Last week's report from the Children's Society presents findings from their latest survey on children who run away. The survey updates information identified in their previous surveys in 2005 and 1999. This allows for some comparison between the current and previous surveys. However, the new survey also offers additional information on the link between running away and other aspects of children's lives.

The report is based on a 'snapshot' survey with questions focusing on the characteristics of the young people involved, their overall subjective well-being, their feelings about school, their friendships, their home type and family structure, their relationships with family or other carers, and their experiences of running away.

The survey itself was conducted between April and October 2011, in a representative sample of 85 mainstream secondary schools in England. The final sample consisted of 7,349 young people aged 14 to 16.

The report is clear that the nature of the survey places limitations on the general conclusions that can be drawn, particularly about the overall numbers of children who run away, but suggests that best estimates, based on survey findings (6.2% reported having run away overnight) would indicate that over 70,000 young people in the sample age range run away overnight each year in England, and that the figure for all overnight runaways is likely to be higher once younger children are taken into account.

These numbers, however, paint a mixed picture in relation to previous surveys, with some evidence of a lower rate of lifetime running away but no change in the proportion who had run away during the year. They also show similar patterns of variation for different groups with, for example, "higher than average rates of running away amongst disabled young people and young people who have difficulties with learning."

The survey found similar evidence (to previous reports) of harm suffered, noting that about a quarter of young people had reported harm or risky experiences while away. It suggests that young people who run away will do so on more than one occasion, but most say their absence had not been reported to the police.

Interestingly the survey concludes that although different family structures play a role in running away, their influence may have been over-estimated. Family change, rather than simply structure, emerged as a key factor, with "young people who had experienced a change in relation to which adults they lived with [being] three times as likely as other young people to have run away…"

The report also notes the powerful influence of living in low-warmth or high conflict households with children in either of these situations "being six times more likely to have recently run away…" The effects of these circumstances in combination are seen to be even more telling. And, the report points to the generally poorer quality of life, in terms of friendships, school experience and social isolation experienced by children who had run away.

This blog simply provide a taster of what is a fully argued, but easy to read summary of some of the key facts and figures about, and influences on, children who run away. Well worth a more detailed - and still relatively short read if you have the time…

This blog is taken from CareKnowledge, Pavilion's update and electronic library system for social care staff. If you'd like more information about the service, click here.