According to the Children’s Society, over 100,000 children run away from home or are reported missing each year.
Children run away for all sorts of reasons, including trouble at school or arguments within the family. They may leave on impulse or in protest. Sometimes they may be drawn away by something outside of the home such as older friends. On most occasions they return home safely.
When a child runs away they are at risk of serious harm. You do not have to wait 24 hours before reporting somebody missing. You can make a report to the police as soon as you have done as much as possible to locate your child and that you consider them to be missing. There is no minimum waiting time. Dial 999 in an emergency or call your local police force immediately on 101.
Why do children run away?
A child going missing is often a cry for help and a sign that something is wrong in that young person’s life. They may be experiencing violence at home, drug or alcohol issues, difficulties at school, bullying or sexual abuse.
Running away or going missing is also a key early indicator of criminal exploitation or child sexual exploitation (CSE). Research by The Children’s Society has found that many as 70% of children who are sexually exploited go missing from home.
Young people can run away for many reasons:
- Problems at home – these can range from arguments with parents, to conflict between parents, to long-term abuse or neglect. Some young people in care run away to be closer to friends or family.
- Problems at school – children who are being severely bullied are more likely to run away as are those who feel negatively about school in general.
- Problems elsewhere – young people may run away after being groomed by adults who want to exploit them for criminal or sexual activity or simply encouraged to run by older friends.
- In many cases running away will be a combination of these factors.
Children who run away may also exhibit other behaviour, which can include:
- Skipping school regularly for either part of the day or more.
- Expressing their unhappiness about any changes regarding adults who live in their home (for example if a parent or parent’s partner moves in or out).
- Beginning to behave in a more challenging way.
- Suddenly spending time with older friends or receiving a lot of text messages.
- Showing signs of other unusual attributes such as tiredness, lateness, dirty clothes or being hungry.
All of these factors, including running away, indicate that there are more serious underlying issues that a child or young person needs help and support with.
The Children’s Society has a developed a series of guides with useful information and advice on what to do when a child goes missing and how to prevent children from going missing in the first place:
- Thinking of running away? is a guide for children and young people about the risks of running away and advice on where they can find help.
- What to do if your child goes missing explains to parents and carers why children and young people run away and what steps to take if a child goes missing.
- What to do when a child goes missing is a guide for teachers and youth workers on how to recognise the signs that a child may be running away and how to help them.
My child is missing/has run away
If your child does not return home when you expect them to and you are worried, in the first instance you should try and find out where they are.
You should check your property, garage/shed and any outdoor spaces. Check to see if they have taken anything like their phone, money or clothes and, if possible, look on their social media and devices to see if there is any helpful information to where they may have gone or if they have had contact with anyone recently.
Yous should also:
- Try to contact them directly via mobile phone, text or social networking sites (such as Whats App, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
- Check the surrounding area
- Check with their friends, school, neighbours, relatives, work or anyone else who may have any suggestions about where they might be. Ask them to tell you immediately if they hear from the missing person.
However, if your child is missing or has run away from home, you must contact the police. Dial 999 in an emergency situation or call your local police force immediately on 101.
If you cannot locate your child following a telephone and physical search then you should report them missing to the police by dialling 101. You do not have to wait 24 hours before reporting them missing.
You will need to provide the following information:
- Child’s name
- Date of birth
- When and where the child was last seen
- Who they were with
- What he or she was wearing and a description
- Recent photograph
- Any medical history or complications
- The circumstances of when they went missing.
If you know where your child is and you are still concerned for their safety, for example, if they are at a house where you suspect criminal activities are taking place, you can advise the police who may be able to carry out a welfare check on that house or location
If you are concerned that your child is being exploited there are useful ways that parents can work with the police and other services to help keep your child safe. Make a note of:
- any times your child goes missing
- Names, nicknames, ages and descriptions about people who concern you
- Car registrations, make, model, colour that may have been seen dropping off or collecting your child
- Phone numbers, profiles, user names that your child is being contacted by on phones, apps, social media or games consoles.
- Places your child talks about going to
- Dates and times when the things above may be happening