9 Mar 2016

Police in London are receiving 70 reports a day of children going missing from home, research by The Children’s Society reveals.

A new report by the charity, which provides one-to-one support for runaways, shows the Metropolitan Police recorded 25,622 incidents of a child going missing from home or care in the 12 months to March 2015.

The charity, which uncovered the figures through Freedom of Information requests, is warning that without action to combat the problem, thousands of the capital’s most vulnerable young people will be left at greater risk from sexual exploitation and gangs.

Its report, Safeguarding Children and Young People Who Go Missing in London, finds that children in care are far more likely to go missing than those living in family homes. And children who are moved away to council or foster homes – often miles away from their family and friends – are at highest risk of all.

Nationally, children and young people make up more than half of all missing persons cases reported to police, with 12-17 year olds most likely to run away. Earlier research has shown that one in four young runaways are either hurt or harmed when away from home, with runaways much more likely to be sexually exploited.

The Children’s Society wants every child who goes missing to be given an independent one-to-one interview when they return to find out why they ran away and what support they need before they find themselves in greater danger.

The charity is also calling for the Government to set up a national missing persons database to make sure that data is properly collected and shared. It says more needs to be done to take account of what children in care want before decisions are taken to move them far from their home, friends and family.

Sherry Peck, Area Director for The Children’s Society in London, said: 'Children who go missing from home or care are some of the most vulnerable children in our society. They are often running from neglect and abuse, conflict, family breakdown and parental drug and alcohol misuse. Sometimes they are under the influence of predatory adults seeking to exploit them.'

'Too often the serious issues they are running from do not get identified and addressed early enough. Without urgent action to provide better help early on, more children will go missing, again and again, exposing them to serious and increasing risk of sexual exploitation and other crimes.'

Last week the Evening Standard reported that nearly 4,000 children across London have been identified as being at risk of sexual exploitation. The Metropolitan Police revealed there has been 3,934 referrals of suspected child sexual exploitation across the capital since 2014.

Children may run away for a number of reasons. Some face problems at home or school and do not know how to cope or where to ask for help. Others run away enticed with promises of love and affection or fun and excitement, only to be exploited by predatory individuals while away from home.

The Children’s Society’s new report also raises concerns about the treatment of young people recorded by local authorities as having gone “absent”, rather than “missing”. These children are much less likely to be supported on their return. The assumption that shorter absences are low risk is based on a misunderstanding of the dangers associated with frequently running away.

As a large metropolitan area, London is a place of many exciting opportunities but also of many risks. A report by The Children’s Society last year showed that older teenagers in London feel less safe in many common public areas than their peers across the country.

Media enquiries

For more information or an interview, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to Editors

• A full copy of Safeguarding Children and Young People Who Go Missing in London is available here.
• The report is based on responses to Freedom of Information requests to 33 London boroughs and the Metropolitan Police Service.
• Since many children run away on multiple occasions, the number of missing episodes does not equate to the number of individual children who go missing in a given period.
• The Children’s Society’s network of projects in London brings together the expertise of practitioners across the capital to reach out to young people facing issues such as going missing from home, trafficking and destitution.
• The Children’s Society, through its Seriously Awkward campaign, is seeking to improve legal protection and increase access to services for older teenagers at risk of sexual exploitation, neglect or mental health problems, and make sure that no 16 and 17 year old at risk of harm is left with nowhere to turn.
• The Children’s Society is supporting Firebird, the first ever West End production about child sexual exploitation. Written by Phil Davies and directed by Ed Hall, the play – currently being performed at London’s Trafalgar Studios – shines a light on the desperately misunderstood issues of how teenagers can be harmed.
• The Children’s Society is a national charity that runs local services, helping children and young people when they are at their most vulnerable, and have nowhere left to turn. We also campaign for changes to laws affecting children and young people, to stop the mistakes of the past being repeated in the future. Our supporters around the country fund our services and join our campaigns to show children and young people they are on their side. For more information visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk