New 'sympathetic' interviews for children who run away

Published on Friday, 17 January 2014 10:26
Written by Daniel Mason

Every child who goes missing from home or care will now have the chance to talk to an independent person about why they ran away.

The new rules, unveiled today by children and families minister Edward Timpson, will see all children who return, having run away, receive an independent return interview organised by their local authority. Only then will agencies find out why they ran away and help prevent it happening again.

Timpson said: "For too long support for children who have gone missing has been patchy. Our new rules mean that every child will now have the chance to talk to a sympathetic, independent person. Only then will we find out why they ran away and if they came to harm, and help to make sure they don't run away again.

"Councils must now rise to the challenge. Within the next six months I expect all to have made dramatic improvements to the support they provide missing children, and for all to offer return interviews to every child that has been missing from home or care.

"This is part of a package of reforms to children's residential care, monitored by Ofsted, to improve safety and stop children running away. Children's homes will now work much more closely with police and councils – and all will follow tighter rules when children are at risk of going missing."

The new rules, developed in conjunction with the Children's Society, are published as part of the government's revised statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: "This is fantastic news for children, a crucial step forward. We are delighted that the government has shown its commitment to such a vulnerable group of children.

"We've been campaigning for these changes because we work with runaway children across the country. We see first-hand the dangers they face while they're missing and the problems at home that make them run away in the first place.

"As we know from our work, simply having someone independent to talk to when they return can make a huge difference and help keep children safe from harm.

"The spotlight is now on councils to make sure these changes happen. It is crucial that they rise to this challenge so that every child who runs from home or care gets the help and support they need."

Today's announcement is one of a series of reforms that the government has introduced to improve safety in children's residential care. We have already started recording details of every child missing from care, even for an hour (it used to be 24) and earlier this year changed the rules so for the first time police know where children's residential care homes are located.

Norman Baker, crime prevention minister, said: "I want to see proper protection and support being given to vulnerable children who go missing from home.

"Agencies need to work better together to ensure children's voices are heard and those who exploit them are brought to justice.

"Asking children why they went missing is crucial to understanding how they can be best supported on their return and I am pleased the new guidance asks local authorities to carry out independent interviews with them. I hope that this will improve the care being provided to those who need it most."

Wider government reforms to improve the safety, quality and transparency of children's residential care include:

  • new rules so only a director of children's services can sign off the decision to move a child out of area, and only if it is the right decision for the child
  • rules so homes must tell councils when children move into and out of the area
  • changes to the regulations so new homes only open in safe areas, run by competent providers and ensuring homes already open in less safe areas evidence that they can keep children safe or face closure
  • much greater information on the quality and location of children's homes into the public domain - this autumn we published an extended data pack to improve accountability and drive improvements by sharing best practice

Source: Department for Education

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