Children as young as eight are running away from home or care, putting themselves at greater risk of sexual exploitation, a report by The Children’s Society has revealed.
The report also found that the average age of runaways is now 11-12 compared with 13-14 six years ago.
Yet agencies are still failing to see young runaways as children in need and do not understand the scale and nature of the problem, the charity warned.
Interviews with professionals found that the children were increasingly being targeted by abusers in parks or bus stations, and even by their peers. They also face a serious risk of sexual exploitation.
Make Runaways Safe, published today, has called on the government to produce a national action plan to safeguard the 100,000 children who run away from their family homes each year.
Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said eight in 10 runaways did not seek help for fear of the consequences or because they did not know what help was available. “Tragically, there is an alarming lack of awareness and a noticeable failure to prioritise running away as a key child protection issue,” he said.
“Society is failing young runaways, condemning tens of thousands of children to misery and danger by failing to provide an adequate safety net to break their fall.”
He said investing in early intervention services could save up to £300,000 a child whereas the cost of dealing with runaways – one quarter of whom flee violence and abuse at home – is about £250,000 a day.
The charity said a national plan should also include: intensive one-to-one support and family mediation; improved local authority and police responses; and more advice and support for runaways and their parents and carers.
The report follows a thematic assessment into on-street grooming by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre which found children who ran away faced an increased risk of being targeted by sex offenders and criminal gangs.
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