Family Matters: Helping runaways to feel Safe@last

Tracy Haycox.
Tracy Haycox.
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A SOUTH Yorkshire charity that helps young runaways is putting new services in place to support them and their families.

Safe@Last is a Dinnington-based children’s charity that operates in South Yorkshire and recently celebrated winning praise for trailblazing services such as its 24-hour helpline, one-to-one work with young people and their families, education programmes and street work. The charity is also the only organisation in the country to run a refuge for young people who run away from home.

The Safe@Last director of children and young people’s services, Tracy Haycox, said that they have just recruited two family support workers. They will be working with children and young people who return home after running away about changing their behaviour and lifestyle. Tracy explained that if nothing changes when youngsters return home, they may leave again. The charity is called in by police to talk to all runaways who have been found to see what help is needed.

The charity also plans to have parent support workers in place by the end of March. Safe@Last will get referrals to families by the police but Tracy said parents may also identify themselves to the charity, possibly by calling the runaways helpline.

Sometimes parents will talk to staff from the charity who are working with their children, asking for help and advice.

Tracy said: “If we’ve got parents identifying themselves, saying ‘I’ve seen what you do and this is what’s happening to me’, I wouldn’t dismiss it. We’d want to make sure we’re the right agency to help. We might try and point them in the right direction, on to children’s centres and community groups.

She added: “Parenting teenagers is hard work. I’ve had a couple myself and it’s tough along the way. They go from a cherubic, easy child to a monster that you find in the kitchen eating all your food. You don’t know how to talk to them any more.

“Quite often a boy of 12 and a half loses the power of speech entirely, except with their friends. Then they regain it at 19 and a half. It’s tough for parents to spend seven years with a grunting kid. We’ve usually forgotten we were like that too.

“I remember saying to my own child, ‘give me a break, I’ve never parented a 17-year-old before’. She looked at me amazed.”

Tracy said that workers may refer people to parenting groups where they can learn techniques and tips about how to cope with their youngsters and communicate better.

She said often parents are quite tired by the time they have teenagers. They may rely on them to babysit for younger children and the teenager may choose not to do it by not being at home.

Single parents in particular often find themselves cut off from their own families who could give support and help. She added: “They might need someone who will sit and have a laugh and say ‘you’re right’ or ‘I’m not an expert but maybe you need to see a doctor because you might be depressed’. It might just be listening, not judging, as we do with young people we work with, or getting them to talk through when they had an argument.’’

Tracy added: “This is about using the language of choice as well, for instance by asking ‘Are you going on your laptop now or after you’ve washed the pots? If it’s now you can only go on for 20 minutes’.”

The charity’s 24-hour helpline number is 0800 3357233 (the last four figures spell SAFE on phone keys). Young people can speak to a volunteer about issues that involve running away or being thrown out of home.

Young people who prefer not to engage in conversation can text SAFE + their message to 60777. A web chat service is available to young people via the Safe@Last website,