Many children who run away find themselves in extremely risky situations for which they are completely unprepared.

Sexual abuse and exploitation

With no money and nobody to turn to, young runaways are extremely vulnerable to adults who might try to exploit them. Being offered somewhere to stay and something to eat may feel like a lifeline to a child who is frightened and alone, but for some children such offers of help come with a heavy price to be paid. 'Off the Radar', our study of 103 children who had run away from home, found that just under a fifth had experienced sexual exploitation.

100,000 children under the age of 16 run away every year.

That's one child every five minutes.

  • 30% are aged 12 or younger.

  • One in six will sleep rough or with someone they've just met.

  • 70% are never even reported missing.

Drugs and alcohol

Often, runaways use alcohol or drugs to mask their pain and enable them to tolerate the things they have to do to survive. Every single one of the young people who were interviewed for the 'Off the Radar' study had used drugs and alcohol to some degree.


The longer young people stay on or around the streets, the more detached they become from society. Many have a severe mistrust of adults and often go on to become homeless as they get older. They can end up on a slippery slope of emergency accommodation, moving around and, finally, living on the streets.


Some children turn to crime to survive. They're often used to run drugs across cities or forced to shoplift. However, it's more common for runaways to become victims of crime. More than two out of three children in 'Off the Radar' had fallen victim to violence on the streets.

Mental health problems

Many children who run away say they weren't being heard, or that they suffer from low self-esteem. Once they're on the streets, they're often ignored or moved on - a daily reminder that they're worthless. And dealing with the stress of living rough and trying to survive soon takes its toll. So it's not surprising that over two thirds of children interviewed for 'Off the Radar' said they'd had mental health problems. Breakdowns in children's relationships with their parents are often a factor in running away and can lead to problems like depression.