31st October 2012

Young Runaways (Margaret Malloch)

Margaret has been involved in a range of research projects about young runaways funded by the Aberlour Child Care Trust, Scottish Coalition for Young Runaways, Scottish Government and the SCCJR capacity fund.  This work has been published in reports for practice and policy organisations and developed for submission to academic journals.

Key Findings from the Research
Along with Cheryl Burgess, Margaret conducted a scoping study entitled ‘Services for Young Runaways’. This study highlighted the operation of differential responses in place for children and young people who run away from home, and those who run from substitute care, who were more likely to run away repeatedly.  While various strategies were in place to improve the experiences of young people who were looked after and accommodated, there was less awareness of the needs and circumstances of young people who ran from home, many of whom were not reported missing to statutory services.  The different issues facing young people running from home and ‘care’ were often overlooked. Runaways from home received a poor service yet there was apparent compliance with guidance because attention was focused on young people reported missing from care.

There was no shared definition between agencies of what constituted a ‘young runaway’ and patterns of recording these young people varied. This meant that figures which could provide some indication of the extent and nature of the problem of running away did not exist. Accordingly statutory agencies experienced difficulties in allocating resources to this issue; where specialist services, generally located in the independent sector existed, they were able to highlight the needs of young people within local areas.

Although there was clearly confusion and lack of clarity over definitions and the availability of statistical data to assess the incidence of actual running away, the data collection process for the scoping study highlighted some of the complex issues facing statutory agencies.  A National Working Group has taken the findings of the scoping study forward to develop practice and policy responses in Scotland.

The research has had wide-ranging impact within relevant local authority social work departments in Scotland. Changes have been made to data collection concerning the incidence of running away by social work departments, and as recommended by the research, a statement of practice specifically relating to young runaways is now included in all local authority Plans for Children’s Services. Several related pilot projects have been introduced in Scotland (for example, the Grampian Return Home Welfare Interviews Pilot introduced by Grampian Police in 2009 and currently being evaluated by Margaret and colleagues at the University of Stirling and IPSO Mori Scotland). The scoping study identified gaps in data collection and service response which highlighted the potential risks facing young runaways and the potential for young people to become victims of organised crime (such as ‘trafficking) within Scotland.  Margaret was invited on to the Research Advisory Group (convened by the Home Office) of a recent nation-wide review of emergency accommodation services for young runaways.  Additionally, the research is informing ways of conceptualising and theorising the issue of running away (in terms of risk, responsibility and safety). This work being developed by Margaret (and colleagues) has the potential to make a significant contribution to academic discourse in this area.

To access the scoping study entitled ‘Services for Young Runaways’ see http://www.www.sccjr.ac.uk/publication/a-scoping-study-of-services-for-young-runaways-for-1-in-9-scottish-coalition-for-young-runaways/