Nearly 3,000 children placed in care were repeatedly running away last year, with one able to go missing a total of 67 times in twelve months, figures released today reveal. The news raises fears about the vulnerability of children to child sex grooming gangs preying on the care system, such as those which operated in Rotherham and Rochdale.
According to the NSPCC, which collected the data under the Freedom of Information Act, police forces in England and Wales recorded more than 28,000 individual incidents involving children who are recorded as having absconded more than once.
The charity found that 7,885 children in total went missing, including those who only absconded once. Most were aged 13-17 years old and the youngest was only six.
Tom Rahilly, head of the NSPCC’s Looked After Children programmes, 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.
“Repeatedly going missing should be a big warning sign as this kind of behaviour can put them at serious risk of harm such as grooming or sexual exploitation. But we have to understand why they are doing it.
“Children go missing for many reasons – they’re being bullied, they’ve been put in a home miles from their family and they miss them and their friends, or they just don’t trust staff enough to tell them where they are. Many will have been abused before being placed in care and they need a lot of attention and protection. Going missing for just an hour or two can be long enough for them to come to harm.
“Of course care staff have a difficult job but children tell us they are looking for someone to understand why they go missing and to help set boundaries for them. Children want a little love and to be able to speak to someone who understands the difficulties they face. Otherwise, in the words of one young boy in care, they are ‘dead to the world’.”