Hundreds of children missing every year

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More than 250 young people in St Helens ran away from home in the past two years, new figures from Merseyside Police show.

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act reveals a total of 252 children under the age of 16 were reported missing from January 1 2012 to the end of 2013.

However, the figures also show all the cases of children going missing ended with the young person being reunited with their parents or guardians, and there are currently no dormant cases on Merseyside Police’s files.

The figures also show an alarming rise in the numbers of youngsters going missing, rising from 96 in 2012 to 156 in 2013.

A Merseyside Police spokesman said: “We take reports of missing children extremely seriously and has a dedicated team of officers who co-ordinate such investigations.

“As soon as a child is reported as missing, these dedicated officers work alongside partner agencies, such as the local authority and the Missing People charity, to find them and make sure they are safe and well.

“Although the number of children reported as missing in the St Helens area has increased in the last year, it should be noted that the majority of these children are found safe and well in a very short space of time.

“The safety of children is paramount and Merseyside Police is committed to working with partner agencies in developing the most effective practices.”

However, leading charity Railway Children said there were still concerns over the number of young people choosing to abandon their family or guardians, warning the difficult economic conditions and numbers of people living in poverty made running away more likely.

The charity also said the recorded figures could be the tip of the iceberg and said it was vital organisations worked together to prevent vulnerable children and teenagers slipping through the net and ending up on the streets.

Head of UK policy and public affairs Andy McCullough said: “We welcome any indication that the number of missing children is falling, but we estimate only one-third of the 100,000 who run away in Britain every year are actually reported missing and just five per cent try to get help.

“Understanding what’s happening off the radar requires a level of data few local authorities have access to. These blind spots have to be addressed before specific local needs can be accurately matched with the right support.

“Children’s services across Greater Manchester are struggling against a toxic combination of austerity and rising demand. They are already under immense pressure trying to support the region’s estimated 150,000 children living in poverty.

“Now more than ever, it is vital organisations based in Wigan and Greater Manchester work together to protect children with nowhere else to go.”

The charity said children running away were at risk of falling into sexual exploitation and drug or alcohol addiction.