One year on: Running away is still a way of saying 'I need help'
Last year we supported a parliamentary inquiry into young people who go missing from care.
The inquiry brought together MPs and peers from different political parties to find out why children and young people go missing from care, and what professionals do to keep them safe.
As we mark the one-year anniversary of the report’s release, Iryna Pona from our policy team answered a few questions about how the report has been received and responded to by the government.
A: The report painted a shocking picture of how professionals and services failed vulnerable children taken into care because they suffered abuse and neglect in their families.
There’s more to the report but one of the key findings was that many children had only their most basic needs met, and did not receive in care the warmth and support that they lacked. Many children were placed in homes that were unsafe, and far from their friends and wider support networks.
These factors made young people especially vulnerable to predatory individuals who groomed them for sexual exploitation.
The report highlighted that the main sign that things were not right was a child running away or going missing again and again. When this happened, professionals did not respond to it appropriately – they often labeled young runaways ‘promiscuous’ or ‘making their own choices’, rather than seeing it as a cry for help.
The inquiry called for changes to be made to prevent children slipping through the net into clutches of criminals. They wanted different agencies – police, local authorities – to collect and share information about children missing from care and work together to protect children.
They also wanted decisions about care placements to improve and to ensure that children are placed out of their local areas only if it helps keep them safe. They also asked to make sure that children’s homes are safe places for children to live.
Q: That’s quite a bit – what has happened over the past year?
A: The government responded to one recommendation made by the inquiry by changing regulations to make sure that the police know about the location of all children’s homes and can respond appropriately to reports of children missing from those addresses.
They also set up three working groups to develop solutions to problems identified by the inquiry.
This week the government published draft proposals on how the problems identified by the inquiry are going to be addressed. They will be consulting about these proposals for the next three months and then finalise and start implementing these proposals.
Q: Can you talk about what these documents are? Also, what are consultations?
A: A consultation is basically a process of gathering advice from a wide range of parties on a subject. It’s a way to make sure all views are included when new legislation or guidance is issued.
Concerning the APPG inquiry, the government is responding to the inquiry’s recommendations by proposing to adopt a number of changes outlined in the following documents.
Revised statutory guidance on children who run away and go missing from home or care aims to ensure that all local agencies work together to identify children at risk because they run away or go missing early and provide them with the support they need.
Reforming children’s homes care proposes that children’s homes must carry out a risk assessment of the area in partnership with the police and the local authority and will not be allowed to operate in unsafe areas. It also includes proposals to strengthen the current rules, requiring existing staff in children’s homes to have completed minimum qualifications within a set period of time so they have the necessary skills in caring for children with complex needs.
Improving safeguarding for looked after children proposes that a decision to place a child out of local area has to be approved by a senior official at the local council. They will have to be satisfied that the placement is in the child’s best interest and will meet their identified needs.
The government is also consulting about how Ofsted will inspect local authorities and how they safeguard children missing from care.
Q: What’s next?
A: This is just the beginning of the process. After the consultations finish this autumn and these changes will come into force, there will be a long process to ensure these are embedded into local practices and working cultures.
The success will depend on local leadership and commitment to make things better for missing children.
Another key development is for us all to recognise that when a child runs away or goes missing it is a way of saying 'I need help'.
This recognition will not come from the guidance alone; it will be borne out of changes in professionals' attitudes towards young runaways.