Having a child run away from home is every parent's nightmare. Sadly, it's much more common than you might think. The Megan Stammers runaway story is very sad, but this is not the first time that a 15-year-old teenager has run away from home.
Teenagers run away from home for all sorts of reasons - often to escape stresses at school or home, or in this case, relating to relationships/love and it's often on the spur of the moment. Some might be dealing with very serious issues at home, like neglect, drug and alcohol addiction (them or their parents), mental health problems, violence and abuse. Or, they may be trying to escape from what you may consider quite 'common' problems like bullying, relationship difficulties, loneliness or family breakdown. They often haven't thought about where they'll go, where they'll sleep, how they'll get access to money or how their running away might affect their family.
Some 100,000 children run away from home every year in the UK, that's one every five minutes, and this recent story just highlights the fact that this can happen to anyone.
We conducted research amongst parents regarding this issue last month. Almost half (47%) of British parents questioned said that they have never discussed the subject of running away with their children. While the majority of parents (95%) said that they would feel perfectly comfortable discussing this topic with their kids, fewer than half had actually done so, and a fifth of parents stated that it had not even occurred to them to raise the issue of running away with their children. Many parents just don't consider that this could happen to them - until it's too late.
The stats show that almost as many children run away from areas of high and low prosperity. It's boys as well as girls. And the most common age is 13-15-year-olds, though we've seen instances of far younger kids too. I would encourage parents to talk to their children about the sad story of Megan running away. They're probably aware of it, saw it on the news in the past week and may have discussed it at school. Use this example as an opportunity, and a reason to talk to them about the topic of running away from home. An example of why it can be dangerous to do so, how worried everyone was, and the effect this has had on her family and friends. And her future.
Simply talking to your children about this may be all it takes to prevent them ever considering it and to instead talk more openly or seek help with any worries they may have. If you're unsure how to broach this with your kids, or if you're worried and need advice, have a look at mumsnet.com/runningaway for guidance and ideas, and to talk to others who have been through the same thing. We've teamed up with Mumsnet to help families address this issue, and our long-term partners Aviva will donate £2 to Railway Children for every interaction on the site focusing on this theme, to support our continued work in the UK, helping vulnerable young people alone and at risk on Britain's streets.
The topic of running away from home is not new. We must overcome the taboo that surrounds the issue of running away from home and get people talking openly to prevent this continuing to happen on our own doorsteps. Please, talk to your children about this issue to prevent it ever happening to you.
Railway Children helps and supports children under 16 who've run away from home, or are at risk of doing so. They also support children after they've returned home or gone back into care and help educate young people about the risks of running away and what the alternatives are.