CHILDREN as young as eight are running away from home and from care, a new report, launched this week, says.
The Children’s Society’s report Make Runaways Safe says that in previous years, most young runaways were aged between 13 and 15, but now they are more likely to be 11 or 12, and most are not even reported as missing. The number of boys who run away is also on the rise.
Many of the 100,000 children who run away each year are in danger of harm, including sexual exploitation. The report says that social media are making it easier for predators to target vulnerable child runaways.
Research for the charity found that a child runs away every five minutes somewhere in the UK, and that two- thirds are not reported to the police. One in six ends up sleeping rough; one in eight resorts to begging or stealing; and one in 12 is hurt or harmed.
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Bob Reitemeier, has called on the Government to put a national action plan in place. “Every child who runs away should run away to safety,” he said. “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.
“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.”
The Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, said that the report made “harrowing reading”. The exploitation of children as young as eight was “completely unacceptable”, he said.
Project workers for the charity say that there have been increases not only in adults’ grooming of young runaways, but also in “peer grooming”, whereby children who have met while in care groom younger children for sex. Children are being increasingly targeted in public places such as bus stations and parks.
The charity is calling for improved support and advice for young runaways and their families, including early intervention, intensive one-to-one support, and family mediation. It also wants the Government to focus on improving local-authority and police responses and procedures.
It argues that it is a false economy to cut support for runaways, and says that it already costs £82 million a year to deal with all but the most severe instances of a child’s running away — a quarter of a million pounds every day.