A quarter of child runaways (26 per cent) have been the victim of a harmful or dangerous experience, reveals shocking new research from The Children’s Society.
Still Running 3 (full text, summary), the first comprehensive picture of running away for under 16s for six years, also shows that one in five child runaways have begged, stolen or done 'other things' to survive.
One in nine (11 per cent) was hurt or harmed on the last occasion they ran. One in six (18 per cent) children said they had slept rough, or stayed with, someone they had just met.
Professionals 'not stepping in'
Yet teachers, social workers, police and other professionals are not stepping in and supporting the vast majority of young runaways. Around two-thirds of children who run away are not 'visible' to professionals.
The research also exposes, for the first time, that there is a very strong link between family relationships and running away. Children who have experienced family change are more than three times as likely to have run away in the past year as those who have not.
Children who have experienced high family conflict are around six times as likely to have run away in the past year.
Seven in ten runaways were not reported missing to police the last time they ran away. A quarter of child runaways were forced to leave home. 
A child runs away every five minutes
Overall, one child runs from home or care every five minutes – in England alone, 84,000 under 16 year olds run away overnight on at least one occasion every year.
Still Running 3 also shows that some children run away ten times or more over the course of their childhood.
Overall, children who have recently run away are almost four times as likely to be unhappy with their lives. Running away is a clear indicator of potential longer-term problems – the need for early intervention is compelling.
'Never has the need for a national safety net of help for young runaways been greater'
The Children’s Society Chief Executive Bob Reitemeier said: 'We are deeply concerned that tens of thousands of children are still running from home or care. Huge numbers are putting themselves in very dangerous situations. One child in this situation is one child too many.
'Some children 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.
'We have shown that arguments and other family conflict play a massive part in a child’s decision to run. Poor quality family relationships and neglectful parenting are making children and young people feel helpless. Everybody has a part to play in making runaways safe.
'Never has the need for a national safety net of help for young runaways been greater. We urge the government and other professionals to put this issue to the top of their priority lists.'
Still Running 3 findings also include:
- Children with learning difficulties or a disability are twice as likely to run away.
- A substantial number of children run away at younger ages – more than a third first run before the age of 13.
- Young runaways, on average, are much less likely to feel positive about school, feel they are doing less well and hold lower future educational aspirations (such as going to university).
- Children not living with family, including those living in foster or residential care, are almost 50 per cent more likely to have run away at some point in their lives.
The Children’s Society is calling on central Government to create a national safety net for child runaways, including creating a national action plan for runaways.
Media enquiries, case studies and interviews
Extensive case studies and spokespeople are available for interview. Please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email email@example.com. Out-of-hours: 07810 796 508.
Notes to Editor
- The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life.
- More than 7,300 children aged 14 to 16 were interviewed in a representative sample of mainstream schools across England.
- Still Running 3 is the third in a series of national surveys conducted by The Chil-dren’s Society into the issue of children running away. The three waves of the survey have been conducted at six-year intervals, in 1999, 2005 and 2011.
: This figure is from Still Running 2, 2005