Posted: 13 November 2012

We need to protect children in care

Nearly every day brings new and repeated revelations about the extent to which children are mistreated, neglected or even abused by those who are supposed to provide love and affection needed for a child to thrive.

Despite the plethora of legislation in place to protect these children and prevent abuse from happening, the Education Select Committee's recent report released authoritatively states that 'there is evidence that children have been left too long in neglectful situations'.

This statement echoes many made in a parliamentary debate last month on children in care. The debate highlighted again that the approximately 65,000 children in care very often do not receive support and attention they need to overcome the trauma of abuse and neglect in their early years that led to children being taken into care.

Children in care lack love and attention

The situation is particularly bleak for teenagers who, after multiple placements, wind up in a children’s home far from their local area, away from their friends and family. Nearly half of the 4840 children who live in children’s homes live outside their local authority. Some 29% of children in children’s homes have had at least five previous placements.

'Is it a wonder that (these children) run away?' Lord Laming asked during last week's parliamentary debate.  

It is not. 

'Love and attention is what kids in care need'

This summer, Sarah, a young person who has been involved with our work, explained what she saw in care and what young people need when sharing her experience in care with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Missing Children and Adults, during its inquiry into children missing from care. 

Sarah said she sees care staff as merely making sure that young people eat and are clean. However, she said:

'The main thing for a child in care is, like, they need love and attention, that is what kids in care need, they have obviously gone into care for a reason where there hasn’t been love and attention, for them to understand would be so much better, not to just understand just half of it, but understand all that we have got to say'.

Running away is a sign of a problem

Children in care are three times more likely to run away. Approximately 10,000 children go missing every year, and many repeatedly run away, which adds up to an estimated 42,000 incidents each year.

Not only is running away dangerous for the young people, it is a sort of siren that something is wrong in a child’s life and they may be at risk of serious harm. 

There is a strong link between going missing from care and sexual exploitation and grooming. Some young people go missing as a consequence of sexual exploitation. Others are at risk of being targeted by perpetrators who groom them for sexual exploitation.

This risk of child sexual exploitation is being discussed by MPs today in the parliamentary debate which can be watched on parliamentary tv after 14.00. 

Yet running away is not always seen as a cry for help. Many professionals perceive these children as 'troublesome', 'promiscuous'(1), 'criminals' (2) or even 'slags who knew what they were getting themselves into' – rather than extremely vulnerable young people in need of support.(3)

You can help 

That is why the peers called on the government 'to act decisively and with urgency to protect the most vulnerable in society'. We urge the government to listen to these calls.

That is why we are running the Make Runaways Safe campaign and urge all local authorities across England to pledge to support young people when they run away from home. So far, 18 of more than 150 local authorities have done so. 

Use our map to see whether your local authority has pledged to support vulnerable young runaways – and if they haven’t, ask them to do so today.

By Iryna Pona, Policy Adviser

Get involved and read more

  • Use our map to see whether your local authority has pledged to support vulnerable young runaways
  • Read more about our Make Runaways Safe campaign


1. 'Troublesome' and 'promiscuous' were referenced during the oral evidence sessions of the APPG inquiry into children who run away or go missing from care. (Return to text.)

2. 'Criminals' was referenced in a piece of written evidence by ECPAT UK in support of the APPG inquiry into children who run away or go missing from care.    (Return to text.)

3. This phrase was referenced in a piece of written evidence by an (anonymised) practitioner who works with young people. The evidence was submitted to the APPG inquiry into children who run away or go missing from care. (Return to text.)

By Iryna Pona - Policy team

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