Hidden World of Britain’s Street Kids


Written by Charlotte Pawle
08 Monday 08th November 2010
Channel 4 Dispatches on Britain’s street kids has had quite an impact. Krishnan Guru Murphy thinks we should blame the parents. Mike Linnell, spokesman for the drug charity Lifeline says it is wrong to show a child shooting up heroine. We could just make accusations and blame people or in fact why don’t you just stop reading this now and go and read about what Cheryl Cole has done with her hair this week. I’m sure it will be waaaay more interesting. Or maybe it’s time to start addressing the real issue here – why are children on the street and how do we get children off the street. Don’t Panic wants to find out so we have set up an interview with Louise Meincke, Advocacy Manager for Consortium for Street Children and an expert in her field.
What first came to mind when you saw the Dispatches film on Britain’s street kids?
Sadness, but at the same time it is crucial that this issue, as it is quite hidden from view, gets the attention it deserves. Hopefully then we (meaning both policy-makers and the general public) will take some practical steps to ensure that these children and young people do not fall through the gaps of our society’s safety nets.
What is your take on Mike Linnel’s heated opposition to showing a child shooting up heroine?
It’s very shocking to see, but as the film-maker argued, if this is an essential part of her daily life it would not show the true story if glazed over for viewer’s sensitivities – this is real life as gruesome as it seems. But that’s the point. I work closely with Railway Children who supported the filmmaker and they have excellent child protection policy and practice and I am confident they would have taken all the steps to safeguard the girl.
How does the situation here compare with other countries you have worked in?
That’s the interesting aspect of this documentary. There are street children worldwide, sometimes I say that the only place in the world which does not have street children is the Vatican in Rome! There could be as many as 100 million street children worldwide, so it’s a massive problem that not many people are aware of or take an interest in. The similarities between children and young people taking to the streets are remarkably similar no matter where they live: violence, drugs, alcohol, and poverty in the home are all potential push-factors, and most children will find the same when on the street. But the associated freedom, independence and strong friendships are often seen as very positive in their lives and should not be under-estimated when trying to reintegrate a child or young person back into their family or society.
Why do you think these children are not being helped by the state?
Street children are often seen as a nuisance and dangerous, and therefore the responses to dealing with them are often very negative. Many governments either try to ignore the issue or deal with it in a violent way, such as police rounding them up and jailing them. But in the UK we have several potential safety nets which exist to support these young people if they cannot stay at home.  So the question is where are the gaps in those safety nets which allow these young people at their most vulnerable to simply fall off the radar? Railway Children are calling on the Government to take urgent action to explore this issue in detail so that this gap can be closed. One estimate from the Children’s Society says that 100,000 children run away from home each year in Britain and only as many as 10 temporary bed spaces are provided for them by local government.
How do you think the government cuts will affect street involved children and children living in poverty?
It remains to be seen. But it is certain that if the current system has failings, then a system which cuts even more services and outreach programmes to these children and young people can only make the situation worse. The government must take not only a societal and moral stance on this, but also see it as an economic issue. These young people deserve to have an opportunity at a positive future where they can contribute to our ‘big’ society.
Is there anything we can do as individuals to help the situation?
There are always thing you can do as an individual. Many NGOs working with street children are small and under-resourced. Fundraise or volunteer for them. Take an active interest in any campaigns which supports these children and young people’s lives. At the Consortium for Street Children we are planning to launch the inaugural International Day of the Street Child in April 2011. Please support us by showing you care. It can be as simple as putting your name to a petition or writing to your MP. We are planning lots of activities so if you want to be kept up to date with this then just drop me an email on info@streetchildren.org.uk.

For more information have a look at the Consortium for Street Children website.

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