A charity has raised the alarm after shocking police figures appeared to show a dramatic spike in children running away from home.
Data from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) showed there were more than 1,600 incidents involving under-18s in the borough going missing in 2016-17.
A total of 525 children and young people were responsible for the 1,623 episodes, a substantial rise on the 2015-16 figures of 1,175 incidents involving 452 under-18s.
However, it is when these figures are compared to the picture from a few years ago that concern grows dramatically. In the whole of 2013, for example, there were just 67 children under 16s who ran away from home.
That then more than doubled to 139 in 2014 and jumped up again to 222 in the 10 months in 2015 up to October 28.
Although the figures cannot directly be compared as some are for under-18s and others under-16s, and police have also recorded data for both financial years and calendar years, the upward trend in young people leaving home without warning is clearly there.
And the figures released under FOI have been considered concerning enough for one national charity specialising in helping missing children to sound the alarm bells.
Railway Children also issued a harrowing reminder of just how vulnerable and at risk children choosing to abandon home comforts are.
Gaynor Little, the charity’s UK programme manager, said: “This data suggests a deeply concerning increase in the number of missing children.
“Whether they are missing from home or care, many of these children will run away to see their family and friends, particularly at this time of year, and may be targeted by predators because they are isolated from their usual social network.
“Areas around train and bus stations are a particular concern, with public transport increasingly recognised as a hotspot for young people who run away and are at risk of exploitation.
“As part of our Safeguarding on Transport initiative, we will be working closely with British Transport Police and social services doing everything we can to protect children at risk and offering a lifeline to those going through some of the darkest times imaginable as they deal with complex problems, from family violence to exploitative relationships.”
The FOI data also showed the number of adults going missing is on the increase in Wigan.
There were 924 people who were involved in 1,364 instances of unexpectedly leaving home, a clear rise from the figures of 1,087 incidents involving 811 adults recorded in 2015-16.
However, GMP said the data was perhaps not as bleak as it initially appears and assured the public the force does all it can to locate those missing.
GMP also suggested it has learned some useful lessons dealing with missing adults which could possibly help protect at-risk children in the future.
Superintendent Stephen Keeley said: “The issue of missing people is a priority for GMP and we take it very seriously.
“If a person goes missing, it is often an indication of a crisis in that person’s life and our aim is to find that person safe and well.
“Once the person has been found we work with them, along with our partner agencies, to find out the reason why they felt going missing was their only option.
“We are then able to provide them with the support they need to stop it happening again in the future.
“A possible reason for the change in statistics is that we have put great effort into accurately recording repeat missing episodes in order to understand the issues.
“As a result of this, we have recently seen a decrease in repeat missing episodes in Wigan among
“This is an approach that we are working really hard to replicate in adolescent repeat missing persons.”