There are a range of complex factors behind the figures but they include an increase in private providers putting more children in placements outside their home areas. The children who run away then become incredibly vulnerable to being exploited by criminals, often as drug mules by so-called ‘county lines’ gangs.
As Ann Coffey, chair of all-party parliamentary group on runaways and missing children, warns today, this is a major problem for society as a whole, let alone the individuals who are tragically affected - as county lines drug dealing increasingly affects communities in Yorkshire and further afield that didn’t have such problems before.
“This is not something that is going to affect ‘other people’s children’,” the MP points out.
There are no quick solutions to the problem but an important start is to listen to these vulnerable children on why they are making decisions to run away from care placements - adding to the harm they have already experienced in their short lives. Decisions to put a child in care because of their home circumstances are rightly not taken lightly by local authorities but greater efforts should be taken to ensure placements are suitable and, where appropriate, close to their original homes where they can still maintain links with friends and family in communities they are familiar with.
The APPG on missing children is looking to hold an inquiry specifically into out of area placements and their impact on vulnerable young people.
Today’s figures highlight just how urgent that work is if this tragic - and growing - problem is to be effectively addressed.