Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 16:58 GMT
Every year 77,000 British children under 16 run away from home for at least one night.
Many flee physical or mental abuse at home, and a quarter end up sleeping on the streets with some surviving through begging, stealing, drug dealing and prostitution.
The consultation report was launched on Thursday by Tony Blair, who said it was important to find out why so many children run away and why so many are reluctant to return home again.
He said: "We have to make it less likely that young people run away in the first place and, if they do run, ensure their immediate safety.
"And we must not just turf them back where they came from without finding out why they ran away and addressing these issues."
The consultation process will be carried out by the government’s Social Exclusion Unit.
The unit will work with runaways and goverment departments to formulate future policy.
The document, launched by the prime minister, suggest runaways who are found on the street should be identified and interviewed.
A network of refuge provision and reintegration support could ensure that runaways have the option of shelter.
It is also suggested that each area will have standardised procedures for dealing with runaways, and a named person will be in charge of co-ordinating services.
The consultation document has been welcomed by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
A spokeswoman said: "These children face enormous risks and trauma, often hiding and alone on our streets. It is crucial we take their needs seriously and ensure they are safe and supported in the long-term."
The NSPCC is urging the Government to set up a nation-wide network of targeted protection and prevention services to support children who run away.
The society pointed out that, although there is a statutory provision for accommodation for runaway children, there is only one left in the whole country, the London Refuge.
Madeline Ismach, NSPCC London director, said: "Thousands of vulnerable children run away every year."The Refuge provides a safe place where young people can talk about the problems which forced them to run away and aims to