The day I went to Downing Street with the Railway Children

Front door, 10 Downing Street. Copyright Gretta Schifano

I went to number 10 Downing Street this week. Sorry not to have mentioned it before, but it was all Top Secret. I was there to find out about the Railway Children charity, which works to support vulnerable children living on the streets in India, Africa and the UK. That’s right: apparently, in the UK one child under sixteen runs away from home every five minutes, which is around 100,000 every year.

Samantha Cameron told us that she found this statistic shocking, especially as thirty per cent of these children are under twelve. I couldn’t believe these figures when I heard them either but, sadly, they’re true. What’s more, these children come from all sorts of homes and families, and are not just from troubled backgrounds. There are many reasons why a child may run away, and a parent may have no idea there’s a problem until their child has gone.

Talking to charity workers at the event, I learnt that children don’t generally plan how they’re going to survive once they’ve run away. Once on the streets they’re vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. There are some charities working to help these children, and there are even some children’s refuges to keep them safe in the short term, but I get the impression that support from social services is patchy and the system has some gaping holes in it. As a society we have to work to prevent children from running away in the first place.

To this end, Railway Children, supported by Aviva, is working with Mumsnet to encourage us as parents to keep our children safe by talking to them about the issue of running away. You can find advice on this as well as some warning signs that a child may run away here. Aviva is donating £2 to the Railway Children for this post and for every comment it receives, so please add your comment below if you have time.

I was invited to the event as a Mumsnet blogger. Going in to Downing Street felt like getting on a flight: queuing at the security gate, showing my ticket and passport, handing over my bag to be scanned, walking through a body scanner. But once inside it was very exciting to walk up the Grand Staircase, which is hung with portraits of every Prime Minister, and into one of the grand reception rooms looking out over the Downing Street garden. We had to leave our phones and cameras at the front door, so I have no photos to share with you but I can tell you the following three things. First, the chandeliers looked very well dusted. Second, the garden looks lovely without the ubiquitous children’s trampoline, but I hope the Cameron children have some outdoor play equipment somewhere as I guess they can’t really pop to the park. Third, it must have been a pain for Sam to put on her lippy and smart dress and come downstairs to talk to us right in the middle of her kids’ tea-homework-bath-bed time routine, but she seemed relaxed and unflustered. I imagine that her husband must have been sorting everything out.

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  1. says

    Great to meet you at No. 10, Gretta. Astounding to hear the figures and let’s hope together we can get people talking about the risks young people face if they run away from home. Let’s hope that by raising awareness, parents will start talking to their children about the issues of running away – let’s try and rid the taboo of talking about it without our children. A massive hats off to Railway Children and to their partner charities who all do such worthwhile and inspirational work.

  2. says

    Lovely to meet you Gretta – like your close up pic of #10 door. I enjoyed this post – obviously all about the inspirational Railway Children charity, but also the sympathy you have for Sam trying to juggle hosting a party for 100+ strangers at the same time as the kids need to go to bed. For her it must be all in a day’s work…. Nicola

  3. says

    It was an honour to have been invited to this event and to be able to play a part in highlighting this very serious and under reported issue.

    likewise, sorry not to have met you on the night. Maybe next time, at the White House?

  4. says

    It was great to be part of this event but more importantly to talk to people about this issue. The fact that 100,000 children feel the need to runaway from home each year, needs to be discussed more. The charities do a fantastic job in an area that appears to be ignored by wider society and public services.
    Great post.

  5. says

    I was there too, sorry I missed you! Great that you’re helping to raise awareness on this, the one every 5 mins statistic is shocking, I hope it encourages more parents to talk to their children.

    • says

      I know, I’ve been telling all of my friends and none of them can believe it. Maybe we’ll meet up at another event, with name badges!