Thousands repeatedly run away from care, police figures reveal

By Tristan Donovan

| 24 April 2013

Nearly 3,000 children repeatedly went missing from care in 2012 according to police figures obtained by the NSPCC.

Police recorded 28,000 incidents of children running away from care in 2012. Image: Alex Deverill/Posed by model

Freedom of Information requests made by the child protection charity revealed that police in England and Wales recorded 28,123 incidents of children running away from residential care homes and foster care.

A total of 7,885 children went missing during the year at least once and 2,959 ran away more than once.

In one case a young person went missing from care 67 times.

Tom Rahilly, head of the charity’s looked-after children programme, said the figures were concerning.

“Repeatedly going missing should be a big warning sign as this kind of behaviour can put children at serious risk of harm such as grooming or sexual exploitation,” he said.

“The state needs to be a parent for these children. If any other child went missing their parents would move Heaven and Earth to find them and to understand why they did it. It should be no different for young people in care.”

Most of the young people who went missing were aged 13 to 17 but some were as young as six.

Some were not seen again for more than a week and one police force said that six children were still missing.

The charity warned that the figures would underestimate the extent of the problem since only 29 police forces responded to the charity’s inquiries and many cases were not reported to the police.

The NSPCC said professionals should regard repeat disappearances by children in care as a sign that they are at greater risk of harm and more needed to be done to prevent young people running away from care in the first place.

The charity also said care homes should do more to find out why children ran away rather than punishing them for going missing.

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