Some 100,000 children and young people run away from home every year, but there are only nine refuge places in the country. The Children’s Society, in a report commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, calls for a national safety net for runaways in need of somewhere safe to stay.
The report summarises previous research conducted by The Children’s Society which found that 20 per cent of the 100,000 children who run away each year either sleep rough or are harmed whilst away from home. Many children are running from violence, abuse and neglect. The report emphasises that running away is largely a hidden problem. Only 5 per cent of runaways currently seek help from agencies like the police or social services whilst away from home, and so many professionals working with these children are not aware of the scale of the problem in their area.
The report recommends that the proposed network of emergency accommodation should be part of a wider package of crisis support for young runaways. This network should include everything from universal and targeted work to prevent young people running away in the first place, a 24-hour crisis helpline, to the provision of follow-up support to help reduce the chances of children running away again.
The report suggests that these services should be set up in geographical clusters with local authorities sharing the costs. It argues that emergency accommodation is widely perceived as being expensive. But in fact this proposal could bring significant cost savings in the long term because some 8 per cent of young people are hurt or harmed whilst away from home. Creating safe emergency accommodation for young people would reduce the costs of this harm to the individual and to society.
In addition, crisis response services could substantially reduce the cost to police of dealing with missing person reports, which cost £1,000 to £2,000. A response service would also help to reduce the incidence of young people committing petty crime whilst away from home in order to survive.