Over the last few months I have chaired a parliamentary inquiry into the support provided to children in care who run away or go missing.
We know that running away or going missing is a key indicator that a child might be at risk or in need. Children in care are three times more likely to run away than children living at home. When they go missing, they place themselves in great danger of being sexual exploited or physically abused.
In our evidence sessions we heard harrowing stories of what happens when children go missing from care and the physical and sexual abuse they encounter. The stories spoke for themselves and it is clear that these vulnerable children - who have already been failed by their parents and guardians - are not getting the support they need from the very systems and people that are there to protect them.
We also heard from a number of witnesses about what they know and do to help protect the children in our land, including ministers, national agencies, charities, social workers, police forces and local authorities up and down the country.
Witnesses unanimously agreed that the true scale and nature of children going missing from care is not known because of failures in how data is collected and shared by police, local authorities and the Department for Education. One witness noted that until it is known what is going on in local areas, no one can properly understand the issues or effectively intervene in the lives of these vulnerable children.
The recent experiences in Rochdale experience clearly demonstrate the need for local agencies to work together and share information. It is also imperative that professionals are aware of the strong links between going missing and child sexual exploitation so that they are able to identify the signs early and prevent abuse from taking place. Based on the comprehensive evidence submitted to the Inquiry, we will provide practical recommendations that can make a real impact on the lives of thousands of the very vulnerable children who run away from care every year.
Far too many children who run away or go missing from care become victims of sexual and physical abuse and exploitation. One child in this situation is one child too many. Every child who has to appear in court as a victim of sexual exploitation is a failure of the system to prevent harm.