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Runaway Children

Volume 453: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) what steps he is taking to ensure that local authorities provide appropriate levels of support for runaway children; (102525)

(2) if he will assess the merits of introducing centrally controlled provision for runaway children;

(3) what support is given to runaway children who are considered as having priority need.

This Government are committed to improving outcomes for all children, especially the most vulnerable, for example those children and young people who run away.

We need to prevent young people from going missing in the first place, and ensure their safe return and safety when they do run away. Most runaways return within 24 hours, but they need effective mediation and resolution for their problems. When a child is missing for longer, it is even more important we have clear support mechanisms, procedures and responsibilities to enable them to be found and returned, safely and speedily, and their problems addressed.

Our fundamental programme of reform to improve outcomes for children everywhere—“Every Child Matters”—is designed to ensure vulnerable young people receive local services that identify them quickly, give responsive support tailored to their needs, and ensure their safety. It covers early intervention and prevention; integration of education, social care and health services available to at-risk youngsters; information sharing to prevent young people slipping through the net; early assessment of young people's needs, including those relating to broader family issues; joined up support for children and families, through a lead professional.

This means that children at risk of running away can receive practical local help for all the problems they face, not just the immediate presenting crisis. Local children's services are best placed to identify and engage with at-risk groups more quickly and effectively, where prevention and speed of response is vital. Unfortunately, not all runaways are reported as missing, but when the needs of such vulnerable young people become known to, and are assessed as a priority by, children's social care departments, they have a duty to assess and address those needs.

Nationally, we are working across Departments, with the police, and with other key voluntary bodies. We are working with Barnardo's to summarise and disseminate lessons learned from the six community-based refuge pilot projects we funded recently. We are also working with The Children's Society to find and disseminate good practice across local authorities. We are planning new quality standards for information advice and guidance for young people; greater focus on early intervention and prevention for the whole family; and we are working with the London councils to consider their next steps towards a pan-London strategy for runaways.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) what estimate he has made of the proportion of runaway children who are given a full independent interview by police before being returned to their parents; (102700)

(2) what financial support is provided to local authorities to ensure that runaway children are given a full independent interview by police before being returned to their parents.

It has always been policing good practice to interview runaway and missing persons on return to establish why they went missing, where they went, were they victims or perpetrators of crime, and whether they came to any other form of harm. This is formalised in the 2005 Association of Chief Police Officers' document “Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons”.

The National Centre of Police Excellence estimate around 90 per cent. of children are spoken to as part of this return-home process. No separate ring-fenced money is provided by local authorities for the police to conduct these interviews outside of normal budget provisions.