Focus: Policy and Politics - Question Time - Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat chief whip

WHAT WAS THE OBJECTIVE of your recent trip to the US with the Children's Society?

The main objective was to see what lessons we could learn from the US experience of operating a federal-level programme to deal with runaway children. The programme started in the 1970s - we wanted to see how it was working and if there was anything we could translate to UK domestic policy.

WHAT DID YOU FIND?

We learnt that having a bit of distance from your own domestic scene gives you a better perspective. There are things that we have done in the UK that are considerably ahead of where the US is - particularly in terms of the way in which we don't differentiate between children in the state system and those in private family homes.

IS THERE ANYTHING THE UK CAN LEARN?

Yes - there was a clear, cross-party recognition in the US that they needed a federal, national-level approach to dealing with young runaways to provide them with shelter and services.

ANYTHING ELSE?

We can learn from the recognition that there was no way in which that programme could be guaranteed at state level, because these services would often be squeezed. This was what happened before 1974. There was a patchwork quilt - you would get a different level of service depending on which state you were in. That's what we have in the UK at the moment - it's incredibly patchy and, depending on which city you turn up in, there may be no provision whatsoever.

WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?

We held a seminar to report back to parliamentarians and policy makers last week. Helen Southworth MP is pursuing a Ten-Minute Rule Bill, and we're looking for some parliamentary time to debate our findings.

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