Councils failing to provide good support for young runaways

Two thirds of English local authorities do not have a specialist project offering one-to-one support to children at risk of running away

Local authorities must keep better records of missing children and ensure there is a dedicated runaway project in their area.

Both recommendations were made in a report published today by the charity Railway Children, which found councils are leaving young people at risk of harm by failing to provide adequate specialist support.

According to the research, councils are still failing to keep accurate data on the number of children who go missing in England and Wales, while two thirds of English councils do not have a dedicated runaway project.

The report examined the efficacy of a specialist one-to-one support model, called Reach, piloted across the UK by Railway Children. Its findings are based on interviews with 53 young people helped by Reach services last year, all of whom had complex needs – half were at risk of sexual exploitation or teen pregnancy, while 80% were at significant risk of running away.

The approach, where one-to-one support is provided by the voluntary sector, was found to be the most cost-effective way of safeguarding children who go missing, or are at risk of running away.

‘Preventing the next Rochdale, Rotherham or Derby’

Railway Children chief Terina Keene said: “Without one-to-one support, longer-term when needed, any government response will fail, making it easier for young people, particularly girls, to carry on being ignored or disbelieved when they report abuse.”

She added: “This government cannot afford to turn its back on young people and must do everything it can to prevent the next Rochdale, Rotherham or Derby.”

Education secretary Michael Gove should commit to a national action plan for young runaways, the report recommended, and protect services offering one-to-one support from further cuts.

The charity also made five specific recommendations:

  • Local authorities to recognise running away as a key safeguarding issue

  • Increase age limit from 16 to 18 for services supporting young runaways

  • Improve data on running away to help local areas provide the right services and more accurately monitor impact

  • A dedicated runaway project for each local authority, including family support and safe and well return home interviews

  • Government support for councils and providers to form a UK network so teenagers can access safe people and places when in need wherever they are

Sue Berelowitz, deputy childrens commissioner, said the charitys report provides “a practical and cost effective support model that would reduce incidents of running away by addressing the causes”.

“It is vital young people in difficult circumstances are listened to and their concerns acted upon. The report highlights some of the issues we also raised as part of [our inquiry into child sexual exploitation], which is currently underway – positive and strong partnerships between the police, social care and the voluntary sector are critical to keeping these children safe,” she said.

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