Children running away from care -

January 29, 2013

It is a fact that children do go missing from home, whether they are in care or not. And that is a problem and a source for real concern. It is a problem because there are risks associated. Some of the risks are obvious and some not so. Most of us know what those risks are because they are the same ones which we consider of ourselves when we make our own personal risks assessments and the risk assessment for our children.

The issue of children going missing from care was considered by ‘The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the APPG for Looked after Children and Care Leavers’ in June 2012.

The parliamentary group identified many areas that needed significant improvement by a multitude of different agencies involved in providing services to these children.

However, that’s not what we want to talk about specifically. There is a feeling amongst some of the wider public that children going missing from care is fully representative of a failing care system, that they simply want to get away from their foster carers or the care homes that they are living in and that their placement must be so onerous that they have no choice but to run away.

Children in care are more often than not, traumatised versions of the children they could have been had their circumstances been different. They have to deal with anger and confusion, feelings of rejection and distrust. The world around them is chaotic and scary and a care / foster home is not necessarily a place they can feel safe and engaged with at first or ever, certainly if throughout their lives feeling safe was never part of their life experience.

We asked Jenny Molloy, author of Hackney Child to explain why she used to run away from care:

“Running away became a habit, and a reaction to emotional pain that I didn’t know what to do with. I would become obsessed with something which was happening – usually to do with my parents – and my compulsion was to do a runner. 

Absconding for me became a behaviour which I couldn’t understand – and didn’t enjoy. It was not a pleasant experience, and something which i was greatly relieved to have a stop put to it by going into a secure unit. 

From my experience, kids in care rarely run away from care due to abuse, or because they are in trouble – its more because we are either reacting to a situation which is out of our control (running away is what we can control), or because we are seeking out risky behaviour, which is taking us away from emotional pain. To act out by using drugs, sex etc, changes the way you feel, and by changing the way you feel, you detract from the complex set of feelings that come with the type of trauma, loss and internal anger which usually comes with the type of histories Looked after Children  have.  Obliteration equals numbness – and that was my goal, always. 

Running away is a symptom, as is risky behaviour,  of the problem – and the problem is nearly always emotional pain, and having no idea what to do with it – who would – the trauma that LAC experience is often the stuff of nightmares.” 

What we are trying to say is that many good foster carers, social workers and care workers work tirelessly to protect the children entrusted to them. These children are hurting and their needs are complex. To simplify the issue and to blame the entire care system does a disservice to all and misrepresents the reasons why children go missing in the first place.

To learn more about the parliamentary report click here

To learn more about Jenny Molloy and her experiences click here