The Railway Children’s Sarah Lanchin is the UK programme officer. She’s a little camera-shy but is happy to be paper-interviewed. She has short brown hair and deep brown eyes.
“Tell me a little about the statistics,” I say.
“We use research conducted by the Children’s Society, which suggests 100,000 young people (under-16s) run away every year in the UK.”
I’m surprised by this. I ask, “and as the charity is called the Railway Children, does that mean you focus on kids hiding out at stations?”
“There used to be a perception young people ran to stations, but increased security – CCTV and ticketing barriers, mean this isn’t as true now,” she says.
“So who do you help?”
“We work with partners who help children who’ve run away.”
“And how are kids who’ve run able to access that help?” I ask.
“They get in contact through local helplines and in some cases text and email services. Some young people come into contact with the publicity…”
“Yes, this takes several forms, one of which is workers going into schools to educate children about the dangers of running away.”
It’s becoming clearer. I think I recall having a lesson at school about the dangers of running away, though I guess when I was younger it would have been much easier to run by train. So I ask, “if it’s more difficult to run away by train, how do they do it?”
She looks me in the eye and says, “if a young person wants to run away they will find a way. Any way.”
“So at the other end… where are these kids? It seems to me like there aren’t so many,” I say.
“They’re very good at hiding. Sometimes a young person is reported missing and the police follow it up and find them. A couple of the projects go onto the streets – to the places young people hang out.”
“And what do you do?” I ask.
“We help fund several projects.”
“And these are?”
“I’ll start from the top of the country… So in Glasgow we have ROC, which stands for Running – Other Choices. ROC has a refuge with three beds. And that’s for emergency accommodation only. Those three beds are three of the five beds available in the UK for runaways.”
“Gosh, five isn’t a lot,” I say.
“No…” she agrees, “ROC also have workers who go out into schools and who follow up cases on a one-to-one basis. Then in Edinburgh we support Streetwork who have a runaways action project – RAP. they also have a detached unit in the city centre with workers who try and engage with vulnerable people with prevention education and one-to-one work.
Next, on the Wirral there’s SCS Kinder, who provide a very specific residential therapeutic resource for particularly damaged young people. They have lots of experience with young people who have run from care.
Then Talk Don’t Walk in Warrington has a supporting toolkit which enables any other service in the country to set up runaway services. They work extensively to reduce the numbers of missing.
Finally, Safe At Last in South Yorkshire. They have two beds which makes up the five in the UK. And a text and online service too. They train volunteers and have one-to-one outreach and prevention education. There’s a link between kids who go missing from school and from home.”
“And what about all the kids who can’t access these five beds?” I ask.
“Each authority should have a provision for children in emergency situations… this isn’t necessarily always the case but.. be easier for them if they only ran away in the North really.”
She explains that the refuge that used to exist in London closed down. It makes me sad to think how easily we neglect looking after everyone in society. How we leave people behind.
“And why do they run?” I ask.
“They’re running away from or to something.”