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Children and young people who have run away are being put in danger due to funding cuts to services, a new report has found.
The Railway Children’s report – ‘Reaching Safe Places’ – found that an estimated 18,000 children or young people who run away this year will sleep rough or stay with someone they have only just met because there is nowhere for them to go when they need it most.
The report comes after the closure of all but one refuge for young runaways in the UK. It also found that local authority emergency accommodation is patchy, with 71 out of 110 local authorities unable to confirm they provide any for children under 16.
A third of those who work with 16–17-year-olds were struggling to get social care assessments to make sure they got the help that they needed.
Many young runaways said they had been abused, exploited or had found themselves in dangerous situations including sleeping rough.
Jane Thompson, author of the report and Railway Children’s Research & 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’ and sleeping on a friend’s sofa is no longer possible, 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.
“Young people are struggling to find a safe place when they most need one.”
In the report, many teenagers described the need for ‘breathing space’, maybe somewhere safe to go during the day for a few hours, where they can speak to someone they trust.
Dionne, one of the report’s young peer researchers, said: “Having positive people around you when you’re homeless and trying to find somewhere safe is essential. Some people might not have got into that situation if they had got help earlier. A lot didn’t know where to get help. It was often later on, further down the line, that they finally got help.”
The report calls on Ofsted to ensure local authorities are fulfilling their duty to young people.
Services for young people: www.thepavement.org.uk/services.php