Focus: Policy and Politics - Charities team up to help runaways

Nathalie Thomas

Coalition formed to lobby for the support of children who leave home.

Children's charities that work with runaway children are putting aside rivalries to create a national coalition to call on the Government to better co-ordinate services supporting children who run away from home.

The Children's Society, which is leading the coalition, along with the Runaway Helpline, the Railway Children and Get Connected, is writing to every charity in the country that works in this area. The group hopes that all organisations will join the coalition, regardless of size or location.

"We want to demonstrate how the voluntary sector is different by showing how collaboration can improve services for children on the ground," said Martin Houghton-Brown, policy adviser at the Children's Society. "We know we are, in some respects, competitors. But because our shared motivation is to change things, we want to work together, share best practice and learn from one another."

The charities have set up a Yahoo! Groups mailing list so that all new members can have a say on the coalition's development and strategy. "We want it to be inclusive and we want to get everybody on board," Houghton-Brown said.

The coalition is particularly keen to involve community-based organisations, which Houghton-Brown thinks can benefit from research and information that the larger charities can provide and to which smaller groups do not usually have access.

The coalition is being formed at the same time as a new all-party parliamentary group, which has been set up to address the subject.

The group is chaired by Helen Southworth, Labour MP for Warrington South, who earlier this year tabled a Private Member's Bill on the protection of runaway and missing children. In the Bill, Southworth called for a co-ordinated response on the part of the voluntary sector and central and local government to pull together the projects that support children who run away from home.

She said: "I want to ensure we can use best practice more effectively to reduce the number of children and young people who think this is their only option."

The children's charities have also been working with Paul Burstow, Lib Dem MP for Sutton and Cheam, who went on a fact-finding mission to the US in March to see what the UK could learn from the system there (Third Sector, 3 May).

The coalition received further encouragement when, during an adjournment debate last month, Beverley Hughes, minister for children and families, invited the Children's Society to work with the Department for Education and Skills to update guidance to local authorities on runaway children.

Emma Insley, director of Get Connected, said: "With the Government, MPs and the voluntary sector united in support for runaways, we hope we can ensure there is somewhere safe to stay for the 100,000 children and young people experiencing this vulnerable situation every year."

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