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Responsibility for services for runaway children must be shared

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 02 August 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:312
  1. Mary MacLeod, Director of policy, research, and informationa
  1. a ChildLine, London N1 0QW

    Editor—F Lawrenson's editorial on children who run away from home highlighted what the charity ChildLine has long been aware of—that child abuse is commonly a precursor to children running away.1 In a study of telephone calls to ChildLine from 2205 runaway and homeless children we found that over a third had run away because of child abuse. Children mainly reported physical abuse (593 child callers).2 Of course, children may well be less likely to name sexual assault, but, even so, 169 child callers reported sexual assault, with 26 of these describing both sexual and physical assault. Our studies of children in care found that over a third who had run away were trying to escape bullying or assault.3 4

    Our callers were extremely reluctant to involve police or social services; they feared that they would simply be returned home. This exposed them to a precarious, dangerous existence on the streets. The provision of safe houses and street projects are inadequate for the number of runaway children aged under 16.

    Running away does indeed need to be taken seriously. The editorial argued for more coordinated services but asked who should take responsibility for them. In ChildLine's view the responsibility must be shared, and the newly proposed local authority committees (involving health, education, police, welfare, youth, and voluntary childcare organisations), which will plan services for children in need, offer a way forward, but only if they operate on a truly cooperative basis.


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