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National Homeless Advice Service

Running away and rough sleeping

It is estimated that every year in the UK approximately 100,000 young people under the age of 18 run away from home or care, and that 16% of young runaways sleep rough whilst away from home.

Many will return home very quickly, though a few will not return for extended periods.

Members of the public can alert Streetlink if they see a person sleeping rough. The details will go to the local authority or outreach service for the area in which the person has been seen.

The charity Missing People provides support to families and to people, including children, who are considering running away.


Children missing from care

The UK Missing Persons Bureau has estimated that 10,000 children a year go missing from care in the UK, putting already vulnerable children in danger of being physically or sexually abused or sexually exploited. In 2012 an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) made recommendations to the UK government on improvements that should be made to the care and support given to vulnerable children to reduce instances of running away or going missing, and to protect and support these children if they feel it necessary to do so. See: The Children’s Society - APPG inquiry into children who go missing or run away from care

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Young people run away for many reasons:

  • problems at home, either with their relationships with their families, or because of family break-ups.
  • bullying at school or in care
  • teenage pregnancy - some girls run away or are thrown out of home because they are pregnant
  • to be closer to friends and family from whom they have been separated

Running away can result in poor outcomes for young people. Young runaways are:

  • far less likely to continue to attend school, or to go on to further education and training
  • at risk of significant harm, in some cases through sexual exploitation
  • likely to have difficulties accessing support services for their emotional and sexual health and well-being.

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Local authorities can work with partner organisations to reduce the instances and impacts of running away, by:

  • targeting support for families, to reduce conflict and improve relationships
  • providing adequate supply of emergency accommodation
  • improving support, and pathways to support, for young runaways

Research by The Children’s Society (available here) also suggests that young runaways are more likely to access informal sources of help and advice, such as friends and family, than more formal support structures such as their local authority. Therefore, it would be useful for local authorities to promote public awareness of running away issues and the ways in which help and support is available.

The Department for Education has produced statutory guidance: Children who run away or go missing from home or care.

See also the Children’s Society website for a range of services aimed at keeping children safe.

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