THE number of children going missing from their homes in Wigan has more than doubled in just two years.
Figures released by Greater Manchester Police under the Freedom of Information Act show that 177 young people under the age of 16 went missing last year, compared to just 70 in 2009.
The data also shows that every one of the cases reported in the last two years has ended with the child being reunited with their parents or guardians, and there are no dormant cases on GMP’s records.
However, the figures do not indicate the number of times each individual child has run away from home, and only represent the last reported incident for each young person.
This means that a child who ran away from home in both 2009 and 2010, for example, will only be included in the 2010 figures.
Charity Railway Children, which supports vulnerable young people including those on Britain’s streets, described the increase in numbers as concerning and warned that the cases reported to the police could be just the tip of the iceberg.
A recent FOI request by the charity showed more than 2000 children ran away from home in 2011 across Greater Manchester as a whole.
Head of strategy and policy Andy McCullough said: “It is worrying to see that the numbers of children reported missing in the Wigan area has risen so significantly year on year.
“Having a child run away from home is every parent’s nightmare, and sadly, it’s much more common than you might think.
“Children run away for many reasons, usually to escape things they find stressful such as problems at school or home. Some might even be dealing with very serious issues at home and not being able to talk about it.
“It’s important to raise awareness of the issue and for parents to talk to each other and their children about running away from home, to raise awareness of this alarming issue and its realities.”
A report conducted by The Children’s society estimates a child aged under 16 runs away every five minutes in the UK, with as many as 100,000 young people leaving their homes every year.
Railway Children has recently launched a project in partnership with website Mumsnet, which will provide an online space for parents to discuss problems they are experiencing with their offspring and share advice on how to deal with issues that arise.
GMP said care was needed in suggesting the numbers of cases were rising due to the way the statistics are collected, but sought to reassure the public children going missing was an issue the force takes extremely seriously.
John Barnes, missing person safeguarding manager, said: “In many cases children that go missing do so on a number of occasions. To ensure that we pick up on this history and do not just deal with the latest disappearance we carry over these reports over into each New Year.
“The issue therefore is of a cumulative recording nature and not an indication of a rise in reports of missing children in Wigan.
“It is important not just to see the numbers but the vulnerable people that are behind them. Safeguarding these young people is one of our key priorities and local people can be assured that it will continue to be so in the coming year.”