15 Oct 2007

Last Chance for Runaways Under 16- Parliamentary Hearings Attract Westminster's Support

15 October 2007

A rare opportunity to present plans for a national policy for runaway support for under 16's takes place on October 15, 16 and 17 in Westminster. This is the culmination of 20* years of campaigning by The Children's Society, and is backed by over 30 charities under the English Coalition for Runaway Children.

Activity commences with a Pledge Day and two days of Parliamentary hearings in Westminster bringing together representatives from the police, local authorities, the voluntary sector and MPs. The Pledge Day will see MP’s signing a petition, in the shape of a giant running shoe to be presented to Ministers later this month (October).

Led by Helen Southworth, MP for Warrington South and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children, a panel of MP’s will hear evidence from a range of specialists to identify the problems and dangers facing children in the UK who run away or go missing. The Panel will consider examples of best practice locally and nationally; identify whether current systems properly protect vulnerable runaway or missing children; and make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.This marks a series of events, which The Children’s Society hopes will culminate in a broad acceptance by Government of the recommendations.

The Coalition will use the opportunity to present its view that the country now needs a national system for safeguarding young runaways. The Children's Society is proposing a national safety net for runaway children comprising three elements:

•Safe Places: Including immediate access to emergency accommodation
•Safe Procedures: Including an integrated system for capturing data on young runaways AND Regulated guidance and compliance for local authorities
•Safe People: Including effective conduct of return interviews for every runaway child with an assessment of need

The national safety net concept is the result of a nine-month (Nov 06 - July 07) national consultation led by The Children’s Society with support from the Department for Education and Skills, now Department for Children, Schools and Families. Local agencies including the Police, voluntary sector and local children’s services contributed via regional workshops and a national survey, what they believe should be in place to support runaways under 16.

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive at The Children’s Society said;
"These parliamentary hearings come at a time when the government have indicated their willingness to review essential services for runaways. We believe that now is the time for the government to act and we look forward to hearing their response to our report and these hearings"

Since 2006 a coalition of charities working with young runaways, including, The Children’s Society, Missing People, The Railway Children, NSPCC and local charities including Rerun in Dorset and Talk Don’t Walk in Cheshire have united to campaign for a national system of support for young runaways.

Andy McCullough, chair of the English Coalition for young runaways said:
“We welcome the opportunity to present at the Parliamentary Hearings the picture and the plight of young runaways in the UK. We do this in the hope that things will change for the100, 000 who run away each year, so that they can gain access to the support they so desperately need.”

Research carried out by The Children’s Society**, revealed that most of the 100,000 children who run away from home or care every year, do so because of problems at home, with girls age 14 -15 the group most likely to run. Runaways employ risky strategies to survive with one in six sleeping rough and one in twelve hurt or harmed. Whilst most don't run far from home, many end up sofa surfing or sleeping in stranger’s houses.

Notes to Editors:

* Coalition members include: The Children's Society, Missing People, Barnardos, Get Connected, NSPCC, NCH, Railway Children, Rerun, Safe @Last, St Christopher’s Fellowship, The London Refuge, Talk Don’t Walk, Healthy Relationships, Runaways, Community Support Team, Street Work, CROP, Crouch Valley Nightstop, Base 51, Aberlour Childcare Trust and Astra.

* *Still Running was part of the Children's Promise initiative, which started in 1999.  Prior to that time there had been very little research in the UK about running away.  There had been some research studies based on police missing person reports but The Children’s Society wanted to do something that focused on young people's own definitions and experiences.  The charity completed a survey in Leeds in the early 1990s (published as Hidden Truths), which showed that as many as 1 in 7 young people in Leeds had run away before the age of 16.  However, there was a need for a national picture.  The aim of the Still Running research was to provide a national needs analysis.  This included estimates of the scale of running away and also insights into young people's experiences.  As well as conducting a survey of a representative sample of about 13,000 young people, the charity also undertook face-to-face interviews with over 200 young people who had run away.

The research provided the first reliable national overview on running away in the UK and the launch of the report was one of the key factors which triggered the Social Exclusion Unit's focus on runaways, leading eventually to the guidance which we have recently reviewed through the national consultation with the DfES, now DCSF.

The Children’s Society has been campaigning in this area for 20 years.  After The Children's Society opened the first refuge for young runaways in the UK in the 1980s, we campaigned for such refuges to be legalised and this eventually led to the inclusion of Section 51 of The Children Act 1989.  This was highly significant and was achieved through quite a major mobilisation of supporters who signed petitions and wrote letters to MPs. 

The first refuge was the Central London Teenage Project, which The Children's Society opened in 1985.  We then opened refuges in Bournemouth (1989), Leeds (1991) and Newport, South Wales (1993). Of these, the longest running was Leeds Safe House, which closed in 2000.

* **The Children’s Society, Still Running II was published in October 2005 after a survey of 11,210 children across 70 mainstream schools, 11 pupil referral units and 13 schools for children with learning difficulties. 77,000 children runaway for the first time each year and of those 1 in 6 will sleep rough and 1 in 12 will be hurt or harmed. This follows Still Running I which was published in 1999 and is the largest national inquiry into runaways published anywhere in the world.

* The Children's Society is driven by the belief that every child deserves a good childhood. It provides vital help and understanding for those forgotten children who face the greatest danger, discrimination or disadvantage; children who are unable to find the support they need anywhere else. Visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk