Most young people probably think about running away from home
from time to time – perhaps when their parents seem too restrictive
or their siblings too annoying. But fortunately, most of them don’t
actually go through with it. Shockingly, however, large numbers
According to Children’s Society estimates, there are 129,000
incidents each year in the UK of children and young people running
away overnight – 77,000 of them for the first time and about a
quarter sleep rough.
Some have run away, others are staying away without permission, and
some have been forced to leave home by their parents or carers. One
in seven are hurt or harmed while away from home.
Most young runaways are teenagers, but about a quarter first run
away before the age of 11. The reasons young people run away are
varied, but that they have fled is a signal that something is
The Children’s Society warns in a new report published last month
on responding to young runaways, that children who are thrown out
of their home by their parents or carers are unlikely to be
reported missing to the police and are at particular risk of
falling through the net of support services.
The report, an evaluation of 19 Department for Education and
Skills-funded pilots working with runaways across England, calls
for alternative services to reach these young people, including
services they can obtain directly without having to wait for a
referral from another agency.
It highlights the difficult balancing act runaways’ projects have
in trying to contact young people directly without alienating their
parents and carers. If parents and carers are involved in the first
contact, it can be more difficult to engage with the young
runaways. On the other hand, the difficulties of involving families
are countered by the importance of talking to them to keep
The Alternative Solutions To Running Away (Astra) project for
working with families is based in Gloucestershire and tries to
balance these opposing forces in order to prop up families where
possible. It does this by having project workers to support the
young people directly, a family worker to support the parents or
carers, and a project co-ordinator.
Family worker Anne Harley says the three workers work in parallel,
but not together. The young person’s personal supporter often does
not meet the parents, and the family worker might never meet the
young person. That way both sides feel supported and learn to trust
the project, she explains.
The team mainly sees young people who have had a row with their
parents, walked out and gone back the next day. Many of the young
runaways are so emotionally chaotic they can’t link in with the
service and are taken over by social services. But of the 150 young
people that Astra supported last year, Harley worked with 40 of
Astra was set up as a three-year pilot project in 1997, the result
of joint working between police and social services after the Fred
West murder investigations in Gloucester. It cut the number of
young people running away from home or local authority care in
Gloucester by 60 per cent between 1997 and 2000. Its success
resulted in funding from Gloucestershire Council and its expansion
across the county.
All contact between Harley and the parents is voluntary and, while
some are glad of the help, others refuse it. She says: “I tell
them, ‘I have no right to be in your home and when you ask me to go
I go’. They like that feeling of control.”
There are usually regular meetings at the family home and telephone
support. On average, there will be between four and six sessions,
although Harley says she has worked with families for as long as it
Her approach depends on the family, but her main role is one of “a
listening ear”. She tries to help carers expand their parenting
style, empathise with their children, and understand what
adolescence is about.
“Most of them find a way to live together,” Harley says. “I
wouldn’t say that necessarily all is resolved, but they have made
enough modifications to live in reasonable harmony.”
* Responding to Young Runaways from
* There are an estimated 129,000 incidents of children and
young people running away overnight in the UK each year.
* Girls are more likely to run away than boys.
* Most young runaways are teenagers, but about a quarter are aged
* Young people from ethnic minorities are significantly less likely
to run away than white young people.
* Young people living in stepfamilies are much more likely to run
away than those living with their birth parents.
* About a quarter of young runaways sleep rough and one in seven
are hurt or harmed while away from home.