Warning over risk to teenagers who 'slip off face of society'

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The Independent Online

Up to 15,000 children a year are thrown out of home by abusive or neglectful parents, a report revealed today.

Up to 15,000 children a year are thrown out of home by abusive or neglectful parents, a report revealed today.

Young teenagers who are forced on to the streets are most at risk because they often "slip off the face of society", experts warned.

The Children's Society said that a lack of access to benefits and fears that they may be sent back to an abusive family or put into care mean that many youngsters end up sleeping rough and being lured into drugs and prostitution.

The organisation is calling for a national network of safe houses for those younger than 16 who are forced out of home. Presently, services are patchy and there is only one refuge in Britain specifically for young people.

The Children's Society's report, called Thrown Away, estimates that there are about 129,000 "running away" incidents involving youngsters each year.

While the majority of runaways return within less than 24 hours and many are a simple case of teenage arguments with parents boiling over, the charity found that up to 15,000 youngsters a year are forced out of home because of abuse or neglect. It is the first time that experts have focused on the problems faced by children who are thrown out of home, rather than those who run away of their own volition.

The research found that children who are forcibly made homeless are at much more risk than other runaways.

One in three of "thrown out" children have suffered violence at home, compared with 11 per cent of runaways. While 40 per cent of runaway children are reported to the police, only 23 per cent of those who have been thrown out are registered as missing.

Children younger than 16 also have no legal access to benefits, so opt to sleep rough rather than be returned home or taken into care. One in five youngsters who had been thrown out of home said they had been physically or sexually abused while sleeping rough or staying with people who had offered them help.

Tim Linehan, the assistant director of campaigns at the Children's Society, said: "These are the children who are going to end up most at risk, and yet they have the least access to help and services.

"With a normal runaway, their parents will phone the police and report them missing, but a parent who has thrown a child out of home is hardly then going to report them missing.

"The scandal is that these children just disappear off the radar, because no one - social services, their parents, the police - picks them up.

"These are exactly the type of young people who are targeted by people like Rose and Fred West - vulnerable teenagers who have slipped off the face of society without trace."

He added: "What is most alarming and tragic is that the people these children turn to are the people who end up abusing them. Youngsters turn to these people because they simply have no other option."

The charity is calling for better access to benefits for 16-and 17-year-olds, who face a "hard slog" to get housing and support if they live away from home.

STARVING, COLD AND TERRIFIED

Chris, 15, was happy at home until his mother's boyfriend moved in. "He was always violent towards me, hitting and shouting abuse at me," he said. "I never fought back. I was too afraid of him. My mother always sided with him."

As the violence got worse, Chris struggled to keep up at school. Last year, he ran away to a friend's house. He carried on going to school, but eventually his friend's parents refused to let him stay any longer.

He tried sleeping rough. He said: "I was afraid the druggies and drunks would attack me when I was asleep. I found a field. It was winter and I was freezing. I had only my clothes to keep me warm."

Starving, cold, and terrified, Chris tried to return home. But his mother's boyfriend threw him out. Chris said: "I squatted in an old, empty house for two to three months with no heating or electricity. I was really miserable but my family didn't want me and I couldn't go to my friends ... I tried to get help but no one took me seriously."

Chris is now being helped by the Children's Society and is studying for GCSEs, but he says: "Things are still really tough. I've got so much on my mind, like why this happened to me, where am I going to live?"

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