Its something many people threaten to do as a kid, packing the essentials (snacks, favourite toy, that sort of thing, obviously) and getting as far as the local park or wherever for probably less than an hour, or, equally as likely, not even making it out of the door.
However light heartedly we may consider children’s threats to or efforts to run away, children leaving their homes and becoming missing people is a serious and large scale problem in the UK.
This week, a report by the Missing Persons Bureau paints a worrying picture concerning the UK’s missing people. Around 900 people are recorded missing a day (Police Federation). Over 130,000 of the individuals missing each year, the majority, are children under 17 years old. Yet even this isn’t the full story, according to the Children’s Society, who state that hundreds of children running away from their homes go unreported each week.
According to Make Runaways Safe, a charity that helps to protect children who run away from home, over 100,000 children run away each year. That works out at one child going missing every five minutes. Children may runaway for any number of reasons but a child fleeing their home is often seen as a way of crying for help or a red flag indication that the child is in need in some way.
Information provided by Childline suggests that children often runway due to family arguments, violence within the family, abuse, problems at school, pregnancy, the death of a loved one, alcohol or drug abuse, or to escape care homes.
Research carried out by the Children’s Society, in partnership with the Social Policy Research Unit at the University of York, found that children are most likely to run away from eight years upwards. The research revealed that girls are more likely to run away from home, as are disabled young people, those of mixed ethnic origin, those who have experienced recent changes to the family structure, those with a poor quality family environment, or those with a poor family economic status. The majority of these children said they had not been reported as missing to the police.
Once they are no longer within their homes, runaway children become vulnerable to substance misuse, sexual exploitation, criminal activity, dangerous adults and homelessness. However, commonly, young people who run away often stay with their friends or with other relatives.
Director of Campaigns for the Children’s Society, Lily Carter said: “more must be done to capture the true scale of the problem – tens of thousands of runaways are unreported, so they go “under the radar”, not getting the support and services they need to keep them safe. Self report surveys would be one way to expose the true numbers of children running away from home and their level of need”.