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Supporting runaway children through policy and practice

The English Coalition for Runaway Children (ECRC) is a coalition of organisations working together to improve policy and practice. Sarah Parker, Volunteer Coordinator of Catch22's Stoke and Staffordshire Missing and Child Sexual Exploitation Service tells us more about the work of the ECRC and her role as co-Chair.

31 January 2019

About the English Coalition for Runaway Children 

The English Coalition for Runaway Children (ECRC) is a coalition of England-based organisations that work with children and young people who run away or go missing from home or care. It exists to ensure that children at a vulnerable point in their lives are safeguarded from harm through effective policy and appropriate services at both national and local level.

When I first began working with a missing and exploited children’s service as a development officer, I was invited along to the ECRC by a colleague. For me, it was an absolute gift: it enabled me to network with other practitioners across the country to compare notes, share good practice (and frustrations) and raise issues of concern.

In 2018, I was invited to co-chair the ECRC together with Josie, Policy and Campaigns Manager for Missing People- a role I have had for the past six months now. We are working to increase the impact of the coalition nationally and to make sure services to missing children are not compromised by lack of resources.

It is refreshing and heartening to be able to work closely with other agencies, charities and local authorities who would normally view each other as competitors. Hearing different perspectives on the same issue is tremendously helpful and enriching, something I don’t think we do enough. And together- with our combined skills, knowledge and resources- we are so much more able to ensure that vulnerable young people are given the very highest standard of support.

Working together to drive best practice

A good example of the ECRC’s work is on the issue of return home interviews.

Statutory guidance published by the Department for Education states that upon their return, all missing children should “be offered an independent return interview. Independent return interviews provide an opportunity to uncover information that can help protect children from the risk of going missing again, from risks they may have been exposed to while missing or from risk factors in their home.”

Delivery of these return home interviews (RHIs) is the responsibility of each individual local authority. This means that provision can be inconsistent and young people are faced with a ‘postcode lottery’ of services. There is also relatively little guidance on how RHIs should be delivered, and some research, as well as anecdotal experience amongst ECRC members, suggests that children in certain areas are receiving poor quality, ineffective interviews.

In 2017, the ECRC identified the need for more information about return interviews, particularly around what good practice looks like. Members worked collaboratively to develop a briefing based on their experience of delivering RHIs to children and young people across the country, which was presented both to Ofsted and the DfE. We raised concerns particularly in relation to the 72-hour window after a child returns from a missing episode during which the interview should be held.

Whilst we fully support the desire to ensure children receive prompt intervention and support, we stressed the fact that 72 hours can be too soon for a child who may have experienced traumatic events, and that we would rather prioritise successful and meaningful engagement with the child over slavish adherence to time targets. We highlighted the recommendation that the child should be able to exercise some choice over when, where and how the RHI is conducted and by whom.

Future focus

At our next meeting, Catch22 will be sharing our experience of working across the whole range of child exploitation in our Pan-Merseyside Service. We are also continuing to raise concerns over children placed in care in another local authority area- often the most vulnerable children- who do not receive appropriate provision when they go missing.

Further information: