Expert advice for social workers trying to support young runaways

Emilie Smeaton gives an overview of her soon-to-be published guide for social workers working with children who run away

Approximately 100,000 children and young people run away for a night or more while under the age of 16 because of reasons relating to family issues and problems with school or peers. Young runaways face significant risks whilst away from home or care.

The majority of children and young people who run away from home are not reported as missing to the police and many do not seek or receive support to meet their needs. Children who run away are therefore vulnerable and at risk for a range of reasons.

Statutory guidance

In January 2014 the Department for Education published statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from care. This sets out the steps that local authorities and their partners should, firstly, take to prevent children from running away or going missing and, secondly, to protect children when they run away or go missing.

Community Care Inform has commissioned a special (soon to be published) guide to provide social workers with information that will support them to effectively implement the government’s guidance and safeguard children who run away, or are at risk of doing so.

Effective strategies

The guide provides information, good practice and resources to support professionals’ understanding of children who run away, and with developing effective strategies and responses to meet their needs. The information draws upon learning from both research and practice.

The guide considers both strategic and operational responses to running away that will support with implementing the statutory guidance and meeting young runaways’ needs.

For example, the guide stresses the importance of measures at the local level relating to collecting and sharing information, multi-agency working and having a lead professional for running away.

Preventative measures

It also highlights the need for preventative measures, improving risk management and ensuring training is delivered to professionals working with children and young people and their families.

Social workers will also find good practice to follow when commissioning services for children and young people who run away. Return Home Interviews are considered because of their importance in ensuring the child or young person’s needs are placed at the centre of the response to the child or young person and for the identification of risk or harm.

Practical information

The guide also considers: children who are not reported as missing to the police; reaching a diverse range of children; ensuring a needs-based approach with children who run away; supporting parents and carers and the wider family.

As the statutory guidance highlights how certain issues can be closely linked to running away, the CC Inform guide addresses child sexual exploitation, gangs, drug and alcohol misuse, children trafficked from abroad and young runaways’ vulnerability to violent crime.

The guide will give social workers practical information and resources to establish effective measures to address running away in the local area, and support professionals’ learning and understanding of running away.

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