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  • Writer's pictureBen Westwood

Getting to Europe, a conference at Parliament with Missing Children Europe, and the Runaway Helpline

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

Finally after 32 years!

What a beautiful day it was on the day of the conference, absolutely gorgeous weather which was great for the publicity stunt in Place Du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Square) where I met up with Federica, Gail, Laurie, Liuska and others from Missing Children Europe  as well as photographer Kris Van De Sande whilst they were setting up the publicity stunt to promote the runaway helpline number - 116000

A lot of people won't know this, but if you are a runaway, a parent or have any concerns about relating issues, then you can call 116000 from anywhere in Europe and you will get through to the runaway helpline local to your country. It's a really great initiative I reckon, and could have seen myself using it 'back in the day' if it had been around then.

(Continues below photographs) (Photo by Kris Van de Sande)

Photo by Kris Van de Sande

The number runaways and others can call throughout Europe for help and advice. 116000.

Julie Ward MEP was also at the conference

to discuss how we can help runaways and children's rights..

Photo by Kris Van de Sande

Margaret Tuite the European Commission

coordinator for children's rights  was also

at the conference with the Missing Children Europe

team and myself. 

I'm really humbled to have been invited to the conference and read some of my poetry from the book. but also to be around an air of such caring people. 

It's fair to say that the issue of runaway children is often overlooked, despite most of us knowing a story or two about runaway children from people we know. 

Julie Ward welcomed us all to the conference before Liuska Sanna From Missing Children Europe educated us all on the current statistics of runaway children, and the fact that there's been an 11% decrease in the number of children found (compared to the year before) but worryingly also at the same time there's been a 44% increase in children running away three times or more.

I have to give a massive hats-off to Margaret Tuite for the stuff I was hearing her say during the conference. Her message really hit a chord or two with me.

Without me giving a word-by-word transcript of the event, in a nutshell she was making some very valid points of how runaway children can be seen as a problem for others to deal with, instead of us looking at the bigger picture to find out why exactly children are so often running away.

Hopefully my book 'Poems From a Runaway' too sheds a little light on that through the eyes of a child.

'It's the system that needs fixing. Not the children.'

It's quite a statement to be fair, and one that may take a few minutes of reflection to at least think about how decisions, relationships and environments created by adults can have such an impact on the mental wellbeing of a young person.

I also  talked about my childhood and read out my poem 'Great Haywood', which is about the first time I ran away overnight at around 10 years old and slept in a ditch in the village of Great Haywood, Staffordshire. 

(Continues below photographs) 

Julie Ward opens up the conference to explain why we need to come together to help and understand runaway children.

Me reading my poem 'Great Haywood' to the attendees of the conference.

Although I didn't have a lot of practice in my spoken word and poetry at the time, you can watch me read about my first ever overnight runaway experience at the age of 10 by clicking here.

Also present was Emilio Puccio from the European Parliamentary Intergroup for Children's Rights Ruth Farrugia, the director general of The President's Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society based in Malta. Carlos Coelho the Portuguese MEP,  and Charlotte Verhofstadt from the office of German MEP Hilde Vautmans .

Other speakers included Maria João and Paula Paco from Instituto de Apoio à Criança in Portugal and Janina Dienaite from The Missing Persons' Families Support Centre in Lithuania.

Also a very hard-hitting and memorable speech by Maryana Lypovetska from Missing Children in Ukraine.

For those unaware or needing a reminder, there has been war in the Ukraine over the last few years which in turn leads to all sorts of manifestations in society. One of them being runaway children.

Since the start of the unrest in Ukraine there has been a rise in missing runaway children, in fact the number of missing children in the Ukraine has risen from at least 4573 in 2015 to at least 9125 in 2017.

It certainly made me think that as an English lad that's never had to live during or flee from war, how lucky indeed I really am, but also at the time realising that perhaps it's a good thing for other people around the world to know what young Ukrainians have been going through.  (Continues below photographs)

Marina Lypovetska explaining the rise of Ukrainian missing children and the affect of war on runaways and missing children

Marina Lypovetska educates us about Ukrainian Missing children

Carlos Coelho from the Children's rights Intergroup addressing some shocking facts and explaining how we need to do our best to help locate and help runaway children.

Overall, a fantastic experience meeting some really wonderful people and I'm honoured to have been invited there to share my story. 

A massive thanks to Julie Ward for giving me the tour of of the European Parliament and letting me sit in on one of her talks to a class of students. 

It's safe to say I've come back to the UK very inspired by everyone that I met that day.

I thought I'd be burnt out after it all but now I want to do my part to help runaways more than ever.

An absolutely cracking day and thanks to everyone for helping me along during my times of struggle, it's been a really positive experience.

Thanks for reading and thanks to everyone involved in all ways.

In my next blog I'll be talking about my university talk to social workers in Cambridge in Collaboration with 'To The Moon and Back Fostering' and my talk with social workers in Somerset.

Big Love.

Poems From a Runaway is available on in both paperback and ebook on Amazon at Or personally-signed colour copies from the 'My Book' section of this site.

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