Posted: 18 August 2014

The link between the Troubled Families Programme and missing children

In the past couple of years huge progress has been made in how we understand and respond to children who run away or go missing. As the chair of the All-Party-Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, I am really proud of the work of our group and the part it has played in bringing about change. Our inquiry into children missing from care led to important changes to national policies and guidance on keeping missing children safe.

In July, our group heard from Louise Casey CB, Director General of the Troubled Families Programme and there were presentations from the Supporting Families Programme in Stockport and The Children’s Society project in Lancashire. The meeting, organised by The Children’s Society, explored how missing children can be better supported through the Troubled Families Programme. The projects from Lancashire and Stockport work with young runaways as part of the Troubled Families Programme and had shared their practice during the meeting.

What does the Troubled Families Programme do?

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) which runs the Troubled Families Programme describe troubled families as ‘…those that have problems and cause problems to the community around them, putting high costs on the public sector’. The programme promotes a different, whole family approach to working with such families, helping them deal with their issues and turn their lives around. A recent report by the DCLG on troubled families indicates  that ‘families benefiting from the programme had on average nine problems related to employment, education, crime, housing, child protection, parenting or health on entry to the programme’.

More focus is needed on children running away from home

Many of the changes in legislation for missing and runaway children have focused on children missing from care. 180,000 reports are made to the police every year about missing children , of that we know that many of these children are reported missing by their families. Although running away in and of itself would not normally be adequate to qualify for support through the Troubled Families Programme, many of these children come from families that would fit the government’s classification of a troubled family. Conflict and parental neglect, that often go hand in hand with substance misuse, domestic violence and children regularly missing from school - the key reasons children are running away from home – are among the key qualifiers for the Troubled Families Programme’s involvement with such families.

This is the link we set out to explore in the recent APPG meeting with Louise Casey CB, the senior civil servant who runs the Troubled Families Programme. 

Seeing issues through the eyes of a child

Whilst the numbers of runaway children reveal the enormity of the task that services face, behind these figures are children’s real stories. One story the APPG heard that really brought this home for me was that of Jessica, a young person who received support from The Children’s Society in Lancashire.

“My mum sent me to school with a bin liner with all my clothes in it and told me not to come back at night. The bus driver asked me what I had in the bag and I started to cry.  I don’t think he knew what to do with me. Well, that night and for many more nights after that I hid in the woods. I camped out every time I could. Sometimes I could go home and eat something or stay for a night but then I would get kicked out again. I was thirteen then and I still had never been reported missing, not once.”

Jessica is an example of one of the young runaways who would not come up on the radar of police or social services as they are not reported as missing by their families. 

Good practice needs to be replicated

However, in some areas of the country children like Jessica can get help. Examples from Lancashire and Stockport shared at the APPG meeting show that the needs of young runaways can be considered through the Troubled Families lens.  In Stockport last year, 112 children and their families who otherwise would not have qualified for support received help as a result of a child running away.  

  • By providing greater focus on missing children through the Troubled Families Programme, positive and tangible outcomes for families, children and local services can be achieved.   
  • Services can also build a fuller picture of how many children run away from their family home if data on missing children is collected via the Troubled Families programme.
  • Families can get help earlier, and before problems escalate, if one of the criteria for access to services is a child running away.
  • Children can be better protected if families are educated about the importance of reporting their child missing and the risks of running away.

It was great to see such a strong turnout at our APPG meeting discussing such an important issue and it gives me hope that more councils can learn from the example of places like Lancashire and Stockport and more young runaways like Jessica will get the support they need.

By Ann Coffey MP - Guest bloggers