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We’re making progress but more needs to be done to protect vulnerable young people
Over 100,000 children run away every year. That is one every five minutes. We know that running away is a key indication that there is something wrong in a child’s life.
At this year’s National Children and Adults Services (NCAS) conference, our Policy Director, Ellen Broome, addressed what professionals and local agencies must do to protect this vulnerable group of children from harm and help them resolve the issues that made them run away.
We believe that local services supporting young runaways should provide a safety net allowing agencies to intervene early before the problems escalate. This includes preventing and disrupting child sexual exploitation.
Working with local services
Our projects work in partnership with local authorities, local safeguarding boards and police forces to ensure that young runaways are kept safe. We provide independent return interviews when a child has run away and family support work to identify and deal with the issues behind the running away and improve relationships in the family. Already, 34 local authorities have signed up to our Runaways Charter and pledged to provide safety net for young runaways in their local areas.
A crucial part of our role is to raise awareness of running away and associated risks among professionals, local communities and businesses as we did in Coventry through Say Something if You See Something campaign, which now has become national.
Our role is also about identifying where local practice needs to improve to make sure that young runaways are safe. For example, our recent report Here to Listen? Return interviews provision for young runaways identified that contrary to the statutory guidance on missing children in 2011 around 22% of local authorities did not have any return interview provision for children missing from home and around 7% for children missing from care.
Return interviews can help identify children at risk of sexual exploitation and build local intelligence and evidence about adults posing risk to children and local hotspots.
Opportunity for change
The NCAS conference provided a good platform to raise awareness around the risks of running away. The strong turnout for the ‘Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation’ session shows how much this high profile and sensitive issue is of interest to the sector. It is also an issue where there are opportunities for change.
The government consultation on children who go missing has just closed. We responded to the consultation and 240 of our supporters contacted the Department for Education to call on the government to strengthen the guidance and make sure that all children running away get an independent return interview.
We also backed Nicola Blackwood MP’s Childhood Lost campaign which aims to address national policy and local practice law to make sure that child victims of sexual exploitation are identified and supported, and perpetrators are caught and convicted.
We have seen some positive steps around the support for children who go missing or who are at risk of sexual exploitation, but will be working to make sure the focus stays on keeping these vulnerable children safe and that local practice and central guidance brings about real change for them.