Refuges needed across Britain to protect runaways

26 November 2009

A network of emergency accommodation for young runaways should be created across the UK, a new report says today.

It reveals there are currently only 9 emergency accommodation places for young runaways in the country, even though 100,000 children and young people under 16 run away overnight every year.

The report, “Commissioning, Delivery and Perceptions of Emergency Accommodation for Young Runaways”, was written by The Children’s Society in collaboration with the University of York and was commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (1). This is part of the Government’s Young Runaways Action Plan, which was strongly welcomed by the English Coalition for Young Runaways when published in 2008.

It contains seventeen recommendations on how a national safety net for runaways in need of somewhere safe to stay could be created in a way that could bring significant cost savings in the long term.

The report summarises previous research conducted by The Children’s Society which found that 20% of the 100,000 children who run away each year either sleep rough or are harmed whilst away from home.(2)  Many children are running from violence, abuse and neglect. The report emphasises that running away is largely a hidden problem; only 5% of runaways currently seek help from agencies like the police or social services whilst away from home, and so many professionals working with these children weren't aware of the scale of the problem in their area.

The report recommends that the proposed network of emergency accommodation should be part of a wider package of crisis support for young runaways. This network should include everything from universal and targeted work to prevent young people running away in the first place, a 24-hour crisis helpline, to the provision of follow-up support to help reduce the chances of children running away again.

The report suggests that these services should be set up in geographical clusters with local authorities sharing the costs.

Other recommendations include:

  • In areas of sufficient population density, specialist refuges for young runaways should be set up. These could either be "flexible" ones that could be opened and closed as needed or fixed refuges constantly open in areas of higher demand
  • Alternative ways of offering emergency accommodation should be developed for sparsely populated areas where a permanent residential refuge may not be a viable option.
  • Crisis services for young runaways should be well-publicised and available 24 hours a day
  • A good practice guide should be produced to provide information and guidance to professionals who are running the crisis response for young runaways
  • All young people who are known to have run away or who have been reported as missing should automatically receive a follow-up assessment of their needs.

Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

“We call on the Government to make it a high priority to establish crisis response services for runaways across the country. We know budgets are tight, but this report demonstrates how by working together and combining resources, local areas can ensure that vulnerable children who runaway have access to safe places away from the streets.”

The report highlights that emergency accommodation is widely perceived as being expensive. But in fact this proposal could bring significant cost savings in the long term because, for example:

  • Around 8% to 9% of young people are hurt or harmed whilst away from home. Creating safe emergency accommodation for young people would reduce the costs of this harm to the individual and to society
  • Crisis response services could substantially reduce the cost to police of dealing with missing person reports, which cost £1,000 to £2,000.
  • An effective crisis response should help reduce the incidence of young people committing petty crime whilst away from home in order to survive.

One young person interviewed for the research highlighted the need for a safe place to stay after running away:

If I had that option I would have taken it without a doubt
(
Focus group with young people)

Another young person interviewed spoke of having to stay in a police cell after running away:

I used to be in the cells for three or four days. They can’t let you out until your mum and dad come for you. They just kept me in the police cell because I didn’t want anyone else there – a stranger.
(
Interview with young person)

Notes to Editors:

For more information and interviews, contact The Children's Society’s media office on 020 7841 4422.

A full copy of the report is available to download from the DCSF website: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/research/programmeofresearch/index.cfm?type=5

Methodology of the report
The project involved a range of means of information gathering and consultation with professionals and young people in England, Wales and Scotland, including:

-Telephone interviews with 38 professionals in 12 purposively selected geographical areas, and a further 8 follow-up interviews
-10 national key informant interviews
-Interviews with 22 young people who have experience of running away.
-Nine consultation events with over 100 professionals
-Three focus group discussions with a total of 18 young people
-A review of relevant previous research and other literature