Children as young as eight are running away from home or care and in most cases are not being reported to the authorities, reveals Make Runaways Safe, a new report by The Children’s Society.
Many are in grave danger and at risk of harm, physical abuse or sexual exploitation.
The leading children’s charity is working increasingly with 'pre-teen' runaways – the average age had previously been 13 and 14, yet it is supporting increasing numbers of 11 and 12 year olds. It is also working with increasing numbers of boys.
Another troubling new trend exposed in Make Runaways Safe is that the use of mobile phones and social networking sites is making it easier for predators to target vulnerable child runaways.
Research by the charity, which is the biggest single provider of dedicated services for young runaways, shows that more than 100,000 children run away from home or care in this country every year. That is one every five minutes. Two-thirds are not reported to the police.
The Children’s Society is calling for a national safety net to be put in place for every child who runs away.
This would include the government drawing up a national runaways' action plan to significantly boost help and support for everyone involved, the charity argues.
The majority of young runaways that The Children’s Society works with are at serious risk of, or involved with, sexual exploitation, reveals the report. Many are being actively targeted by adults in public places like parks and bus stations – and increasingly by their peers.
Agencies are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem and often fail to see runaways as children in need. Yet the report reveals that a quarter of them are forced to leave, often fleeing violence, abuse and chaos at home.
Make Runaways Safe also reveals that it already costs society £82 million a year – or a quarter of a million pounds every day – to deal with all but the most severe incidences of children running away. It costs substantially more to deal with the most severe cases, where a young person gets involved in serious offending to survive – or is taken into care.
It is a false economy to cut support for young runaways, argues The Children’s Society. Paying for 'early intervention' could save society up to £300,000 for each child who runs away.
The Children's Society's Chief Executive Bob Reitemeier said: 'Every child who runs away should run to safety. 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.
'We call on the government to urgently put a national action plan in place. The cost to our children and society is unacceptable. We can’t wait a moment longer.'
When a child runs away from home they are immediately at great risk, often existing on the fringes of society. One in six young runaways end up sleeping rough, one in eight resort to begging or stealing to survive and one in twelve are hurt or harmed as a direct result of running away.
Mr Reitemeier added: 'These children remain hidden from view and out of the reach of all who work with children. Eight out of ten don’t seek help from anybody because they don’t know where to turn, they don’t feel there is anyone they can trust or they fear the consequences. Tragically there is an alarming lack of awareness and a noticeable failure to prioritise running away as a key child protection issue.'
A national runaways action plan should include:
- Improved support for young runaways, including early intervention, intensive one-to-one support and family mediation
- Improving local authority and police responses and procedures
- Timely advice and support for young runaways, parents and carers.
For more information, case studies from around the country or to attend the event, please contact The Children's Society press office on 020 7841 4422 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.
Notes to Editors
- The charity has been campaigning to safeguard and protect young runaways for more than 25 years. It has nine projects working with children who run away, or are at risk of being sexually exploited, supporting more than 1,000 children every year.
- 'Young runaway' refers to a child under the age of 16 who has spent at least one night away from their home without parental permission.
- All statistics are taken from The Children’s Society’s research, Still Running II, published in October 2005 after a survey of 11,210 children across 70 mainstream schools, 11 pupil referral units and 13 schools for children with learning difficulties.
- The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children can be children, childhood is respected and every child is valued for who they are. Our approach is driven by our Christian values and by the voices of children and young people, who are at the heart of all we do. In 2009 The Children’s Society published The Good Childhood Inquiry, the UK's first independent national inquiry into childhood. Its aims were to renew society's understanding of modern childhood and to inform, improve and inspire all our relationships with children. The Children's Society is continuing to improve this understanding of issues affecting children through all of its ongoing work.
Facts and figures
- In England there are only two emergency beds available at any one time for children who run away.
- Two-thirds of young runaways are not reported as missing to the police by their parents or guardians.
- A quarter felt forced to leave home.
- Young people are three times more likely to run away from care than from home.
- Only five per cent will seek professional help while they are away.