Missing children and young people need safe places to stay
Each year, the British police respond to 200,000 reports of a child or young person under 18 going missing. Every missing child is vulnerable. Many children go missing to escape violence, neglect or conflict at home; and children with mental health issues, trafficked children and those living in care placements are particularly likely to go missing. Being missing puts these already vulnerable children in even greater danger. We know that young people who are missing are at much greater risk of being exploited and becoming victims of crime. The links between going missing and sexual exploitation are particularly concerning, with research showing that 70 per cent of sexually exploited children had also gone missing.
Kayleigh is 16. She suffered years of neglect at home which caused her to run away several times. She was taken into care, but continued to go missing : “By the time I got into care, the damage was done.”While missing, Kayleigh faced many risks and was sexually exploited. “I’ve run away a few times to London and you have to choose whether to spend all night sitting on a cold street or go for a drink with a stranger who’s come up to you. “
Many young people who go missing are reluctant to seek professional help. They fear that they will be taken into care or sent straight back to where they have run away from, and so they decide to go “off the radar”. As a result, one in six end up sleeping rough or staying with someone they have just met,[i]and many more “sofa surf” with friends or other contacts.
The lack of emergency accommodation makes it very difficult for children and young people to avoid the dangers of being missing. There is now just one refuge in Britain that provides confidential emergency accommodation for children under the age of 16 who have run away and are at risk of harm: the Safeplace Refuge in Yorkshire run by Safe@Last. For young people aged 16-25 some other options are available, such as DePaul Nightstop which provides a growing network of emergency accommodation in volunteer hosts’ homes for 16-25 year olds. However, Nightstop is not yet available to under-16s, and in most areas of the country demand for emergency accommodation for significantly outstrips supply. Local authorities have recognised the lack of emergency accommodation, and have highlighted the need for flexible community-based accommodation that does not trigger a child to be placed into “looked after” status.
A national network of flexible emergency accommodation that meets the needs of young people of different ages, and that does not require children to have looked after status would provide a vital safety net. It would provide a breathing space for vulnerable young people, an opportunity for them to link in with services that could help change their lives, and a chance to find suitable long-term accommodation if they cannot return home. We believe that local authorities must have a statutory duty for ensuring sufficient flexible emergency accommodation in their local area, to fit in with their responsibilities for safeguarding and promoting a child’s welfare.
Call to action – safe places to stay: The government should ensure that every missing child or young person who is unable to return home safely can access suitable emergency accommodation to keep them safe.
You can download a copy of our policy briefing outlining Missing People's position on safe places to stay for children and young people below.