- Staying out all night?
- Bunking off school?
- Thinking of running away?
Young people run away or go missing from home and school for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s just for a few hours or overnight, and sometimes it can be for longer.
You may feel the need to escape from trouble, hassle or something you are worried about. You may feel bored and want to fit in and hang out with friends. Or you might feel that no one cares – that no one would be bothered if you went missing.
Whatever the reason, the tragic fact is that children and young people who go missing or absent are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, violent crime, gang exploitation, and drug and alcohol misuse.
Children who go missing often head to town centres and parks where they mix with other young people to hang out and – in some cases – experiment with drink, drugs and ‘legal highs‘. Child abusers and other criminals deliberately target such places to take advantage of these vulnerable young people.
All of these risks mean it can be really dangerous if you run away – whether it’s bunking off school for a for a few hours or disappearing from home for a few days. It is important to stay safe and be able to recognize what child sexual exploitation is and how to spot the signs.
There’s some great advice on the Missing People website if you are thinking of running away, or have done in the past. They run a free helpline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s free to call or text and is totally confidential. Call or text 116 000. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- They can listen and help you work out what you want to do next
- They can get a message home for you, set up a three-way call to help you contact someone you need to speak to, or support you if you’re ready to come home
- They are NOT the police or social services and will NOT make you go home.
- More information is available at the Runaway Helpline, which is also run by Missing People.
Help and support is also available from these other organisations.
If you’re worried that you or someone you know has been sexually exploited, get help from your local child sexual exploitation team.
If you come back home after running away and you have been reported missing, the police should carry out a ‘safe and well’ check on you. This is to make sure that you haven’t suffered any harm or been a victim of crime. They may also ask who you have been with and what you have been doing. The police have specially trained staff to support you and can put you in touch with other teams to help you with any issues or problems at home that you may be having.
Your local council should also offer you a ‘return home’ interview. This will be to find out more about why you went missing or ran away and to see if you need any help and support to make sure you stay safe from harm.
Advice for parents and carers
Not all young people who go missing are reported missing. This leaves them vulnerable to abuse. Trust your instincts – if you are worried your child is at risk, contact the police. (Read more advice and info for parents.)
MYTHBUSTER: Not all children who are at risk from child sexual exploitation live in children’s homes or foster care – grooming and exploitation can take place in a variety of circumstances.
If you’re worried that your child might be thinking about running away, try taking the following steps recommended by The Children’s Society:
- Talk to your children openly and honestly
- Listen to them when they talk about their concerns, feelings and difficulties
- Respect their emotional responses in every situation
- Encourage them to succeed and work through their differences and struggles
- Support your child’s need to gain independence and develop appropriate relationships with others
- Create opportunities for them to learn how to make positive decisions in their lives
- Teach your children to be accountable for their actions
- Protect them from feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Provide a place of safety for your children, both emotionally and physically
- Defend them openly against harassment or verbal abuse of any kind
- Make your home a place of trust and support that meets their needs
Reporting someone missing
Before contacting the police:
- Check the bedroom and any other place where your child might be in the house or building.
- Check the surrounding area – gardens, sheds, garages etc.
- Check with your child’s friends, school, work, neighbours, relatives or anyone else who may know where they are. Ask them to tell you straight away if they hear from your child.
- Try to get hold of your child by phone, text or social networking sites such as Snapchat and Facebook.
If you know where your child is and you are concerned for their safety (e.g. they are at a place where you suspect criminal activity is taking place) you can ask the police to carry out a welfare check to make sure they are safe.
To report your child missing, call the police on 999 or 101, or contact your neighbourhood policing team. You don’t have to wait 24 hours, you can report your child missing straight away.
When they come home
Thankfully, most children who run away return of their own accord. However this doesn’t mean they haven’t been put at risk from harm while they were away.
It also doesn’t mean that they won’t go missing or run away again.
When they return:
- Contact the police if you suspect that a crime has been committed against your child.
- Show your child that you are happy to have them back home. Try to stay calm, rather than get angry, tell them that you love them and will help them solve any problems they have.
Help and advice
- Protecting young runaways (Children’s Society)
- Missing People – advice for families and friends
- What to do if your child goes missing – practical advice for parents and carers (pdf)
A young person speaks about their experiences of going missing from home.
A video created by a group of young people from Talkshop in Trafford, an advice and information centre for young people, to raise awareness of young people who go missing, the risks that come with it and the strong link between going missing and child sexual exploitation. The video is based on real experiences of young people from Trafford.