'If you want to run away to disappear from your life, then you're not going to be found'
Back in April, after a visit to our Safe in the City project in Manchester, I wrote about the 100,000 children who run away each year in the UK. We recently published findings from our latest report on young runaways, Still Running 3 (full text, summary), and found that the picture for them has changed little in more than a decade.
This new research again confirms that one child runs away from home or care every five minutes, and one-quarter of them are kicked out or feel forced to leave. Only three in 10 are reported missing, and a significant number report being hurt or harmed while they were away.
Two-fifths of young runaways go missing for only one night and return the next day, but a significant minority stay away for four weeks or more, which is an issue of deep concern.
Chidren who run away is a hidden problem that may present as truancy, shoplifting, begging or sleeping rough. When faced with these issues, how willing are we to look beyond the obvious, to stop seeing a problem and see what might be a cry for help?
'They just blamed me for everything'
At Safe in the City and our other projects across the country, young people tell us why they ran away from home. These are two stories I found particularly heartbreaking.
'I'd do anything - I'd do absolutely anything to just stay away. If you want to run away to disappear from your life, then you're not going to be found'.
'I stormed out the house and didn't go back. I went down the industrial estate and slept in a lorry, a big truck it was, at about 11 at night. I felt frightened. There were noises and it was cold. I went home at three in the afternoon. I'd had nothing to eat. They just ignored me. After a while we started talking again and started arguing. They just blamed me for everything'.
Why young people run away
We found the highest rate of running away among young people living with families with less warm relationships, and more arguments and conflict, when compared to other young people.
Family change can be a powerful trigger to running away – whether that’s parents breaking up, for example, or a new step-parent coming into the home. This finding points to the need to support young people during times of family transition and change.
Finally, young runaways told us about friendships, school and general well-being. We found that young people who run away are less happy with their friendships, less engaged with school, and less optimistic about going on to further education. They have lower well-being overall than other young people, and when they do go missing, are more likely to be isolated and without support.
What we can do
It’s time we all recognised running away as a key indicator of potential harm to young people. This report produces sadly little evidence of improving trends for young people who run away, but does give us new information about the root causes – and the risks they face.
Still Running 3 (full text, summary) renews our commitment to call for a national safety net for children, where we all – parents, teachers, youth workers, politicians, neighbours – can join together to help make runaways safe.
Please join our campaign and join us in supporting young runaways.