The Children's Society is launching a new campaign for Government-funded runaway refuges, after research suggested 68 per cent of parents and carers had not called the police to report the children missing.
A survey of 11,000 children aged 14 to 16, conducted by the charity and the University of York, found 1,054 had run away from home overnight. One in six children said they were forced to sleep rough or at strangers' homes, and one in 12 reported being hurt or harmed while away from home.
More than one in 10 children surveyed said they were forced to beg, steal or resort to other dangerous survival strategies while away from home.
Local authorities are required to offer help for young runaways but support services are seriously lacking. The Children's Society said there were currently only three official refuges for runaways in the UK, with just 10 beds in total; one for every 10,000 children who run away each year. Government funding for two of these refuges ends in March next year.
The Runaway Helpline, which takes calls from 8,000 children a month, says its operators often feel the frustration of not being able to refer distressed children to safe accommodation.
It is calling for a national network of Government-funded refuges, based on a scheme which has operated in the US since the 1970s, which would be open 24 hours a day in confidential urban and rural locations.
Children's Society chief executive Bob Reitemeier said: "Ten refuge beds is not enough. Unless the Government funds a national network of refuges for runaways, thousands more children will slip into the hands of dangerous adults and be harmed. The number of children who aren't reported missing is alarmingly high.
"If the police are not alerted, and children stay away from home, they will be left seeking help from adults who may harm, hurt, abuse and exploit them.
"We need to offer them a safe alternative, and that's why we need these refuges."
The campaign is being supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers.
An estimated 100,000 children aged under 16 run away each year.
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