The Children’s Society has just published an important report, Making Runaways Safe, to highlight the incidence and plight of young runaways in England, and call for coordinated action to address the problem.
The report contains disturbing data. 100,000 children run away from home or care each year in this country. That’s a child every five minutes. A quarter of them are forced out by their parents or carers, others are escaping conflict, neglect or abuse. In 2005 most runaways were between thirteen and fifteen, with a quarter under thirteen, and one in ten nine or under. Latest trends suggest that the proportion of runaways who are under thirteen is increasing. Children in care are three times more likely to run away than their peers. Children who are facing difficulties at school are more likely to run away than others, as are those who consider themselves as disabled or having learning difficulties.
Many young runaways end up on the street. They may steal or rob for survival. Many become substance misusers. There is a clear link between children who run away from home and child sexual exploitation. Mobile phones and social networking sites are making it easier for predators to target vulnerable young runaways.
Eighty percent of young runaways do not seek help, because they do not know who to turn to or trust. Two-thirds of cases go unreported. According to the report, agencies such as the police and local authorities are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem and often fail to see runaways as children in need.