Children and young people need to understand the risks of running away and how to get help
It is vital that missing children and young people are able to access support and advice to help them stay safe. However, only one in 20 children seeks professional help while they are missing. Many do not seek help because of a lack of awareness about what help is available, and fears about what would happen if they do speak to someone about their problems.
Educating children and young people about the risks of being missing would protect them from harm. We know that being missing puts young people at great risk of exploitation and violent crime. Ensuring children and young people understand these risks, and also understand what help is available to tackle their problems before they reach crisis, could mean many more young people are safeguarded before they decide to run away or are forced to leave home. Some excellent educational resources about the risks of running away are available, but many young people receive little or no education about these issues. Teachers may be the first professionals to become aware that a child or young person is at risk of going missing or has gone missing. It is therefore important that teachers are also educated about how to respond to help safeguard and support their students.
Educating children and young people about what help is available if they run away or are forced to leave home could ensure thousands more are safeguarded. Through Missing People’s free, confidential 24/7 helpline we safeguarded more than 1,500 missing children and young people in 2013/14 by, for example, reconnecting them with a place of safety. If awareness of our services was higher, we could safeguard so many more vulnerable children.
Mark’s story: Mark has run away several times, and has been sexually exploited while missing. He is now accessing a specialist support service, and is part of a group that aims to improve the way professionals respond to sexual exploitation. “Running away is not the best way of dealing with things because the more you try to run away from your problems the more problems you cause to yourself. The more vulnerable you are the easier a target you are. It is good to find help.”
Missing is an issue that affects huge numbers of children and young people every year. We know that a quarter of 14 to 16 year olds have thought about running away. We also know that 200,000 incidents of children and young people going missing are reported to the British police each year, and many thousands more incidents are never reported. It is therefore vital that all young people are educated about running away, and Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) lessons would be the ideal place to make this happen. This move would fit well with the overall aim of PSHE to give children the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to manage their lives; and would also support schools in fulfilling their duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their care. The vast majority of missing incidents for young people involve 12-17 year olds, and so Key Stage Three would be the most appropriate time for this education to take place. Education on running away should link in with lessons on related issues such as sexual exploitation, forced marriage and homelessness.
Call to action: Understand the risks and how to stay safe - The government should ensure that all children are educated about the risks of running away, and what help they can access to stay safe.
You can download a copy of our policy briefing outlining Missing People's position on educating children and young people about the risks of running away and how to get help below.