Councils 'failing in duty to keep young runaways safe'

Only a quarter of local authorities follow rules on interviewing those who return after going missing

Thousands of children who run away from abusive homes do not receive proper "debriefs" when they are found, because local authorities are failing to follow government orders.

Many councils are failing to identify the mistreatment that causes missing children to leave home in the first place, because they are not fulfilling their legal duty to interview them, an investigation by the charity the Children's Society has revealed.

After submitting Freedom of Information requests to 134 local authorities, the charity warns that responses to missing children "are often not adequate," and that the way in which children are dealt with "remains inconsistent and patchy across local areas".

Government guidelines require councils in England to offer a "return interview" to every child who goes missing from home or care.

But fewer than half of councils in England offer the interviews to all children who go missing from care; just one-quarter offer them to all those who run away from home, the investigation found.

The interviews are vital in helping to spot children at risk, by finding out why they went missing and what happened to them. They can also help "disrupt sexual exploitation or abuse and provide evidence for prosecution", the report says. Although return interviews result in children being found at risk of "significant harm" in 30 per cent of cases, "provision remains inconsistent and patchy".

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: "Despite clear statutory guidance, many councils are failing to carry out their duty to keep these very vulnerable children safe." He added: "The safety and well-being of children must not be subject to a postcode lottery."

Around 18,000 of the 84,000 children who run away in England every year are abused or harmed, according to the charity. Yet the numbers of interviews carried out is a fraction of what is needed. Across more than 50 local authorities in 2011-12, fewer than 3,000 return interviews were done for children missing from care, according to the report. It calls for all children who run away or go missing from home, or care, to be interviewed within three days of being found.

Ann Coffey MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, said that with many children resistant to interviews which can become inquisitions, the manner in which they are conducted is also very important. "Sometimes the people who conduct these interviews don't know how to communicate with children," she said, "so it is crucial that arrangements are made so that they are with an adult that the child actually trusts."

Responding to the report, Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said: "While formal independent return interviews are an important tool to establish why a young person went missing or ran away, they are not the only opportunity to find out the circumstances surrounding a missing episode." He argues that "a full independent return interview is not always appropriate every time a young person is categorised as missing".

Jo Youle, chief executive of the charity Missing People, said: "The links between child sexual exploitation and children going missing are very well established." She added: "It is important that all councils fulfil their obligation to protect children by ensuring that return home interviews are consistently conducted nationwide."

A statement from the Department for Education said: "Councils have a legal duty to offer return interviews to every child that has been missing from care, and when they have concerns about the safety of children who have run away from home.

"We have published plans – developed jointly with the Children's Society – to strengthen the legal guidance councils must follow when children go missing, including on return interviews. This is part of a package of reforms to children's residential care to improve safety, stop children going missing in the first place and prevent them going missing again. From September, Ofsted will inspect councils' performance on how they are meeting these obligations."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Masterchef cooks Tony Rodd (left), Emma Spitzer (second left) and
Simon Wood (right) posing with judges Gregg Wallace (centre) and John Torode (second right), as the three will be seen cooking their hearts out in the hopes of winning the show.
TVReview: Tired Geography teacher John Torode and shaved Scotch egg Gregg Wallace crown the champion
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week
Life and Style
The Grand Palais in Paris will be transformed into a 4,000-seat cinema, with 44 double beds at the front
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road