Runaway children are some of the most troubled youngsters in our society. Most are of school age, and now that the DCSF is responsible for both schools and children's services, it is appropriate that it has started to ask local authorities to rate how well they understand this problem and what procedures they have in place when it occurs.
LAs have been asked to self-evaluate their performance on a range of key measures on a scale from 0 to 3 (low-high) in a number of areas. These include: information gathering, needs analysis, the presence of protocols for responding to urgent referrals, and to support effective prevention and intervention work, as well as procedures to meet the needs of runaways.
Some authorities are likely to cope with children who run away from home or care, while others, especially city-centre authorities, have to cope with those who run away as well as those who end up on their patch.
Analysis of the sum of these self-evaluation scores for the three-quarters between October 2008 and June 2009 reveals a pattern of improving scores. The overall score for England rose from 7.4 in the last quarter of 2008 to 8.7 in the second quarter of 2009. So local authorities seem to be taking steps to understand the issues.
The lowest overall score is for prevention and intervention work where the rating has increased over the three-quarters from just 1.4 to 1.5 compared with an increase from 1.3 to 1.7 for information gathering about the issue of running away locally. Some 17 of the 152 authorities now rate themselves with the top score on this measure
John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.