England

North East council care homes: Hundreds of children go missing

Posed picture of an upset teenager Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Children disappearing from care are vulnerable to exploitation, campaigners have warned

An average of more than 100 children go missing from council-run care in the North East every year, a BBC investigation has discovered.

Figures from 11 local authorities showed at least 596 youngsters disappeared in the five years up to April this year.

Sunderland City Council had the highest number with 118.

Together for Children, which runs its care services, said it treated incidents "extremely seriously".

Newcastle City Council recorded the second-highest number of missing youngsters across the five years at 110, followed by Durham County Council with 100.

One child in the region was recorded as missing for 30 days, while the youngest to disappear was a 10-year-old.

'So scary'

One teenager from the North East who went into the care system aged eight after family troubles told BBC Newcastle he would often run away and sleep under a bush outside his school.

Speaking anonymously, he said: "I hated it. There were children older than me doing drink and drugs. It was so scary. I was in fear of what could happen or getting hurt.

"I ran away and slept outside school because I had nowhere else safe to go.

"I've had carers who've hit me, I've had carers treating me like rubbish, saying I'm scum.

"I feel like councils need to realise the impact they could have on young people. A good majority of children in care are just being let down."

Children living on the streets were "vulnerable to predators" through grooming and sexual exploitation, warned Laura Christer, of the West End Women and Girls Centre charity in Newcastle.

Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England, described the figures as "really worrying".

She added: "If any children are missing then it's a real concern because they are going to be really vulnerable, but if they are the most vulnerable children - which children in care are - it is even more concerning."

'Robust' response

Sharon Willis, strategic service manager at Sunderland's Together for Children, said: "Many of the young people we look after come to us with a history of risk-taking behaviour as a result of trauma they have experienced through early childhood.

"Our staff teams are skilled in identifying risks and putting in place child-focused strategies for individual young people to minimise risk and ultimately reduce and in some cases prevent missing episodes."

Newcastle City Council said: "Every absence is treated very seriously and ensures our response is robust and meaningful."

Northumberland County Council told the BBC it had "strong partnerships with Northumbria Police, neighbouring local authorities and other partners", while North Tyneside Council said its staff "work tirelessly to help and support children in care, whose safety and welfare is always our number one priority".

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