Help The Children's Society build a safety net for children who run away from home.

Our campaign goals

What it means to build a safety net for children who run away from home

Through our Make Runaways Safe campaign, we aim to secure national and local support for children and young people who run away from home or care. This integrated support should create a national safety net for all children who run away.

We are calling on central government to take the lead and set out an action plan to make sure that all agencies prioritise children who run away as a child protection concern. Details of the action plan are below.

The support that children who run away receive in their local area is key, so we will be campaigning locally to ensure that all children who run away from home or care receive a full range of support.

Our action plan

In order to achieve change, we want ministers in the Department for Education and the Home Office to develop a clear plan of action for a national safety net to ensure that no child who runs away is left at risk.

The action plan should:

  • Provide timely advice, guidance and support to children who run away and their parents and carers.
  • Ensure that professionals working with children are aware of the risk factors associated with running away.
  • Improve support for children who run away, such as early intervention programmes, intensive one to one support, family mediation and outreach youth services.
  • Improve the responses of local authorities to the problem and make sure that Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards take the lead with the right procedures in place.
  • Improve police responses by conducting regular assessments to determine the nature and scale of the problem, and by making sure that there are effective links with other agencies.

A detailed case for this action plan is made in our Make Runaways Safe report (full reportsummary).

Building a safety net for all children who run away

In the last five years there has been important progress in recognising and identifying running away as a key safeguarding issue.

This progress is now at risk because the government and local agencies are not prioritising young runaways. This, combined with budget cuts, significantly reduces the ability of children’s services and the police to respond to young runaways.

The statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care clearly sets out what should happen when a child runs away. However, from our survey of services we have found that:

  • There is a variation in implementation of statutory guidance.
  • Higher thresholds are being set by children’s services to respond to children in need.
  • The removal of the national indicator on young runaways has hindered the development of local responses.
  • There is a shortage of emergency accommodation, with only two refuge beds in England.
  • There is a lack of awareness among professionals who work with children.
  • Specialist services are experiencing funding cuts either now or over the next year.

The costs and potential savings of supporting runaways

While establishing a national safety net could benefit the lives of the thousands of children and young people who run away from home, it could also provide substantial society-wide benefits. There are substantial financial and social costs when a child runs away from home.

Our analysis of the costs of various services show that for less severe incidents of running away from home and care, the costs are up to £82 million each year for the police, other public services and society – and the overall burden could be significantly greater.

The average cost of providing support to a young person when they have run away for the first time is £800. If the intervention is successful it will prevent around two further running-away incidents, and effective early intervention could also prevent future problems.

Investing in early intervention to support young runaways could result in substantial net savings to public services of, in some cases, up to £300,000 or more per child.

Please read our Make Runaways Safe report – full reportsummary – for a more thorough look at the complex issues surrounding children and young people who run away.

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