6 Mar 2006

The Children's Society and Lib Dem MP Paul Burstow are flying to America to meet US Federal Government officials as part of the charity's Safe and Sound campaign to help runaway children.

The three-day fact finding visit (March 20-22, 2006) has been organised by the charity to see how the US has tackled the problems of runaway children by setting up a national network of shelters offering temporary accommodation. The Children's Society is campaigning for a similar network of children refuges to be created in the UK.

Paul Burstow, MP for Sutton and Cheam, has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) supporting The Children's Society's campaign, which has been signed by a record number of MPs.

During the visit The Children's Society's new policy advisor Martin Houghton-Brown, Paul Burstow and Carl Hillier, a former young runaway, will meet Curtis Porter, from the US Federal Government's Family and Youth Services Bureau, members of Congress and attend a reception hosted by the US National Runaway Switchboard. Carl will meet with runaways at one of the night shelters in Chicago to hear how services for runaways compare with those in the UK.

Paul Burstow will report back to parliamentarians prior to the second reading of a 10 minute Rule Bill in May, tabled by Labour MP Helen Southworth entitled The Protection of Runaway and Missing Children.

The Children's Society's on-going Safe and Sound campaign is calling on the Government to set up a network of refuges to help the 100,000 children, aged under 16 who runaway or are forced to leave home every year. One in six say they were forced to sleep rough or with strangers and one in 12 say they were harmed.

A petition with more than 100,000 signatures from members of the public was delivered to Downing Street, last October, urgently requesting Government action.

The Children's Society has since had positive talks with the Department for Education and Skills and will feedback learning from the US visit to key Government departments.

Tim Linehan, The Children's Society's assistant director for campaigns says: "Our Safe and Sound campaign has succeeded in gaining the support of the public and many politicians who are shocked that 100,000 children run away from home in Britain. Now we need to see how a network of safe emergency accommodation can work in practice. We believe our visit to the USA will provide us with valuable learning that can help protect young runaways in Britain."

Paul Burstow's EDM 393 has gained the cross party support of 340 MPs - more than any other EDM in this session. He will report back to parliamentarians at a meeting in May prior to the second reading of a 10 Minute Rule Bill on runaways tabled by Helen Southworth, Labour MP for Warrington South. The Bill, pushes for a national co-ordination of responses to children who go missing from home.

Paul Burstow: "This trip will provide an opportunity to see first hand how services and support are provided in the US for runaway children. I hope that what we learn will help to influence the debate and policy here in the UK."

Notes to Editors:

Media enquiries: The Children's Society Media team 020 7841 4423/4422