Running off

Read our topic page with questions relating to the issue of people with a severe learning disability running off. Find out about the causes of running off and how you can keep your relative safe.

Does your relative run off from their home or when out in the community?

How can you keep them safe?

Some people with a severe learning disability may run off through open doors or windows, or away from the people they are with when out in the community.  This can be very worrying for families, as people with severe learning disabilities may have little or no understanding of danger. There is an added worry about how the general public may react to them.

Families may feel that this behaviour means they must constantly keep their relative within eyesight.  Going out in the community can become stressful: you want to let your relative have some independence and explore their environment as freely as possible but at the same time you don’t want them to come to any harm.

Find out the causes of running off

In order to help reduce the likelihood of your relative running off, it is very useful to know why they are doing it.  For example:

  • Are they running off from something (a loud noise perhaps) or running towards something (an ice cream van)?
  • Or, do they enjoy running off as part of a game or to get your or someone else’s attention?
  • Does it satisfy a sensory need: for example, do they do it more (or less) when it’s raining or could they simply enjoy the feeling of running?

Teaching new skills

By finding out why your relative runs off, you can start to teach appropriate skills that will help your relative achieve the same purpose as the running off – but in safer ways.  See the Challenging Behaviour Foundation’s resources ‘Finding the Reasons for behaviour’ and ‘Positive Behaviour Support Planning’ for ideas of how to do this (see links below).

Examples may include:

  • If they are running away from something, it may be helpful to teach them how to ask to leave using signs or pointing. If it isn’t possible or appropriate for your relative to leave the environment, even for a short time, you can try to teach your relative to cope with situations that make them anxious.
  • If you think the running off satisfies a sensory need, it may be helpful to plan a structured time for your relative to have that ‘running around’ time. Perhaps a key worker or personal assistant can go running with your relative or Direct Payments can be used to hire a personal trainer to do this.
  • Other sensory considerations might be putting on ear protectors if the person is running away from loud noises or putting on sunglasses if outside seems too bright.

Planning ahead

Families may worry that their relative will run far away and be at risk of harm.  There are several steps that you can take to plan ahead:

  • You can place a mobile phone securely in your relative’s pocket when out in the community. GPS or other technology can be used to track the phone and therefore your relative’s location.
  • Consider proximity sensors that sound an alarm if someone walks a certain distance away from you.
  • Keep information with the person about their condition/needs, their communication abilities and your contact details (see below).
  • Make neighbours aware that they need to contact you urgently if they see your relative alone outside the home.
  • Similarly, let the local police station know that your relative may run off and discuss a plan. They can place a ‘marker’ on their database that someone is likely to need a quick response and urgent care. This is best done in advance of any actual emergency. If your relative has run off and you don’t know where they are, call 999 straight away.

Consider equipment in the home

  • Locks – putting locks on windows and keeping doors leading outside locked, may seem restrictive but can allow an individual to explore their home without the watchful eye of a relative. For more information about companies that provide locks, please see our ‘Specialist equipment and safety adaptations’ information sheet (see below).
  • Your local authority should be able to alter windows in your home so that they only open 3 inches but no further. This therefore means that you can get fresh air but the gap is not large enough for someone to climb out!
  • It may be useful to erect a taller garden fence and perhaps trellising above that, to prevent anyone climbing over the top. Your local authority should be able to arrange this. Bear in mind you may need planning permission to erect taller fences.
  • You can buy sensors that will set off an alarm or send a signal to a pager when they sense movement through doors or windows. Also, pressure mats can be placed by doors and windows and will signal when someone stands on them. These items can be easily hidden and are also transportable and therefore useful for trips and holidays.  See the websites EasylinkUK, Fledglings and Living Made Easy.

Tools that can be used when in the community

  • Emergency contact details on a wrist tag or an identity bracelet can be worn by your relative. See the website Medical ID Alert Bracelets and Necklaces.
  • A blue badge for parking in ‘Disabled’ spaces can be obtained from your local authority: – this can help you and your relative having to walk long distances from the car and therefore reduces opportunities for running off.
  • If your relative is likely to get out of the car without warning, additional harnesses are available and you may find it useful to use the ‘child-lock’ in your car.

Mental Capacity Act

Before using adaptations such as locks, sensory equipment or car safety harnesses for a relative over 16 years please get advice regarding the Mental Capacity Act (from a Social Worker or your local Community Team for People with Learning Disabilities). For information about the Mental Capacity Act please see:

Please note that websites and products listed here are not recommendations from the CBF, they are for your information only. Readers are encouraged to evaluate the benefits and risks of each product before purchase.

Related information

Resource - Positive Behaviour Support Planning: Part 3

Resource - Positive Behaviour Support Planning: Part 3

This page describes what is a Behaviour Support Plan, and how to create one. Our quick read summary and downloadable information sheet provide eight key steps to making a plan, including proactive than reactive strategies.