For the last two years we have worked with young people (aged 11 to 17) who go missing from home in the Oldham area.

We’ve delivered two residentials for the Phoenix Project which supports children in care in Oldham by bringing together Police and Social Services. All the young people taking part in the 2017 and 2018 residentials were going missing from home persistently; putting themselves into unsafe situations, causing disruption to their education and using up valuable Police and Social Workers’ time.

Children who run away are at high risk of being sexually exploited or trafficked. Last year 10,700 children in care went missing, many of them on multiple occasions; that’s one in 10 young people in care, compared with one in 200 nationally.

Deciding to take a group of young people who are prone to run away to an unfamiliar area was a risk for Phoenix staff but the results have been remarkable.

Following the residentials, not one of the young people has gone missing. The implications of this are huge – for staff, for budgets and most importantly for the young people. They are accessing education, have improved their relationships with the Phoenix team and there’s been no reported anti-social behaviour. Some of them have gone on to improve their living situations; either finding work and living independently, moving back to their family homes or moving to foster care from  residential homes.

So what took place on the residentials to have that impact?

Phoenix staff believe the key to success was listening. The residential provided an environment where young people and social workers could build trust and listen to each other. Our Head of Children and Young People, Jenni MacDuff, says “With all our work we aim to focus on the positive; the assets and abilities that all young people have and build on them. Our staff are highly skilled at building relationships and breaking down barriers between young people and the professionals working with them. Young people came away feeling listened to and this transformed their behaviour.”

The young people said:

I realised people are listening.
I know when to not start winding people up.

The Phoenix Project staff said:

It’s valuable to be around these young people and other professionals…this makes you re-think and break down any pre-conceived ideas.
I gained understanding of the complex needs and worries of the young people. I got to know them and ways to communicate.

It can be a challenge for many organisations to find funding for activities like residentials; they can feel like a luxury. However, the small investment has been worthwhile; saving significant time and resources for the public sector in Oldham who saved an estimated £500,000 from the 2017 residential; over 100 times the cost of a residential. Even more importantly, this group of very vulnerable young people are safer and happier with more chance of achieving their potential.