Children’s Society calls for new runaway rescue centres

The 100,000 UK children who run away from home each year should be offered more protection via a network of new refuge centres, a charity has urged.

A report by the Children’s Society says only nine beds currently exist.

It says just 5% of all runaways seek help from police or social services while away from home, while 20,000 sleep rough or suffer harm each year.

Bob Reitemeier, Children’s Society chief executive, said ministers should make the issue a “high priority”.

He added: “We know budgets are tight, but this report demonstrates how, by working together and combining resources, local areas can ensure that vulnerable children who run away have access to safe places away from the streets.”

‘Hidden problem’

The study, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, offered 17 recommendations for a “national safety net” to help runaways.

It also calls for a wider package of crisis support for young runaways.

According to the Commissioning, Delivery and Perceptions of Emergency Accommodation for Young Runaways report, such refuge centres could bring significant cost savings to the public purse.

A spokesman for the report, written by the Children’s Society in conjunction with the University of York, said it “emphasises that running away is largely a hidden problem”.

The spokesman added: “The report highlights that emergency accommodation is widely perceived as being expensive. But in fact this proposal could bring significant cost savings in the long term.

“This network should include everything from universal and targeted work to prevent young people running away in the first place, a 24-hour crisis helpline, to the provision of follow-up support to help reduce the chances of children running away again.”

One young person interviewed as part of the research said: “I’d rather stay on the street and be nearly dead than just turn to somebody and say this is where I am.”