Who are runaways and why do they run away?

There is no universal definition of the term runaway, but Missing Children Europe defines runaways as “all children who run away from home or are pushed out of home, or from the institution where they have been placed.” Running away is frequently an indicator of the presence of adverse childhood experiences in a child’s life, such as abuse, parental mental illness, changes in the family dynamic, or tension in the living environment. Research obtained from the RADAR project, shows that runaways experience high rates of violence and abuse compared to other categories of missing children, and this happens in the most importance contexts of their lives: at home, in schools, and in the care homes where they live. More specifically, data from the 116 000 missing children hotlines show that 83% of runaway children reported had run away because of problems at home, 61% because of problems in their care homes, and 56% because of problems experienced at school. When a child runs away from, they may end up sleeping outdoors with little access to food, water, and a trusted adult to help them. These circumstances expose them to an increased risk of violence, sexual exploitation, trafficking and homelessness. Running away can also have long-term impacts and it is strongly linked to adversity in later life. For instance, adults who ran away as children show a 51% increase in suicidal thoughts, 50% higher probability of not finishing school, and a 2 to 3 times higher rate of lifetime drug use.

Facts & Figures

53.1%

of missing children cases reported to the 116 000 hotlines in 2020 concerned children who ran away or were pushed out of home or care.

Over 81%

of missing children who experienced violence and/or abuse involved runaway children.

2/3

of runaways are found within a week, but over 56% run away again. This demonstrates that the situations from which children run away from, too often don’t improve after they return.

Projects

RADAR

The RADAR project aims to achieve genuine progress in the understanding of children who run away, and to reframe running away as an indicator of adverse childhood experiences and improve the care and protection for runaways across the EU.

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