Children most frequently run to escape problems they see as insurmountable or to return to a places or people they would prefer to be, according to the report, called Running away – Young people’s views on running away from care.
The daunting issues they try to escape from by running include stressful environments, relationship issues, or a dislike of their current placement. Children who have run once are likely to do so again, notes the report, particularly if the problems which provoked the original flight are still present.
Unless the children have run to try and reach a particular place or to reunite with a particular person, most apparently intend to return. Some of the children are only looking for a break from the environment they live in, a chance to calm down and to get a fresh perspective on their problems.
The report is based on interviews with actual children in care. To quote the report:
“Some of the children we met had run away from care themselves, some had thought about running away but had decided not to run. Some knew about running from care from other people, and others had no experience of their own about running from care, but gave us their thoughts on the subject.”
In addition to their views on running away, the youngsters were also asked about how they saw associated dangers – running out of money, crime, gangs, sexual exploitation.
Only some of the children who ran realised the risks they faced, but even for those, the pressures and problems they faced in their home environments often seemed more
important. Others reported a slow awakening to the realities of their situation once out there on the streets:
“At first, running feels good and exciting, but soon becomes boring and frightening. Children who have run feel worried for their safety, about how they will survive alone, and about what will happen to them when they get back.”
We also get a vivid snapshot of life in care in the rather sad observation that:
“Many children believe that the people closest to them will worry the most about them when they run away, but that most professionals are only concerned because it is part of their job and are not really worried about the individual child.”
The report calls on such professionals to listen to the children in their care and take active step to try and solve the problems, even if it means moving them to a different placement.
Edward Timpson is the current Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families. He hailed Running Away:
“We have been very concerned that some local authorities and children’s homes are letting down children by failing to act as a proper ‘parent’. We are talking about often very damaged children who need a stable, loving and permanent home. This is a very important report – which makes clear that carers and social workers need to listen and address children’s concerns as early as possible – before it reaches the crisis point of them feeling they have no option but to run away.”
The lives of children in care is an emotive topic, and one we have covered before, for example here and here. Children end up in care for different reasons – abuse, neglect, serious family problems – and there can be little doubt that they are often much better off away from such fractured and disturbing backgrounds. But the hard reality is that living in a care home or with foster parents is never going to be the same as living at home with your own Mum and Dad. No matter how dedicated the care home workers or foster parents, the bonds will always be looser and it is no surprise really that so many looked-after children take to their heels when pressures and problems close in. We can only hope that they all find their way home again.