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Runaway Children

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 29 June 2006

2. What steps he is taking to ensure that children who run away or go missing from care or home have someone to talk to and a safe place to go. (80880)

I acknowledge the excellent work that my hon. Friend is doing to raise the issue of children and young people who run away from home. They certainly need someone to talk to and somewhere to go, but they also need help with the underlying problems that cause them to run away in the first place. It is the responsibility of local children’s services, working closely with the police and the voluntary and community organisations, to provide the help that young runaways need. The Government are supporting them strongly through the Every Child Matters programme, which is driving improvements for all children and young people but particularly for the most vulnerable.

I thank my right hon. Friend, particularly for considerable improvements in safeguarding vulnerable children. May I draw her attention to National Missing Persons Helpline, a charity that has set up a 24-hour helpline for runaways, and which, in 2005, took 57,000 calls? Will she, with me, meet people from the helpline to discuss the role that it can play in safeguarding very vulnerable children who run away?

The helpline is one of a number of important vehicles by which children and young people who run away can get some immediate advice, although I think it is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of children who run away return home within 24 hours, which should be our primary objective. The helpline also gets considerable funding from the Home Office—about £900,000 this year, including £600,000 core funding. I am certainly willing to arrange a meeting to discuss the work of the helpline if that is thought to be useful.

In addition to the other support that they rightly receive, when, how and to what financial tune will children who run away from home or care be offered personalised learning, either to prevent their falling behind, if at all possible, or to assist them to catch up and fulfil their potential?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. The position of children who are looked after by the local authority—in care, as we used to call it—is of considerable concern, not only because some go missing but because in their general outcomes they are falling behind other children and young people, which should not be the case. That is why the Government, across a number of Departments, are working hard to see what are the barriers to progress for looked-after children, including issues around why they might run away. We shall publish a Green Paper outlining a range of issues, including precisely the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly raised, which is the need for dedicated personalised support so that children do not drift in care and achieve the same improved outcomes we want for all young people.