Kids on the street

About 100,000 kids a year go missing. What can you do about runaway children? And what if your child went missing? Plus a detour to No 10 Downing Street thanks to Mumsnet. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children see, or

Synchronicity perhaps, but over the past three days what to do about missing children has been top most in my thoughts. Even the first item I heard on Radio 4’s Today programme was the follow up to the Rochdale case in 2012 when nine men were jailed for sexually abusing five girls – who had a track record of “going missing”. Turns out police have changed the way they plan to work, see here. Instead of turning up when a child misses a curfew at a children’s home they are only going to turn up when a proper missing child is reported…

So what’s a proper missing child? Given that every 5 minutes a child runs away from home?


“If you feel like you’re on your own and there’s no one you can talk to pick up the phone and call Baranardo’s Miss U London, New Horizon Youth Centre, Runaway Helpline, Childline” – is the message on a card that can be used to wind your headphones around.

At a recent school governors’ meeting we discussed one year group with 93% attendance this half of spring term. This means you know some students aren’t at school, and you know who they are. But do you know where they are? Or why they are where they are? And do their families? And is the school – and their families – doing enough to stop a naughty truant turning into a child at risk?

Fast forward to a room of Mumsnet bloggers at the grand Royal Horseguards Hotel being addressed by Andy McCullough, 45, from the Railway Children.

Tattooed Andy looks the sort of man that really does have a 22-year-old who tells his dad to turn the music down.

nb-railway“One in nine children runs away,” said McCullough (left) who grew up in care and says he went missing a lot of times. He uses this experience plus 28 years working in social – and bucketloads of wit – to speak about how to help runaway children. “We did a survey and were shocked parents hadn’t talked to kids about this. There are horrible things out there and if we are shy about it with our kids young people don’t get to know. They feel going missing is getting away from it.”

Young people aren’t always safe outside on their own, but the alternative: claustrophobia at home – and in some cases emotional and physical bossing that they have to face from their family – is likely to mean some go missing. Going missing is when you start being at risk in another way, being befriended by people who have no intention of being kind. I read example after example in the newspapers of girls who’ve been groomed for sexual exploitation. And then there’s the drugs. Andy McCullough pointed out that in Britain the nights are long, cold and often wet that’s why the runaways take drugs.

What next?

Mumsnet hopes families will start talking more about the problems. To kickstart the conversations they teamed up with Aviva (insurance/pension company) in the autumn to fundraise for Railway Children, and have already raised £72,000.

Now it’s all about spreading the word. For 20 mumsnetters that meant meeting frontline workers – and then nibbles and wine at Number 10 Downing Street with Samantha Cameron. What a treat to visit such an historic building – built in the 1600s with floor space modelled on Dr Who’s Tardis.

(Let’s not say anything about how her husband’s ridiculous bedroom tax is going to mess up life for so many families. Or how women are the ones increasingly disenchanted by Tories – at least that’s my guess since being handed a pamphlet for 1000 Mothers March For Justice to protest against cuts, caps, hunger, evictions and fear that hurt us and our children due to be held in Tottenham on 13 April 2013 at 11am.)

I think the red carpet was for the President of Malawi, No 10's earlier visitor.

The red carpet was for the President of Malawi, No 10’s earlier visitor.


Eyes shut and wishing – just about to go into Downing Street, so hoping that the Greens were a massive party or the people in power were greener…

Sam Cam loves the Railway Children, called it a “fantastic charity” and quite rightly the trustees beamed. I also met some Barnado’s workers who run school assemblies about the tricky situations children have to face in addition to school life, exams and dating. The list of challenges includes domestic violence, having to care for/avoid a mum or dad with mental health problems, a sibling hooked on drugs or alcohol.

And then today my favourite blog publishes a photo essay by Phil Maxwell of kids on the street, see here. I look at the pix – one of just kids on playground swings looking at a line of police in riot uniform, another just a toddler heading out of the door, others of small gangs of children roaming and try and reconcile all that I’ve learnt.

In my book Homemade Kids most of the 100 families who are bringing their kids up in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way see being outside as one of the big cure-alls. They want to see kids playing on the streets (and cars going slower, or not there at all). But the book focussed on younger children – a stage when adult carers do direct their kids much more.

That said many people are not kind to children and by the time they are teens they’re positively horrible – albeit not necessarily using or abusing them. Ensuring there is nowhere for groups to hang out together and constantly shooing teens away (eg, ever seen a shop sign that says no more than 2 school children?) is surely pushing children and teens straight towards the seemingly friendly bloke at the bus stop who is as the old stories put it, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Pity the kids, and those of us adults who are a real friendly person at the bus stop.


In a recent survey, one in 11 teenagers aged 14 to 16 admitted to having run away overnight at some stage in their life

It’s impossible to know the true scale of the problem: two-thirds of runaways aren’t reported as missing to the police, and many are too vulnerable or scared to seek official help

It’s estimated 2000 children will run away over Christmas.

Another post on this topic by me – runaway thoughts – is here.

Over to you

Staying out all night is not a Duke of Edinburgh challenge… do you think your kids know how to be safe? What about their friends? The twitter handle for Railway Children is @RailwayChildren and please use #runningaway or have a look at  PS – adding a comment means Aviva gives a DONATION to Railway Children, or RT if that’s more your thing. Thanks.

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11 Comments on “Kids on the street”

  1. Hi, it was good to meet you at Downing Street (love saying that!) and this is such an interesting post. I didn’t know all of these facts even though I was there with you, so thank you.

    • homemadekids Says:

      Hi Gretta, lovely to meet you too! I tried having a conversation with my girls 14 and 12 about running away and realised it was quite hard. I will have to think up some ways to do it so they don’t rush away offended. nicola

  2. Pete May Says:

    Nicola, pepare to govern! Minister without pannier?

  3. homemadekids Says:

    From Facebook (apologies this gets a little silly as the No 10 pic seems to distract from the charity message!).
    Hugh hope they were suitably impressed to be meeting you!

    Nicola Baird Well I was the only one arriving with a large bike pannier rather than a handbag!

    Hugh for which we love you all the more!

    Martin Could you move in and sort a few things out?

    Pete May Can I play the Denis Thatcher role?

    Hugh I would vote for you … but only if you took Pete along … what a book he would write!

    Pete May I’ll suggest it to my publisher!

    Nicola Baird no 10 is so tardis-sized Pete would be in heaven. btw red carpet was for the president of malawi.

    Karin You are too modest Nicola, of course the red carpet was for you.

    Sue Fab photos on the red carpet. Did you get a goodie bag like they give out at the oscars?

    Barry did you inspect their fridge?
    Wednesday at 11:05pm · Unlike · 1

    Nicola Baird Barry Evans oh no did i tell you my how to-enjoy-a-political-party secrets years ago? Sue Smith yes – a black moleskine note book with the charity Railway Children’s name v subtly on the front. I will obvs let you touch it when you are next at book group.

  4. John Adams Says:

    A very detailed write up of an informative evening. I thought it was great to meet so many people committed to this cause. I was also very impressed at the dedication of Aviva in backing the Railway Children’s work.

    And yes, as you rightly pointed out, I am a Mumsnet blogger that happens to be a dad!

  5. Very informative post Nicola. Good luck with the chat with your girls. …not an easy talk to start but so important.

    Sorry I didn’t get to say hi.

    • homemadekids Says:

      hi donna, events conspired and my eldest has now told all her friends that if they runaway they should come to my house. Not quite what I meant, but it’s a start! Nicola

  6. mumtoteens Says:

    Great post. The older your children are the harder it is to begin to have the important talks with them. I started talking about huge important things with teenboy and teengirl when they were just little and now it makes it so much easier to talk to them about the hard stuff – they’re so used to be me rabbiting on they know it’s easier to just sit and listen!!

    • homemadekids Says:

      hi mums to teens, i love the idea that you rabbit on, it’s a clever trick I will try. It’s definitely true that conversation works its magic over time. nicola

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