Posted: 10 January 2013

The Local Picture: Inadequate protection for runaway children

Children can easily find themselves in grave danger when they run away. Our new report Make Runaways Safe: The Local Picture reveals that police forces and local authorities across the country are not doing enough to protect these children.

For example, Olivia was 15 and lived with her mum, step dad and eight siblings from various relationships. One day she ran away from her crowded and chaotic home life to ‘clear her head’ from the constant arguments. She had only planned to stay away for a day but met a ‘mate’ who invited her to stay.

Things soon became really bad. Kept against her will for more than a week, Olivia was bribed into doing things she did not want to do. Meeting groups of men and being plied with booze and drugs, she stayed in this ‘mate’s’ house for more than a week.

Unfortunately Olivia’s story is not unusual. Our research shows that over 100,000 children in the UK run away every year and one in four of them find themselves in a dangerous situation, such as sleeping rough, staying with strangers, begging or stealing to survive. 

Local protection for runaways getting worse

Our new report is based on freedom of information (FOI) requests to all local authorities and police forces across the country. The report exposes that the protection offered locally to these vulnerable children varies widely, with some areas failing to keep children safe from harm.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Few runaways services - Two thirds of councils did not have a special project for children who run away, with several areas reporting that services for these children were closing.
  • Poor data collection – 30% of police forces were unable to say how many children went missing in their area. Nearly half of local authorities did not collect data on what support runaways received in their area.
  • Lack of local strategic responsibility – 19 councils do not have a named person responsible for children who run away despite a requirement in government guidance.
  • Poor support for runaways – half of local authorities and a third of police could not say whether they provided young people with the specialist support specified by government guidance such as a ‘safe and well’ check and return interview when they run away.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including training for front-line staff, councils and the police to get better at collecting and sharing information and for every child that runs away from home to receive a ‘safe and well’ check and return interview. 

Ask your local authority to make runaways safe

This report highlights that many local agencies need to urgently improve the support they provide for children that run away. This will help save councils money in the long run, but more importantly, will help keep children safe. 

We are calling on local authorities to sign up to our Runaways Charter as part of our Make Runaways Safe campaign. The charter was written with young people, and commits the local authority to provide a safety net for children that run away.

Use our interactive map to see whether your local authority has signed the Make Runaways Safe Charter and ask them to Make Runaways Safe in your area.



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By Natalie Williams - Policy team

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What I believe runaway children come from all backgrounds — from both urban and rural settings and from every socio-economic class. It is important to recognize the warning signs that your child might be exhibiting. Remember, thoughts of or plans to run away often start long before the child actually leaves. If the warning signs are recognized and acted upon, you may be able to prevent your child from becoming a runaway.