HC Deb 08 February 2000 vol 344 cc118-9W
Helen Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what progress has been made by his Department in developing a joint strategy with the Home Department to provide services for children who run away from home; [108521]

(2) if he will make it his policy to introduce central monitoring of the number of children running away from local authority care; and if he will make a statement; [108522]

(3) what progress has been made in identifying care placements which have a high rate of children running away; and if he will make a statement. [108523]

Mr. Hutton

We are taking forward a comprehensive range of measures to prevent children reaching the point where they feel the need to run away from home. These include the Government's Supporting Families programme and the Quality Protects programme to transform social services for children in need and their families. These initiatives will help to reduce the pressures felt by families which can lead to conflict and the breakdown of relationships. Schools have also been asked to pay greater attention to the home circumstances of a child and to liaise with other agencies where a child appears to have problems or difficulties. The proposed youth support service for 13–19 year olds will also have a significant role in identifying and assisting children in difficulty at home or at school.

It is essential that a holistic multi-agency approach to runaways is taken locally and the Department's Children's Services Planning Guidance advises social services departments to plan services for runaways on a collaborative basis with other agencies. Current provision includes refuges, drop-in centres, advocacy for young children, emergency foster care placements and night-stop accommodation.

Children's Services Planning Guidance also stresses the need for local authorities to monitor incidence and patterns of running away to assist the planning of services and to identify both families and institutions from which children run away repeatedly. From this April we will require local authorities in England to record absences of more than 24 hours from agreed placements for a sample of one third of their looked after children. These data will provide the first national estimate of the incidence of running away.