Runaways getting younger, says the Children's Society
Children are running away from home at a younger age, putting themselves at risk, a children's charity says.
The Children's Society says it is increasingly helping pre-teens who have run away at its centres around the UK.
It says 100,000 children run away from home or care every year and many sleep rough, abuse drink or drugs and face sexual exploitation.
The charity is calling on the government to put a national action plan in place.
Its chief executive, Bob Reitemeier, said: "Every child who runs away should run to safety. Society is failing young runaways, condemning tens of thousands of children to misery and danger by failing to provide an adequate safety net to break their fall."
A study by the charity published in 2005 found that one in six young runaways ended up sleeping rough, one in eight begged or stole and one in 12 was hurt or harmed as a direct result of running away.
It says its centres have recently reported seeing younger and runaways - some as young as eight.
'Failure to prioritise'
Mr Reitemeier said: "Eight out of 10 don't seek help from anybody because they don't know where to turn, they don't feel there is anyone they can trust or they fear the consequences.
"Tragically there is an alarming lack of awareness and a noticeable failure to prioritise running away as a key child protection issue."
Young runaways are defined as those who are under 16. In the past, the average age of those the charity came across had been 13 and 14.
Now it says it is supporting increasing numbers of 11- and 12-year-olds.
Overall, its research suggests one in nine children runs away overnight at least once before the age of 16.
Just under a third of those who run away do so at least three times, it says.
The charity says a national action plan should include improved support for young runaways, including family mediation plus improved responses and procedures from local authorities and the police.