Posted: 22 January 2014

New guidance assures return interviews for young people

The new guidance on young runaways and children who go missing from home and care, launched by the Department for Education on Friday is a powerful tool to protect young runaways. 

The guidance states  that Local Authorities must offer return interviews to all young runaways. It also stresses that local areas have a duty to safeguard young people who run away from their families, and not just those who are in the care system. 

This document, which local authorities are required to follow, has been influenced by our Make Runaway Safe campaign and informed by learning from our direct work with young people who go missing from home and care.   

Return interviews reveal hidden reasons for running away

The guidance can make a huge difference to young people like Fiona, who was supported by a project worker from one of our programmes.

When she was 14 Fiona went missing regularly from her family home. Her family, plagued by alcohol problems, did not always report her missing. Fiona was taking drugs and alcohol and did not attend school regularly. She did not initially want to engage with the project, but her project worker persevered and eventually Fiona agreed to have what’s known as a 'return interview' after one of her missing episodes. 

During that interview the full extent of Fiona’s risk taking became apparent. When missing, she associated with a number of older men, ranging from 16-63 years old, including a drug dealer. She told her project worker of attending 'parties' with them, drinking and taking drugs.  

Eventually, when the trust was built between Fiona and her project worker, she disclosed a sexual assault that happened when she was missing, and the true reason that made her run away in the first instance – a rape by an extended family member. 

What is a return interview?

Fiona received help because in the area where she lived there was a service offering young runaways return interviews. 

A return interview is a conversation a young person has with a trained professional about the things that made them run away, people they met while away and talk about the support they need to prevent them running away again. 

It is also an opportunity to explain to young people about the grooming, risks of abuse and sexual exploitation and how to seek help and stay safe if they run away again. 

Currently, return interviews are not always offered

As our report Here to listen? Return interview provision for young runaways showed, such provision was patchy and many local authorities did not even consider that children who run away or go missing from home are their responsibility. Some professionals even think that they're beyond help by ‘choosing this lifestyle’. 

The new guidance makes it clear that local authorities have a duty to protect children who run away or go missing from parental homes and they must offer all young runaways - those missing from home and those missing from care - a return interview. It also further strengthens support for young people who go missing from care.

Return interviews help young people

In Fiona’s case, the project supported her to go to the police to report sexual assaults and stood by her when the case went through court. 

We know that when young runaways offer timely and meaningful help, the outcomes are very positive – our projects report up to 60% reduction in the number of running away episodes and many children stop running away altogether. 

Our Make Runaways Safe campaign is shining a light on the need of young runaways to get the right support. The spotlight is now on the councils to implement the new guidance and offer the right support to young runaways. 


By Iryna Pona - Policy team