21 Dec 2012

Police forces and local authorities up and down the country are not doing enough to protect children who run away from home or care, a report by a leading children’s charity reveals. 

The Children’s Society has published Make Runaways Safe: The Local Picture, revealing that the protection offered to children who run away from home or care varies considerably, with some areas failing to keep children safe from harm.

This is despite research which shows that one in four children that run away find themselves in a dangerous situation, such as sleeping rough, staying with strangers, begging or stealing to survive . 

One in four in danger

As part of Make Runaways Safe: The Local Picture, the charity issued Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all 153 councils in England with responsibility for child protection, as well the 39 regional police forces in England.

Findings include:

  • two thirds (103) of councils did not have a dedicated project for children who run away
  • some police forces were not able to say how many children went missing in their area
  • 19 local authorities did not have a named person leading on missing children
  • some police and local authorities were unable to say whether all children are receiving ‘safe and well’ checks and return interviews

The Children’s Society’s research reveals that 100,000 children in the UK run away from home or care every year – the equivalent of one every five minutes. In England alone, 84,000 under 16 year olds run away overnight on at least one occasion every year. 

100,000 children run away

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: 

'This report shows that many local agencies need to urgently improve the way they help children that run away. Huge numbers of children who run away find themselves in extremely dangerous situations. 

'Some police forces and councils are doing this very well, but others are simply not up to scratch. It is vital that there is consistency. This could help save councils money in the long run, but more importantly, will help keep children safe.

'There also needs to be a change in attitudes among many professionals, so that children who run away are treated as vulnerable, rather than being wrongly seen as a nuisance.'

Situation getting worse

Make Runaways Safe: The Local Picture found little evidence that the situation for runaways was improving, with several areas reporting that dedicated services for runaway children were closing. It also appears that the situation has worsened since the government scrapped targets for runaways’ provision in 2010 .

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. 

The Children’s Society, as part of its Make Runaways Safe campaign, is calling on local authorities to sign up to its Runaways Charter. The charter is written in conjunction with young people, and commits the local authority to provide a safety net for children that run away. 

Media enquiries

For more information on The Children’s Society and the Make Runaways Safe campaign, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422, 07810487988 or by email. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508. 

Notes to editors

  • The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life. 
  • For more information please visit our Make Runaways Safe website. The Children’s Society is encouraging people to write to their council to encourage them to sign the Runaways Charter, which people can do through the Make Runaways Safe website. 
  • Nineteen councils are currently signed-up to the Runaways Charter. They include: Kent, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Barking & Dagenham, Enfield, Leicestershire, Reading, East Riding, Stockport, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, Hertfordshire, Derby, Havering, Oldham, Hampshire and Bradford