Can you recall laying your snuggly, newborn baby down to sleep. Carefully tucking the blankets around them, so as not to wake them from their sleep. As time sped by, a variety of book or cartoon inspired duvet sets, have enveloped my children as they’ve snuggled down to sleep, after a story and a kiss each evening. Now try and picture the child that was that baby, bedding down for the night on the hard, cold paving stones of the street, or if they are lucky, a cramped, uncomfortable doorway, as they seek sanctuary from the elements.
You might think it could never happen to your child, but in the UK, around 100,000 children under the age of 16 runaway each year, 30% of them are under 12 years or younger. 100,000 children each year, that’s a lot of children putting themselves at risk of harm by running away, and one day, one of those children could be yours.
You might imagine that it’s just children attempting to escape from abusive, violent or neglectful home lives, but research has shown, that those who runaway, are just as likely to have runaway from a loving, supportive and financially stable background, as those trying to escape a dysfunctional home life. Home cooked meals, bedtime stories and a childhood that more than ticked the boxes for 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4, is no talisman against the threat of your child running away. And I know this because one morning, as I glanced at the little nest like tangle of bedding, I realised with a sickening thud, that my child was one of those that had ran away.
It’s estimated that a child runs away from home or care, every 5 minutes in the U.K. Depending on how much I write for this post and how long it takes you to read, then you might take it in your head to post a comment ( which please do, as Aviva have promised to donate £2 for every comment posted, to the charity Railway Children) 5 mins might have elapsed, in which time, another child has been added to the runaway statistics. Another child, maybe someone you know even, a child who has placed themselves in a very vulnerable position.
My daughter slipped out quietly early one morning, no dramatic row had taken place, no fanfare of yelling, no threats of leaving to indicate what was on her mind. My daughter has Asperger’s, she was being bullied at school because of it. We’d lived through what seemed like a constant battle, just to ensure she was able to access an education, without encountering daily ridicule and abuse. She left a beautifully illustrated note, informing us we’d be better off without her. The illustrated goodbye happened to be totally unintended, she just used a random piece of paper that was to hand, but the police were most impressed with the artwork.
We phoned the police straightaway, who were fantastic and supportive. I could be cynical and say there are advantages to having a depressive, self harming child with special needs, as they took it seriously from the start, but I’d like to think that’s how they treat all incidents involving missing children. Nor am I so naive, as to think that the police believed us from the onset, that our daughter had ran away. They thoroughly searched our house and garden, for any indication that we’d hidden her body. They even paid a visit to my brother’s home, as he’d often helped with a school run or activity drop off with my children. His girlfriend, who we hadn’t even met yet, was introduced to the family, via a police visit to check he hadn’t stashed his niece’s body anywhere. Luckily this didn’t doom the fledgling relationship, as they get married later this year.
As family and friends took to the streets to search for her, the police scoured CCTV and were able to locate where she had been. But 70% of children who runaway are never even reported missing, by those who are responsible for their care and welfare. That is a truly heartbreaking figure, no one to care that they’ve gone, no one missing them. They just quietly slip off the radar into obscurity.
This is why I’m writing this blog post to support the Mumsnet bloggers network, who are working with Aviva to highlight and raise money for the charity Railway Children. link here
Railway Children is a charity that supports young people who feel the need or have already run away from home. link here They provide helplines, outreach workers and safe places to go, as well as doing preventative work in schools. They offer support and solutions to vulnerable children, who are living on the streets.
The gut wrenching emotions you feel, when you realise that your child has run away, I can’t even begin to describe. I don’t even want to try, my survival strategy is to metaphorically pick myself up, dust myself down and start again, I try not to dwell on the negative, its how I get through my life. But imagining my vulnerable, teenage daughter alone, my thought at times, turned to all the darkest outcomes and scenarios, that could happen to my beloved child. 1 in 12 young runaways are hurt or harmed while they runaway. Often they are running away from problems at home or school, some children are having to deal with serious issues in their home lives. But the reality of life on the streets, is often worse than they endured at home. Picture if you can, your child trying to survive as a runaway, sleeping rough in a doorway or alleyway, hiding from the drunks, the thieves, the violent thugs or the predatory individuals who prey on the vulnerable. 1 in 6 young people are sleeping rough every night, that’s the reality they have to face.
Running away is slightly more common among girls than boys. My daughter thankfully didn’t have to spend the night sleeping rough. Following CCTV footage, the police were able to pick her up, wandering the city centre streets. We as a family, were able to move on from this blip. Forever grateful that we got our daughter back safe and well. A chance to reassure her that we certainly didn’t think we were better off without her, another opportunity to let her know we love her and missed her and that her family are there for her, no matter what.
Not all runaways have a home that welcomes them back or that they feel able to return to. That’s why charities such as Railway Children provide vital support needed by these children, to get their lives back on track and off the streets. Aviva have promised to give £2 to Railway Children for every blog post about the subject, £2 if I tweet the link and £2 for every comment you the reader make.
As you wish your child goodnight, spare a thought for somebody else’s child, the 1 in 11 teenagers (14- 16 years old) who have ran away overnight and are bedding down for the night on the cold, draughty, vulnerable streets.