YOUNG runaways will be helped to avoid falling into drug use or prostitution if Gwent Police is successful in its bid for more than £500,000 of lottery cash.

A new project to be launched in the New Year aims to break the cycle of young runaways turning to drugs, drink or the sex trade by intervening early.

The scheme would bring together workers from the police, the health service and councils to intervene early to find out why youngsters are going missing.

If it wins the Big Lottery cash bid the money would be used to help pay for a voluntary body – also known as a third-sector organisation – to take part.

The organisation would help counsel and support young people and help understand what the causes are of why the young person has run away.

It is hoped young people might be more willing to speak to them than the police or social services.

A decision on the grant is expected in the new year.

The scheme itself is hoped to go live in January – if the Big Lottery bid is not successful it is hoped the public bodies will provide the funding.

Deputy Chief Constable of Gwent Police Jeff Farrar said missing youngsters are often found and returned to the care home and to foster parents, before they go missing again. “It becomes groundhog day,” he said.

“This concept is about having conversations at an early stage – not waiting to the point of crisis, not waiting until someone has gone missing five, eight, nine times – so we can find out the causes of why these people go missing.

“They are very often the most vulnerable people.

They are often subjected to sexual exploitation, are victims of crime, they get involved in chaotic drug use.

“All these types of things that as public service we have a duty to be stopping this from happening in the first place. We have the potential to break the cycle,”

he added, saying there were potentially huge financial savings for the scheme.

“If you do something at the age of 12 and that behaviour is not given any support or guidance that behaviour starts to accentuate and potentially gets worse and worse.” He said that the Welsh Government’s Carl Sargeant is supporting the scheme and, if it works, the idea could be rolled out across Wales.

331 children reported missing

A TOTAL of 331 children were reported missing to Gwent Police between August 2010 and April 2011.

Gwent’s new young runaways project is aimed at helping those young runaways break the cycle from going missing to being sexually exploited, becoming drug users or even victims of crime. It is hoped that it can help cases of children such as Donna, a Gwent 16-yearold, who was repeatedly reported missing as a child.

From April 2010 to March 2011 she was reported missing 104 times to the police, and 33 meetings took place to consider her case. But by March 2011 she was using heroin, selfharming, took vodka as payment for posing for sexually explicit pictures and contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

Hayley was 13 and living with her mother. She ran away from home for the first time in August 2011.

Despite having met a 23- year-old man on the internet, truanting from school and being sexually active, Hayley’s case did not meet the threshold for intervention.

The project hopes that by dealing with the issue at an early stage, cases such as Hayley’s will not develop to ones as severe as Donna’s.

● Names have been changed to protect the teenagers’ identities.