A charity has warned of an “alarming” rise in the number of children going missing in parts of the UK.
New figures have revealed up to five times more youngsters ran away from home in some areas last year compared with 2008.
Northamptonshire saw the number of under 18s running away from home more than double, from 885 in 2008 to 1,827 in 2011, while Gloucestershire reported a four-fold increase, from 62 in 2008 to 242 last year.
The charity Railway Children, which complied the information, said it feared the number of missing children was much higher and called on society to do more to tackle the problem.
Andy McCullough, Railway Children’s head of strategy and policy, said: “It is alarming to see that the numbers of children reported missing across the country has risen so significantly year on year.
“Of those who are reported missing, the majority are young people who have run away from home or care. Children run away for many reasons, usually to escape things they find stressful such as problems at school or home.
“However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Anecdotal research indicates that as many as two thirds of young people who run away from home are not even reported missing and may be too vulnerable and afraid to seek help from official services.”
Across the UK it is estimated that a child under 16 runs away from home every five minutes, equating to 100,000 children each year, Railway Children said.
Freedom of Information requests to eight police forces in England and Wales revealed an increasing number of youngsters being reported missing from home or care between 2008 and 2011.
Mr McCullough added: “There is a clear need for UK society to collectively take responsibility to tackle this issue at its cause.
“I would urge all parents to talk to each other and their children about running away from home, to raise awareness of this alarming issue and its realities.”
Railway Children and partner Aviva have teamed up with Mumsnet to create a space online to help parents talk to their children, which can be found at www.mumsnet.com/runningaway.