Alarming increase across Europe in the number of children sleeping rough

Despite soaring figures, relatively little information exists about children who sleep rough, says Nick Fouché.

By Nick Fouché

11 Apr 2014

April 12 marks this year’s international day for street children. Launched in 2011 by the consortium for street children, here in Europe the annual dedication to this particularly vulnerable group is of particular importance to the children rough sleepers project.

Financed via the European commission’s Daphne programme, its research team is already reporting an alarming increase in the number of minors sleeping rough across Europe.

The project is led by the University of Wolverhampton and includes professionals, experts and academics from nine partner countries Europe-wide. Current findings show a rise in rough sleeping minors of 12 per cent in the UK in recent years, with Ireland up 43 per cent, Hungary up 36 per cent, the Czech Republic up 38 per cent and a doubling of numbers in Denmark. 

These children in our large urban centres around Europe are seldom recognised or even noticed by residents and local authorities, though their numbers are growing.

Beyond the soaring figures, relatively little information exists regarding children who sleep rough.

"It is seldom acknowledged that these children are especially vulnerable to threats posed by substance abuse, sexual exploitation and child rape"

In Europe, rough sleeping children are represented by runaways fleeing their homes for various reasons or as a result of being evicted by family members, children who choose to abandon supported care accommodation, youth escaping institutional care, unaccompanied foreign minors who enter Europe from bordering countries or those relocating alone from one European country to another.

The problem raised by issues associated with children and young people who sleep rough is now a major European issue, especially within the current economic climate in which our governments are implementing austerity measures to cut budget deficits.

Furthermore, among local authorities the level of support provided to this client group varies significantly from region to region.

It is seldom acknowledged that these children are especially vulnerable to threats posed by substance abuse, sexual exploitation and child rape. Also, in order to survive on the street they are at high risk of becoming perpetrators of violence.

Much can be done to reduce the number of children who sleep rough, especially in terms of prevention strategies and through raising the visibility of these children to assist them in emerging from their circumstances by way of concrete solutions.

In this respect, current research findings from the children rough sleepers project research team already gives clear indications, showing a workable path ahead for national ministries as well as national and local governments.

These are represented by increased support for children who live in dysfunctional homes and/or families followed by the social services.

Indeed, as studies confirm, a significant number of children living on our streets have previously had some form of contact with the social services. Consequently, an urgent need remains to support children already accommodated in institutional and social care centres.

It is these who represent a particularly fragile segment of those minors who so often end up on the streets. Solutions include structuring adequate shelter options for minors with no fixed abode to trace and support them with the aid of trustworthy professional adult teams.

This has been proven to be a potentially winning option in responsibly addressing rough sleeping among children.

We also need to give a voice to social operators, NGOs, social workers and volunteer organisations which work on the streets of Europe so that more attention can be paid to their views for delivering practical prevention strategies and best practices on this issue.

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