30 Aug 2013

Local councils are putting vulnerable children at risk by failing to carry out proper checks on runaway children once they return, reveals a new Children’s Society report.  

Government guidance requires councils in England to offer a Return Interview to every child who goes missing from home or care. 

But the leading children’s charity warns that the guidance is open to misinterpretation. Freedom of Information requests found that less than half of councils  in England offer Return Interviews to all children who go missing from care. Just one in four offer them to all children who run away from home. 

Stronger guidance

The charity is calling on the government to strengthen the guidance to make sure councils offer Return Interviews to all children who run from home or care.

The charity found that many councils are unclear about who should be offered a Return Interview and who is responsible for carrying it out. A fifth of councils (30) did not offer interviews to any children at all who went missing from home. Some councils even wrongly asserted that Return Interviews were the responsibility of the police.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: 'Despite clear statutory guidance, many councils are failing to carry out their duty to keep these very vulnerable children safe. A very vulnerable child not getting the vital support they need must not be down to what council area they happen to live in. The safety and wellbeing of children must not be subject to a postcode lottery. 

'We are urging the government to take a lead by making their guidance much more robust. We would also like to see more oversight from Ofsted so there is an independent check on whether councils are doing their job.'

Running from abuse or neglect

The Children’s Society estimates that 18,000 of the 100,000 children that runaway every year are abused or harmed. Most children who run away from home do so because of neglect, abuse, family conflict or drug and alcohol misuse. And when children do go missing, they can be targeted by adults aiming to sexually exploit them or involve them in crime. 

Return Interviews help address problems that caused a child to go missing, reduce further instances of running and find out if a child came to harm. Return interviews are also a vital tool in disrupting abuse and sexual exploitation and providing evidence for prosecutions of the perpetrators. 

The report – Here to Listen? - is available on The Children’s Society’s website. The government is currently consulting on revised guidance for children that run away from home or care. 

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Notes to editors

  • The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life.