When we asked children why they ran away they told us they did so for a variety of reasons. These included problems with relationships, wanting to change placements, or wanting to escape from stress and take time out to think things through and calm down.
There has been a lot of concern lately in the media, in government and local councils about the risks children face if they run away and I am reporting children’s own views and experiences to councils and the government.
The answers to many of our questions often produced the same answer - that for some children running away was the only solution to escape something they couldn’t cope with.
Some children realised the dangers of running but others did not. Realising the dangers put some children off running away but for many the pressure overrides the worry of danger.
While some children said that if they knew about all the risks of running away they might not run, the experience of others was that it can be so important to get away that you didn’t think about the risk. One child in care said: “To some people, knowing the risks would not matter because they need to get away.
Children identified many dangers from running away. Every group we met told us about the dangers of getting raped, being sexually exploited, being stabbed, being kidnapped, being taken and trafficked for sex, being murdered, getting involved in drugs or being made pregnant.
If children are not coping with things in their care placement, and this was not dealt with and children and young adults were not listened to, we heard that children can run away and keep running until this problem was solved.
The best way to prevent children and young people from running away from a placement where they couldn’t cope with problems was for staff to ask and listen to their problems and try to solve them. Even if this meant a change of placement, it was better to talk through problems before the child felt the need to run away. If they had run away, it was vital that the child could discuss any problems after coming back - with a person they trusted and when they felt ready to do so.
Lastly, we asked children to tell us if they had any last messages to be included in the report. They gave advice for others considering running away, including remembering to charge your phone and looking at street names so you would not get lost.
On the core message that sorting out problems is the main countermeasure to running away, two young people said: ‘Compromise, give us freedom and we won’t run away,’ and another said, ‘It shouldn’t take running to get your problems sorted.