Since the appointment of a children in care liaison officer Rachel Ely-Hiscock in March 2014, the number of children missing from their care placement in the Yorkshire town has fallen from 46 to 12.
The role, which is funded jointly by Doncaster Children’s Services Trust and South Yorkshire Police, focuses on building strong relationships with looked-after children so that plans can be put in place to ensure they stay safe.
Ely-Hiscock provides practical support and advice for the young people she works with and puts in place agreed times and arrangements for them coming home at night.
She said: “By building a good rapport, I can help spot any signs of risk, advise them about staying safe and explain why we need a sensible plan for them coming home when they say they will. As we have all seen, child sexual exploitation is a particular risk, so this is something I can help them avoid.”
Doncaster Children’s Services Trust head of children in care Ian Walker said: “When a young person in our care goes missing it is always a cause for serious concern. We monitor this very closely and take immediate action if that happens.
“Doncaster has never really had a significant issue with the number of children in care going missing – but one is too many. We’re delighted with how this new liaison officer role is working and our young people have said they are too.”
South Yorkshire Police also said the drop in children missing from care has reduced the amount of time and resources it spends on finding and returning children that run away.
Andy McCullough, head of UK policy and public affairs at charity Railway Children, said projects like the one in Doncaster offer a template that others can adopt to help tackle the estimated 100,000 children who run away each year.
He said: “Today’s runaways risk becoming tomorrow’s young homeless people and if we are serious about preventing homelessness then addressing why children and young people run away is essential.
“Successful pilots like in Doncaster signpost important steps forward for child protection, but nationwide roll-out will depend on children’s services replacing their narrow silos for a more collaborative multi-agency approach that supports the sharing of best practice.”
Doncaster became the first council to have children’s services removed from its direct control and placed in an independent trust, which was launched in October 2014 following long-term problems in the performance of children’s social care.
Updated government guidance introduced last year recommends local authorities have a runaway prevention strategy, support services for those children at risk and to carry out interviews when a runaway returns.