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SCANDAL OF SCOTLAND'S TINY RUNAWAYS; Kids, seven, flee hell at home.

MORE than 9000 Scots children run away every year to escape the pressure of life at home or school.

And new figures released yesterday show a quarter of them are of primary school age - with seven per cent under the age of eight.

A report by the Aberlour Care Trust suggests the problem of children going on the run is twice as bad as previously thought.

And it paints a disturbing picture of tormented children being mistreated at home or facing problems at school.

Of those who run away, more than 2000 end up sleeping rough - and many of them end up being sexually or physically abused.

Last night, there were calls for special refuges to be set up across Scotland to provide shelter for these vulnerable youngsters.

Bill Grieve, chief executive of the Aberlour Trust, said: "No child should have to face the trauma of survival on the street.

"The research shows this is a major and worrying issue affecting our children. But sadly it is an invisible one because many missing children go unreported.

"Services for these children are badly needed. Too often, they are returned to the circumstances which caused them to run away without anything being done to help them."

The trust's report, Still Running, showed family rows or abuse were the main reasons children left home. More than 10 per cent said they had been kicked out by their parents.

The survey also highlighted the large number of youngsters who had fled from local authority care.

Mr Grieve said: "Children who are being looked after in homes are over-represented in these figures and it is a sign that we need to improve levels of care."

He added: "Running away can become a pattern for children who need to deal with their problems.

"But the longer it goes on the greater the risks they are exposed to. Of those who run away from home, one out of eight becomes sexually or physically abused.

"This is particularly worrying when they are instances of children as young as seven running away."

The Aberlour report will be discussed at a conference in Glasgow today on the subject of missing children.

Anne Huston, of ChildLine Scotland, who helped to organise the event, said an increasing number of their 21,000 callers talked about fleeing their homes.

She said: "Children do not talk about running away to the bright lights - they talk about getting away from problems at home or school.

"There is clearly a need for more to be done to help reach these children. Often they are ill-prepared for the experience and place themselves in danger before being returned to the same circumstances they have left."

After studying the findings in the Aberlour report, politicians agreed action had to be taken.

The SNP described the figures as alarming and said the present system was failing children.

A spokesman added: "It's horrifying to think what these young people have gone through.

"Clearly there is a lack of support for vulnerable children and more needs to be done to reach them."

Tory health spokesman Ben Wallace said he was "deeply concerned" and called on schools to do more to ease the worries
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 29, 2000
Words:531
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