Monday, October 10, 2005

Majority of parents fail to report missing children


The Children's Society is urgently calling for a national network of refuges for runaway children as new research today Monday October 10 reveals many parents are not reporting their children missing and thousands are being harmed on the streets.

An estimated 100,000 children aged under 16 run away from home or care overnight each year in the UK and are mainly fleeing family conflict, abuse or neglect. This figure has not changed since similar research was conducted in 1999. According to the new research conducted by The Children's Society with the University of York, which surveyed 11,000 children, aged 14–16:

Two thirds say their parents or carers did not report them missing to the police

One in six say they were forced to sleep rough or with strangers

One in 12 say they were hurt or harmed while away from home

The charity is alarmed that so many children say they were not reported missing as this puts them at greater risk of being harmed on the streets and forced into criminal activity. More than one in 10 children in the survey said they were forced to beg, steal or resort to other dangerous survival strategies. Local authorities in England are required to offer help to young runaways but support services on the ground are patchy or non-existent.

The Runaway Helpline , which takes calls from 8,000 children a month, says its operators often feel the frustration of not being able to refer distressed children to safe accommodation. There are only three official refuges for runaways in the UK with a total of 10 beds - one for every 10,000 children who run away each year. Government funding for two of these refuges ends in March next year (2006).

Bob Reitemeier, The Children's Society's chief executive says the charity is deeply concerned about the welfare of these vulnerable children:

"Ten refuge beds is not enough. Unless the government funds a national network of refuges for runaways, thousands more children will slip into the hands of dangerous adults and be harmed."

"The number of children who aren't reported missing is alarmingly high. If the police are not alerted, and children stay away from home, they will be left seeking help from adults who may harm, hurt, abuse and exploit them. We need to offer them a safe alternative, and that's why we need these refuges."

The campaign call is being backed by the Association of Chief Police Officers. Deputy Assistant Commisioner Richard Bryan says:

"I wholeheartedly support the Children's Society campaign to improve the safety of young runaways. These youngsters are very vulnerable and a network of refuges to provide places of safety makes simple, practical sense. I would add to this a plea to parents and carers to report missing children to the police. Early notification can make the vital difference in cases of abduction and may also prevent other harms such as abuse or becoming involved in crime. It is a surprise that there is so often a delay in the reporting of young runaways and that some of them are never reported - this only adds to the risks involved."

The campaign is being backed by celebrities, such as Ms Dynamite, George Michael, Helena Bonham Carter, Will Young and the cast of Coronation Street and Emmerdale, plus a coalition of organisations including The National Missing Persons Helpline, NSPCC, and existing refuge providers. The Government has launched successful initiatives aimed at runaways, however, the proportion of children running away has not fallen in the past six years. The Children's Society believes the Government now urgently needs to take a more direct approach by funding a network of refuges.

The charity believes these refuges should be open 24 hours a day and be located in confidential urban and rural locations. The aim is to give children a safe place where they can talk in confidence about their reasons for running and to give trained workers time to make proper assessments, especially on child protection issues.

A similar system of federally funded shelters for runaways and a helpline called the National Runaways Switchboard (NRS) has been in existence in the USA since the 1970s. As part of the charity's lobbying campaign, Maureen Blaha, chief executive of the NRS, has been invited to speak to Parliamentarians at a meeting in Parliament this week. MPs are being encouraged to sign Early Day Motion 393 tabled by the Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow calling for 'the swift establishment of a national network of safe places for children and young people.'

For more information about The Children's Society's Safe & Sound campaign visit the charity's website


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