Over 80,000 are children 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.
Parental child abduction
Parental child abduction is when a parent or relative, or someone acting on their behalf, removes a child from approved custody or violates their custody agreement. Read more about parental child abduction.