The Rt Revd Clive Gregory, Bishop of Wolverhampton
CHILDREN AT RISK We Have a Part to Play
I had the delightful experience of going to the cinema with my family recently to see Arthur Christmas, surely one of the great feel- good Christmas movies ever. If Father Christmas delivers the DVD to me next year I will certainly not be complaining! Amongst the hilarity and breathless action, there are some key themes which resonate closely with insights from the Christian faith. One of them would be the supreme importance of the individual child. Another would be the need to move out of our comfort zone, even to the point of risking personal hardship, to respond to the needs of another. Two pictures from Scripture underline these connections: Jesus taking children into his arms, blessing them and declaring it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs and the shepherd searching for his lost sheep in the wilderness.
For anyone, and any religion, which prizes above all the welfare of children, there is a state of affairs in this country which is profoundly shocking, namely that 100,000 children run away from home or care every year. Of these, more than 25% have been the victim of a harmful or dangerous experience. The Childrens Society has been taking the lead in highlighting this issue through the launch of its Make Runaways Safe campaign, which advocates a national safety net for children on the run. Encouragingly, it seems as if the Government understands the seriousness of the issue as it has just published a new, national strategy on Missing Children and Adults and a specific action plan to protect vulnerable children, including those that run away from home, from being exploited sexually. On their own, however, national plans and strategies wont be enough to change the reality for children at risk on the streets. Policy needs to be implemented at local level to make sure that in every area of the country, every council, every police force, every church, every individual who works with children, really does everything they can to make vulnerable children safe.
Church communities, and church sponsored youth projects, are often places to which vulnerable children are drawn. Sometimes, as we all know only too well, that trust has been abused, occasionally criminally so. But far more typically, churches have offered welcome, care, support and encouragement, and young people have grown in self - esteem as a result. As a Diocese we have , for a number of years, been helping to support parishes with grants to help fund their youth and childrens work and the work done in Church schools to support vulnerable children is unquantifiable.
However, the Gospel message, reinforced by Arthur Christmas, is that laurels cannot be rested upon while there is even a single lost sheep or needy child within our compass of responsibility. 100,000 Runaways certainly focusses the need for us, individually and as Christian communities, to make more strenuous efforts to attend to the welfare of children within our society. A good place to start for some of us may be to sign up to the Make Runaways Safe campaign on the Childrens Society website, Facebook or via twitter. But for Churches that want to make this a major aspect of their transforming mission, there will be much more that can be done as the campaign becomes more locally focussed this year.