COUNCIL chiefs have pledged to do more work to understand why children run away from care in Cumbria.

Council officials, police and health leaders will drill down into the issue over the coming year.

The pledge came as part of a new four-year strategy which aims to improve services for children looked after.

Cumbria County Council has around 700 children in care, either in residential homes, placed for adoption or with foster parents. Barrow has a high proportion of children in care with 150 alongside Carlisle. Allerdale has 160, Copeland has 130, South Lakeland has 67 and Eden with 20.

Cllr Liz Mallinson, a Conservative councillor for Stanwix Urban, said: “There is a problem with children going missing in Cumbria and I know we are working as an authority on this. Child sexual exploitation is often out of our control and as good as our social workers are, we can’t always see what happens online and the grooming that goes on. I find it incredibly worrying that the number of children nationally who are sexually exploited is on the increase.”

Cllr Anne Burns, the cabinet member for children’s services in Cumbria, said the council worked closely with Cumbria police.

The children’s charity Barnado’s is also contracted by the council to interview children after they had been found, she added.

Cllr Burns, the Labour member for Hindpool, said:  “Children have to be interviewed within 72 hours of them coming back about where they have been and what they have been doing and Barnardo’s feeds that information back to the council. We are working very closely with all the organisations and agencies to safeguard children in Cumbria as far as we can.”

Cllr Shirley Evans, the children’s champion for South Lakeland, said: “I welcome that we are increasing the number of residential homes that we have in Cumbria. The children have told us many times that they don’t want to be moved away from their area – that’s their stability, where their school is and where their friends are.”

A new home for up to four children is due to open in Kendal and plans are afoot to create one in Penrith, councillors heard.