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
Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice