Sixty Second Interview with Roger Morgan
A report on why looked-after children run away from care was published in May by children’s rights director Roger Morgan, who is based at the Commission for Social Care Inspection. The runaways report is part of a series consulting looked-after children on their views.
Why do children in care say they run away?
There are three main reasons:
• To have fun, go somewhere and enjoy themselves
• Because the child wants to be living somewhere different to where they are now, such as back with their own family or friends
• Running away from something they can’t stand in the place they are. This includes young people who feel they haven’t been correctly placed, such as foster children wanting to be in a children’s home or vice versa. Running away from pressure, like being bullied, is another reason
How much danger do young runaways face?
This is a very major concern. There are people around waiting to prey on youngsters who have run away and are vulnerable. Some runaways tell us about their fears of being abused, fears of violence, or being brought into prostitution.
Young people are concerned about the risk of ending up homeless, particularly the older children.
A lot of them told us they knew at least one child who had run away and not returned – no one knows what has happened to them.
How can social care staff stop young people in their care running away?
Children say listen to us, particularly when we’re expressing concerns about where we want to be. They want to be able to talk about bullying before it gets to crisis point.
Children say staff should be careful about what is defined as running away. If social workers know children want to spend the day with a parent and they try and stop them and children go anyway, is that running away?
If someone’s run away, it is really important to be able to discuss if there was something they’re running from when they come back, but in their own time. Give them to opportunity to talk about it when they’re ready – the problem may need to be dealt with, they may need to get help.
Did young runaways have any praise for their social workers?
Yes, some did. It depends on the social worker they’ve got and their relationship. Children praised staff who debrief, listen, and help. They praised social workers who could cope with running away and then moved on from the issue. Some said that if you do run away you get marked out as someone who runs away, rather than social workers focusing on other achievements – such as good work at school.
Children praised social workers who are available when you need them, not necessarily just in a crisis.
Does the government take young people’s views collected by the children’s rights director seriously?
Yes, the government does take notice. We always send reports to ministers and senior officials and very often they will come back and engage in discussions about important issues. Quite often we pick issues when government decisions come up and consult children on them.
Do you have any examples of government action after you submitted young people’s views on a particular subject?
1. Overnight stays. When the issue came up that fostering services told children they couldn’t sleep over with friends, because parents were not Criminal Records Bureau checked. This was never government policy, but a lot of staff were taking a cautious view. We raised this with government and they issued a circular to clarify the situation. Foster carers should decide if a sleepover at a friend’s house is safe, just like any other parent would.
2. Private fostering. The government introduced new regulations on privately placed foster children. Looked-after children told us they wanted two changes made. One was whenever a social worker visits the foster child they should be able to see them alone. The other issue was that every private foster child should be given the means to contact their social worker at any time. The government made both changes.
3. Passing on information. Original proposals for passing on information said that children under a certain age were regarded as not old enough to make a decision as to whether to pass information on. Above that age they were able to. Children told us that it should not be about age, it should be about whether they were able to understand. Children came up with a number of questions that social workers or other people should ask about a child’s ability to understand something to make a decision. The government put the children’s views into its code of practice.
Do many young people contact you directly and what are their concerns?
We get two or three direct contacts from children a week.
The common issues are:
Children who are in a placement that’s going well, particularly if out of their own authority area, where social services are proposing to bring them back again. We will usually respond to that by discussing with the director of social services in the authority concerned and the child.
They have a particular view and they feel they’re not being listened to. We find ourselves contacting social services to say that this child has got to the point of contacting us, so something needs to be done. They don’t feel they’re being listened to and someone needs to listen to them and reach a position.