Downing Street was pretty amazing as you can see from my previous posts but my visit to the home of the head of British politics was about more than just seeing round the famous building.
My visit was about learning about The Railway Children and what they do to help homeless young people. It was also to learn more about how they and their partners help, what they actually do.
And more than anything it was about raising awareness of homelessness in under 16s, to get people talking about it and to get parents talking about it to their children.
Just by going to Downing Street made me talk about homelessness and why children might run away from home with teengirl.
It opened the lines of communication in our home.
I hope that when you read this blog it’ll give you the facts and figures you need to begin that discussion in your home regardless of the ages of your children.
I say regardless of their age because there are 10 year olds who are homeless. Perhaps if we start talking to our kids while they’re still children (ie before the terrible teens start) we can prevent them from heading down that route should life become a bit ‘difficult’ once the mighty teenagedom is reached.
Here are some facts that you can share with your child –
* 100,000 children run away from home every year (that’s one every 5 minutes)
* two thirds of runaways are not reported to the police as missing
* many feel too vulnerable and afraid to seek help from official services
* 30% are 12 year olds or younger
* running away is slightly more comment among girls than boys (surprising eh?)
* half of all British parents have never discussed the subject of running away from home with their children (unbelievable but true!)
The Railway Children work with partners all over the UK in a bid to help children vulnerable to homelessness BEFORE they actually runaway from home.
The charity and its partners provide these children with access to people who give a damn, to people who will help them in ways that will prevent them becoming homeless.
One of the partners of the Railway Children is StreetWork Edinburgh.
I spoke with one of StreetWork’s outreach workers involved in The Streetwork Runaway Action Project (RAP).
Wrapped up in a puffa jacket, hat, scarf and gloves this young woman heads out onto the streets of Edinburgh every single night regardless of the weather in search of young people she can help.
She told me that they know where children who haven’t runaway from home yet but who spend most of their time on the street hang out.
These children are out on the streets until the early hours of the morning because they don’t want to be in their own homes
Reasons Children Become Homeless –
* they are living in poverty and have been forced out of their home
* they have suffered violence in their home
* they have experienced abuse in their home
* they have been neglected by their carer(s)
And this outreach worker and her colleague know where they gather together and so they visit them every night. They take them hot chocolate and they spend time with them getting to know them and working really hard to get these kids (all of them under 16) to trust them. Gaining their trust is no mean feat, these are young people for whom all too often their trust has been smashed to pieces and then stamped on.
Once their trust has been gained (often months later) these two young women set the wheels in motion to help these children, they begin the process to prevent them from becoming homeless.
They provide them with the help THEY need to be safe and have a roof over their heads by creating action plans with them and helping them work towards goals.
I was told of one girl who was brought to their attention by her school who believed her to be vulnerable. They began to spend time together, this troubled teenage girl and the outreach worker.
They talked, but for months the teen talked nothing of any depth keeping her secrets locked away. The outreach worker stuck with her, she didn’t give up, she gave that terrified teenager her time and her understanding and after 7 long months the girl began to open up.
And she got the help she needed to be safe, to have a roof over her head, to have a life free of drugs, prostitution and crime.
That outreach worker gave that teenager the gift of a future.
If any of my children ran away from home I could only hope that they would meet an outreach worker like that.
In fact I hope it for every vulnerable child in the UK.
* Comment on this blog and Aviva donates £2 to the Railway Children
* Tweet @RailwayChildren @AvivaUk Aviva gives the Railway Children another £2
* Retweet an @RailwayChildren tweet and Aviva gives them £2
* Discuss the Railway Children on Mumsnet and Aviva will donate another £2
You can help provide more outreach workers like the woman I met last Tuesday who could be the person that saves your child from homelessness or your friend’s child or your relative’s child.
We don’t know what the future will hold for our children, so please support The Railway Children and talk to your children about homelessness now, not later.
Streetwork Edinburgh don’t wait on vulnerable people finding them they reach out to people who might need them. They go into schools to help young people avoid crisis in the first place. They hit the streets in the city centre and local neighbourhoods, to speak with young people and provide mobile advice, guidance and support on their terms, at their pace and most importantly on their turf.
The listen to young people and understand the reasons they run away and they know the places they’re likely to go if they do run away.
For young people who need an extra hand, they develop relationships, agree action plans and achieve goals that the young people set themselves. They know that when people are the agents of their own change, the changes are longer lasting.
If you need more advice on how to talk to your child about homelessness you can get that information at Mumsnet – Running Away
The Railway Children – helping make the invisible, visible.
Streetwork Edinburgh – working with young people to raise awareness of the risks and dangers and remove the reasons for running away with the aim of enabling a life off the streets