I think that if I was aggressively or negatively received upon coming back, I believe I would have definitely run away again

16-year-old participant in the RADAR Focus Group

Brussels, 12 May 2021 – Research conducted as part of the RADAR project indicates that runaway children frequently experience stigma on behalf of adults and professionals who have a role in supporting them.

The findings of the RADAR’s research identify a stigmatization of runaway children on behalf of professionals as one of the reasons that runaways may not receive adequate support and protection. Professionals working with runaway children, who took part in the Delphi Study, identified the stigma as a symptom of the misconception that runaway children are to blame for running away and that little can be done to change their behaviour. These assumptions lead to the false idea that runaways are not minors at risk and may be a main cause for the underreporting of runaway children. Furthermore, repeat runaways (children who runaway more than once) are identified as a group of children who frequently evoke a sense of frustration among professionals and are therefore more likely to experience stigmatization and a lack of support.

To improve child protection responses towards runaway children it is imperative to initiate a process of de-stigmatisation, through varied targeted campaigns and to work towards the regular inclusion of ethical or anti-stigma policies for professionals. To eliminate the idea that running away is a sign of “problematic behaviour”, it is necessary to advance understanding on the needs and experiences of runaway children. To support this, findings from RADAR indicate that running away is a symptom of one or more adverse childhood experiences present in the child’s life, most commonly violence or a form of abuse. Equally important in our understanding of running away are the different trajectories that different groups of children will follow. For example, young people living in alternative care may run away to re-join their family members or someone close to them, while young runaway girls are at an increased risk of experiencing abuse while away from home. Interventions, both for prevention and support, need to consider the different trajectories of different groups of children.

The moment of returning home after running away is identified by runaway children as critical in the decision to run away again or not, therefore ensuring that professionals and adults can respond to this crucial moment with an improved understanding of their experiences and a non-judgmental approach is imperative.

The high numbers of runaway children in Europe brings to light the urgency of the situation. In 2019, runaway children made up 55% of the new missing children cases opened by the 116 000 hotlines for missing children (Figures and Trends 2019, Missing Children Europe). Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pivotal role of child hotlines and child helplines has only increased for children contacting them at critical moments such as running away.

I believe that if each child could find psychological support, someone they consider to be “their” person, who could help them express themselves more easily (…) I think we would all more or less give up on the idea of running away. But it’s not easy.

18-year-old participant in the RADAR Focus Group

 

The RADAR research aims to advance knowledge on the experiences of runaway children, develop preliminary recommendations to improve interventions for runaway children and to guide policy makers on potential effective means to improve protection while reducing cases of runaways. The research was co-developed with children and young people who have experiences of running away or were at risk of running away.

 

Read RADAR’s reports:

About RADAR

The RADAR (Running Away: Drivers, Awareness, and Responses) project is a European project on running away coordinated by Missing Children Europe and launched in March 2020. The project aims to achieve genuine progress in the awareness, understanding, and responses for children running away and to provide them with better protection and care across the EU.  The project is steered by six European partners, a Board of Professional Experts from different fields of work, and a Young People’s Board with 8 young people who have experience of running away.

Visit the website: https://missingchildreneurope.eu/radar/

For further information please feel free to contact Eugenia Miyashita on Eugenia.Miyashita@missingchildreneurope.eu