If you have children, you may have heard them say they were going to run away from home. Maybe it's a threat you made yourself when you were younger. What if it actually happened though? It may sound like a nightmare but for many families the threat of a child running away becomes reality.
Our new research released today shows that one in four children have considered running away from home, and half of that number have spent a night away from home without telling their parents. When we asked the children who had been away from home why they left, more than half of them said it was because they had an argument with a family member. This chimes with research by Homeless Link which found that more than half of young people who became homeless did so because of relationship breakdown, mainly with their parents.
Of course, parents and children will always have arguments and in most cases they don't lead to a child leaving home but, when families are being strained by other problems, things can build to a crisis. We know from our own services that families are under a great deal of pressure. Action for Children managers say that their projects are seeing more children with greater needs than before, many of them needing help with emotional problems or coping with issues affecting their parents like unemployment and depression. These are ordinary families who are struggling to cope with serious issues that can affect any of us.
Help is available. Action for Children works with families where relationships have broken down between parents and children to rebuild trust and keep young people safely at home. We also support young people who have become homeless to find a new place to live. These services couldn't happen without the support of Byte Night, an annual sponsored sleep out for people in the technology and business sectors.
The young people we help include Michael (not his real name) from West Dunbartonshire who became homeless aged sixteen when, after his mother died, his relationship with his father became so bad he felt he couldn't stay at home anymore. He spent a year without a home, living first with friends, then his grandmother and eventually sleeping rough. Action for Children helped him find a home and learn to live independently. As well as getting him off the streets this also led to a reconciliation with his father, who he now describes as his best friend.
There is no typical family background of children and young people who become homeless. The young people we see come from a range of backgrounds. Any family can struggle to cope when facing serious issues and homelessness can happen to anyone's child. This is why it's so important to remember that seeking help, whether you're a young person or a parent, doesn't mean that you have failed or should be ashamed. Children's centres and family centres are widespread and help families with a range of issues big and small, as well as pointing people in the direction of more specialised services, like help for young people who are at risk of becoming homeless.
If you're worried about your relationship with a family member, or feel like you can't cope, don't be frightened about asking for help, it could make the difference that stops a nightmare becoming reality.
To find out more about how Byte Night supports homeless young people and to sign up, please visit www.bytenight.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.