Schools missing opportunity to protect runaway children

Image of young girl in school playground
07 December 2012

Schools and local authorities are missing important opportunities to protect vulnerable children that run away from home or care, according to a report by a leading children’s charity. 

Lessons to Learn, a report by The Children’s Society, finds that a lack of awareness of the signs that a child is running away from home, together with cuts to school and local authority budgets, is leading to missed opportunities to intervene before children find themselves in dangerous or harmful situations. 

Link between running away and abuse

Every year 100,000 children run away from home in the UK – equivalent to one every five minutes. There is a strong link between children running away and suffering physical or sexual abuse, they often become involved with drugs and alcohol and may be forced to resort to risky behaviour such as begging or stealing to survive. 

The report reveals that children that have attendance problems at school are three times more likely to run away. But awareness among school professionals about the risks and warning signs of running away – such as tiredness, lateness, dirty clothes or being hungry – was low.

Ellen Broome, Director of Policy at The Children’s Society, said:

'It may seem obvious that children missing from home are also more likely to be missing from school. But it is a cry for help and schools are too often failing to recognise this. Schools staff need to recognise the early warning signs of running away and provide these vulnerable children with the support they need.'

Pressure on budgets

The report – based in part on research with practitioners – found that pressure on budgets and an emphasis on improving attendance figures, rather than exploring the underlying reasons for unauthorised absences, was making the situation worse.

One practioner told the report’s author that cuts to education welfare teams within local authorities means that education welfare officers – who work with children who are absent from school to address any underlying problems - are a 'dying breed'. Attendance officers in place in many schools are too overstretched and lack the skills to provide the one-to-one support these children need. 

Lessons to Learn recommends that all staff in schools and local authorities should receive training to recognise the signs of running away. Schools should have appropriate staff to provide the right support to children that go missing and local authorities must monitor attendance figures to pinpoint patterns of running away.

Ends

Download the report

Lessons to Learn: Exploring the links between running away and absence from school

Media enquiries

For more information on The Children’s Society and the Make Runaways Safe campaign, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or by email. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508. 

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.