NEW figures show that the number of children reported missing in Gloucestershire has risen almost fourfold over the past four years.
Leading charity Railway Children believes the true statistics are even greater and is urging parents to tackle the issue at its cause, by talking to their children.
The statistics collated by the charity from Freedom of Information requests to Gloucestershire police reveal that the number of children reported missing has increased almost fourfold in four years, from 62 in 2008 to 242 in 2011, with numbers expected to increase again by the end of 2012.
Similar trends have also been noted in other areas of the UK, including Devon and Cornwall, Greater Manchester and Staffordshire, with up to five times more under-16s reported missing from home or care in 2011 than in 2008.
Andy McCullough, head of strategy and policy at Railway Children, which supports vulnerable young people alone and at risk on Britain's streets said: "It is alarming to see that the numbers of children reported missing in Gloucestershire has risen so significantly year on year.
"Of those who are reported missing, the majority are young people who have run away from home or care. Children run away for many reasons, usually to escape things they find stressful such as problems at school or home.
"However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Anecdotal research indicates that as many as two thirds of young people who run away from home are not even reported missing and may be too vulnerable and afraid to seek help from official services.
"In fact, we estimate that every five minutes in the UK a child under 16 runs away from home - that's 100,000 children every year.
"There is a clear need for UK society to collectively take responsibility to tackle this issue at its cause. I would urge all parents to talk to each other and their children about running away from home, to raise awareness of this alarming issue and its realities."
Railway Children and their long-term partners Aviva have teamed up with Mumsnet to create a new, dedicated space online to help parents who are grappling with this issue talk to their children.
Guidance on how to broach this and other difficult issues with children is available on the information pages at mumsnet.com/runningaway. Here, parents can share ideas, experience and advice with others.
For every interaction on the Mumsnet site focusing on this theme, Aviva will donate £2 to Railway Children to support their continued work in the UK.