ordinated strategy for runaways and the provision of safe emergency accommodation for under-16s.

It also wants local authorities to provide guidance for young runaways as well as welfare interviews and support for children who return home. According to the Children’s Society, one in six of all young runaways ends up sleeping on the streets, while one in 12 gets hurt or injured. Its research has shown that during the last three years in one part of the country, 21 runaway children have been raped. Most of them were girls, aged between 14 and 15.

The society’s strategy director Penny Nichols told the BBC: “Many runaways sleep rough at night and many resort to very risky lifestyles in order to be able to support themselves. Of these children, 68% are not reported missing – they are vulnerable and no-one even knows they are there.”

She said services for children who run away from home were “very limited”, adding: “What we are calling for here is a network of services nationally so each child, wherever they are, has recourse to some support and help. Some local authorities have really good practice, really good protocols, really good lead managers who deal with this issue – and others are really just at sea to know what to do.”

The charity, which has been working with the Department for Education and Skills, is due to publish a report on the issues later this year. Ms Nichols said: “We are very hopeful that this time we will see some really constructive efforts to meet the needs of these children.”