Our work with children who go missing

Just after her 16th birthday and with difficulties at home, Sophie started going missing. After being referred to The Children's Society by the police Sophie worked with a project worker who, over five months, helped her to understand the risks and dangers of going missing. This is her story. 

Everything kind of started to go wrong for me in my own world

My parents separated when I was four and I lived with my mum. But mum and I were arguing all the time and she was also planning to move to another city, so I moved in with my dad. It was just before Christmas.

He lived really far away from my old home, I missed my mates and it took me two hours to get to school. That, with the fact I felt unwanted because of the arguments with mum, made me think that I’d be better off running away.

I felt the need to just isolate myself from everyone.

I didn’t think sleeping rough would be that bad

I had some friends who were homeless, I met them at a local skate park, so I didn’t think sleeping rough would be that bad.

For six weeks over January and February I ran away every couple of days, for a night each time. I stayed in a multi-storey car park with my bag of overnight clothes.

It was freezing and raining. I stayed with others who were around my age or a bit older.

We got food and blankets from a homeless shelter we knew about. Sometimes we sat in shop doorways and begged for money. I did see some scary things when I was sleeping rough.

Luckily no one tried it on with me, but I saw arguments between gangs. Sleeping rough made me ill too with anxiety, colds and flu.

There were times when I thought, 'this is a very, very dangerous situation' but we just carried on because there was no adult, there was no punishment or discipline to tell us it wasn’t right.

We were young people, so we just went anywhere and everywhere – we had no reason not to.

Each time I ran away, my dad called the police who put out a missing person’s report.

The police found me and brought me home.

Things came to a head when I’d gone to stay with a friend who I’d met at the skate park. I thought he was a nice guy but suddenly the police turned up. It turned out he was on bail for attacking women.

As I was with him, he was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping or sexually exploiting me. He didn’t do anything to me, but he has since been jailed for his previous crimes.

I had no idea this guy could have harmed me

My family and safeguarding officer at school explained how running away had put me at risk. It really scared me as I had no idea this guy could have harmed me.

They also told me my behaviour was affecting my family and I realised that they did care about me.

I was referred to The Children’s Society and my project worker have been fantastic.

She gave me a lesson about grooming, what was and wasn’t a safe place and what might cause me to run away.

Things are much better now

When you’re in that kind of situation, you trick yourself into believing everything is going to be okay, that you’re safe and you know what you’re doing.  It isn’t until somebody like The Children’s Society comes along and tells you, 'this is not safe and it’s not okay to be doing this'.

I was extremely lucky to find The Children’s Society at the time I did. I hate to think of it, but I’d be dead.

I think something terrible would have happened to me and I wouldn’t have been able to get myself out of that situation, because I was just on the brink of becoming someone who no one could have saved me from.

If I was to give advice to people running away, I’d say don’t do it. You’re putting yourself in danger.

There are people around you who do care – you just have to find them and tell them what’s wrong. If I was to give advice to the police or other agencies helping runaway kids, I’d say don’t just assume we are running away from abuse.

All sorts of things might make people run away. Even things like exam stress can build up and make someone feel like they have no choice but to run away.