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Police forces and local authorities up and down the country are not doing enough to protect children who run away from home or care, a report by a leading children's charity reveals.
The Children's Society has published Make Runaways Safe: The Local Picture (pdf), revealing that the protection offered to children who run away from home or care varies considerably, with some areas failing to keep children safe from harm.
According to the charity, 100,000 children in the UK run away from home or care every year. In England alone, 84,000 under 16 year olds run away overnight on at least one occasion every year.
In preparing the report, the charity issued Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all 153 councils in England with responsibility for child protection, as well the 39 regional police forces in England.
It found that two thirds of councils did not have a dedicated project for children who run away. In addition, 19 local authorities did not have a named person leading on missing children.
Researchers found little evidence that the situation for runaways was improving, with several areas reporting that dedicated services for runaway children were closing. The charity also observed that the situation has worsened since the government scrapped targets for runaways' provision in 2010.
The report makes a series of recommendations, including training for front-line staff, councils and the police to get better at collecting and sharing information and for every child that runs away from home to receive a ‘safe and well' check and return interview.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children's Society, said: "This report shows that many local agencies need to urgently improve the way they help children that run away. Huge numbers of children who run away find themselves in extremely dangerous situations.
"Some police forces and councils are doing this very well, but others are simply not up to scratch. It is vital that there is consistency. This could help save councils money in the long run, but more importantly, will help keep children safe."
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