This month we signed a partnership agreement with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). Our agreement sets out how we can work together to improve support for children and young people who run away or go missing from home or care.
This is great news concerning a problem we need to tackle. With around 100,000 children running away from home or care every year - many more than once - our organisations are working hard to ensure that these vulnerable children and young people are protected from harm and abuse.
Across the country, we run nine projects for runaway children and we have campaigned for better services for young runaways for more than 25 years.
In our archives we have files of young runaways dating to our earliest days some 130 years ago. For example, case 1047 from 1887 tells a story of a 15-year-old girl living in a workhouse with her alcoholic father. Her mother died and her family could not look after her properly.
She was considered to be in ‘great danger’ as she was ‘was wandering about the streets all day’ and dancing in a pub. ‘She has not gone wrong’ – continues the file – ‘though exposed to so much evil’.
While the times of the workhouses are thankfully gone, conflicts, parental drug and alcohol abuse, neglect, violence and bullying still make many children run away from home or care, often pushing them into situations of abuse or sexual exploitation.
Many of these children do not seek help as they are not aware of the support available or because they do not trust adults and professionals - who have often failed them many times before.
Far too often we hear of professionals seeing these children as ‘troublesome’ rather than ‘troubled’ – and as potential criminals rather than vulnerable child victims. This attitude contributes to young people not getting the support they need to leave situations of abuse.
And, while there are examples of good responses to young runaways in some local authorities, too often there are still gaps in support provided to this vulnerable group of children allowing them to slip through the net of services and fall prey to exploitative individuals and situations.
That it is why it is so important for us to work in partnership with CEOP as they are responsible for the national oversight of missing and abducted children. As part of UK policing and the newly created National Crime Agency, CEOP can bring together best national and international practice from across different agencies tasked with supporting children and young people who run away or go missing.
Protecting children from harm and exploitation is an issue that cannot be tackled by a single agency. This responsibility has to be shared among all those who work with children and young people. Our partnership with CEOP is an example of this.