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Cuts affect service for runaways

19 December 2014


FINDING safe places for children who run away from home is becoming more difficult because of funding cuts, higher thresholds for intervention, and the declining availability of services, a new report suggests.

The report Reaching Safe Places, launched this month by the charity Railway Children, which helps children who live alone on the streets, states that an estimated 18,000 children who run away this year will sleep rough, or will stay with someone they have just met.

The report, which comes after the closure of all but one refuge for young runaways in the UK, found that four of the five top places where young people find shelter are behind closed doors: with friends, family, or acquaintances, or strangers' houses, and parties.

The author of the report, Jane Thompson, who is Railway Children's research and policy officer, said: "Risky situations can happen almost immediately. Who you are with is far more critical than how long you've been away. When a teenager has 'run out of favours' . . . ending up at the home of someone they barely know can happen very quickly. Behind closed doors, invisible to police and social workers, they often don't realise the risks until it's too late."

A Freedom of Information request to local authorities showed that 71 out of the 110 that responded did not provide emergency accommodation for runaways aged under 16. The remaining 39 helped 157 children during 2013-14.

Workers who help young people who are living rough reported difficulties in getting social-care assessments for 16-to-17-year-olds.

The report recommends that:

• schools should play a bigger part as safe places, and provide PSHE lessons to develop life skills;

• the Government must protect youth services that offer a safe place;

• local authorities must provide an interview with someone independent, whom children can trust, as early as possible to prevent risks escalating;

• OFSTED should inspect how local authorities deal with under-18s who need emergency accommodation;

• local authorities should work more closely with charities to provide alternative accommodation.

Ms Thompson said: "The well-being of these children depends on them having support from adults they can trust. But young people are struggling to find a safe place when they most need one."

Homeless centre to close. The Bishop of Tewkesbury, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, visited the Vaughan Centre for the homeless, in Gloucester, last Friday. The centre will close in January unless it can find £82,000 to keep it running for three days a week over six months.

"The Vaughan Centre provides a lifeline to many people in need of assistance," Bishop Snow said. "It would be very sad if this is unable to continue.

"Homelessness pervades our diocese - sometimes hidden, often overlooked, but always there. Shelter organisations provide services relied upon by the homeless community, but, sadly, are coming under increasing financial pressure."

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