In 2019, 55284 calls related to missing children were answered by the hotlines across Europe. 54.5% of the cases of missing children concerned runaways or young people being pushed out of home or care, making runaways the bulk of missing children cases.

Missing Children Europe (MCE) wants every child to be respected and believes that children should provide their valuable contribution to all issues that directly concern them. That’s why through our RADAR project (Running Away: Drivers – Awareness – Responses) we aim to achieve genuine progress in the understanding of children who run away and to guarantee better protection and care for them across the European Union (EU). We want to raise awareness by offering a true representation of the issue and to develop training and advocacy messages that derive from a holistic understanding of the experiences of runaway children, learning directly through their voices and active participation.

This year RADAR held its first Consortium & Taskforce meetings with its Young People’s Board. The Board was recruited by our project partners to co-steer all aspects of the project. It consists of ten young people (aged 15-28) from Belgium, Poland, Greece, and Portugal. The Board members were selected by age and their experience of running away or consideration/plans to run away. Each organisation identified their young people through different means: some using their hotline cases, others using young people advocacy groups.

The main challenges were identifying these young people due to somewhat negative cultural perceptions about running away, meaning there was concern that young people and their families did not want to disclose this. Therefore, all members of the Board remain anonymous. Other participants included Missing Children Europe’s team and RADAR’s project partners: The Smile of the ChildITAKAChild FocusIACChild Helpline International and other expert professionals from Ukraine, France, Italy and the UK.

The first meeting took place on 29 May 2020, which gave young people an opportunity to connect with one another and share their hopes for the project. The Board took part in the initial stage of the project’s research angle by sharing opinions, advice and experiences around running away.

The second meeting took place on 24 June 2020, giving the floor to the Young People’s Board by focusing on their feedback based on their own professional expertise regarding running away. The Board worked together with MCE’s Project Officer, Eugenia Miyashita, and the project’s child participation expert, Cath Larkins from Lancaster University, to prepare for the research focus groups that will be held in different countries over the course of the summer. The Focus Groups will consist of small groups of children and young people with experience of running away of which they will share their experiences among their groups. The questions developed will address contextual factors, support through family and friends, prevention, child protection systems and social institutions, such as schools etc. The data collected from these focus groups will feed into the training we will develop later in the project.

Different visual tools and activities to ensure equal participation in the focus groups were also discussed in the last meeting. It was agreed that participants of the Focus Group will be asked to draw the different context of their lives (school, friends, family, sports coach etc) using colours (green orange and red) to express the role of that context in their lives before, during and after running away ( e.g. no support and negative experience in school will be drawn in red).

The Board will be leading the translation of the questions in their own national languages and will aim to meet online fortnightly over the course of the summer to share ideas, inputs and updates on the project’s progress. Stay tuned for more updates about RADAR and our Young People’s Board.