Two-thirds of children who run away from home or care are “invisible” to professionals, according to the latest research by The Children’s Society.
Published today, Still Running 3 revealed that 84,000 under-16s in England run away overnight from home or care every year.
The research – based on a self-report survey of more than 7,300 14- and 15-year-olds – revealed more than a quarter had experienced harm or danger while on the run, including 11% who were hurt or harmed and 18% who slept rough or stayed with someone they had only just met.
It found more than one-third of children first run away before they turn 13, while a quarter of young runaways fled because they had been forced to leave their family home.
Children who have experienced family change and conflict over the past year are three times as likely to run away as those who have not, and looked-after children are 50% more likely to have run away at some point than their peers.
Children who have run away are nearly four times as likely to be unhappy with their lives, the survey revealed, making running away a clear indicator of longer-term problems.
Yet the charity found professionals, including social workers, teachers and police, are failing to take action to support and protect most young runaways. Seven in 10 were not even reported missing the last time they ran away.
“We are deeply concerned that tens of thousands of children are still running from home or care,” said Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children’s Society. “Some are so desperate that they steal, turn to drugs or alcohol or are abused by adults who groom them. Too often they are alone and desperate for help.”
He said the need for a national safety net for young runaways, including a national action plan, had never been greater: “We urge the government and other professionals to put this issue to the top of their priority lists.”
The call for action comes as data recently supplied to Community Care under the Freedom of Information Act revealed councils were still failing to accurately record the number of children who went missing from care, despite a clear statutory duty to do so.
The investigation also revealed that government figures – which found 920 children went missing from care in 2010 – could be “hugely inaccurate”, according to experts and police.
Community Care is running a conference, Safeguarding Vulnerable Adolescents, in Birmingham on 1 December.
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