Posted: 01 April 2014

Young people tell the children's minister how to make runaways safe

Young people and staff from our SCARPA programme in Newcastle welcomed Edward Timpson, the Children’s Minister and MP, to their project late this month.

It was an opportunity for young people to tell the minister what he and the government can do to make runaways safe. For the Minister, it was a chance to hear accounts of how guidance from his government makes a real difference to children’s lives.

Young people meet the minister

Our SCARPA programme supports young people who run away from home or care by responding to early signs of trouble in child’s life to stop things from getting worse. 

Being there for young people when they need it and empowering them to look for solutions to issues that make them runaway is key to project’s work with young people.   

The Minister spoke to members of the SCARPA Squad, a group of young people the project supported in the past who now help other children understand the risks of running away.

The young people told the Minister that listening and ensuring that professionals understand what makes young people run away were the most important things for making young runaways safe. 

The importance of return interviews

Many of the thousands of young people who runway each year come from difficult backgrounds. They do not have anyone to talk to when they are unhappy or they have personal problems.  But running away makes them vulnerable to abuse, sexual exploitation or coming into contact with drugs and alcohol. 

That is why, young people told the Minister, it is so important to have someone to talk to; someone who cares and listens and is there to help, not to judge. 

SCARPA offers young people the opportunity to be listened to through return interviews – a conversation that a trained professional has with a young person about what made them run away and what happened to them when they were missing. 

The return interview helps identify the right support for the young person and their family, prevents problems escalating and deals with the problems that made them run away in the first place. 

It also makes things safer for other young people as information from return interviews is used to identify predatory adults targeting runways or places where young people are at risk of harm. 

Importance of listening is the key messages in the new guidance

The new guidance on young runaways launched earlier this year is a powerful tool to protect young runaways. 

This new version of the guidance came about after we lobbied the government hard for changes that would help make runaways safe. 

Thanks to our supporters who helped our campaign, the guidance now supports what the young people told the minister on his visit to Newcastle, and when they consulted on the draft guidance

Major points from that guidance are that young runways must be listened to and that local authorities must offer return interviews to all young people running away from home or care.

'Recent changes . . . mean that more children will get the support they need'

Following his visit to the project, Edward Timpson said:

'It was great to come to Newcastle to see first-hand and hear directly from young people themselves how services like SCARPA are making a real difference.

'Keeping these children safe is a priority, and the recent changes we have introduced through guidance for councils mean that more children will get the support they need.'

By Iryna Pona - Policy team

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