EVERY year more than 2,300 children under the age of 16 in Merseyside are in serious danger of being hurt or exploited when they run away from home, according to new research released today.
Experts working in Merseyside say children could be exposed to sexual abuse, physical violence and are in danger of being exploited while they are away from home.
Some have even been forced to sleep in outside toilets or been pushed into prostitution because they have no-one to turn to, according to children's charities in the region.
More than one in 12 runaways in Merseyside say they were physically hurt during their time away from home.
One in six of the children in the region who had run away said they had slept rough, while one in 10 said they were forced to beg, steal or resort to other dangerous survival strategies because they could not get help.
Surprisingly, more than two thirds of the children who run away in Merseyside are not even reported missing by their parents, which increased the chances they could come to harm.
The shocking statistics were revealed by the Children's Society, and expose the extreme vulnerability of children who flee their homes.
The charity said the numbers of children running away had not fallen since their last survey in 1999.
Children's organisations throughout Merseyside have told the Daily Post they support the charity's call to create a network of refuges for runaways.
Carl Roberts, from the NSPCC centre in Warrington, said: "Young people face enormous dangers when they run away. Their age and their innocence makes them very vulnerable. "They face the dangers of drug use, or prostitution and living on the streets, or even ending up in a young offenders institute.
"We get young people who come to us because they have become estranged from their family either because of their parents behaviour or their own.
"Others have a support network of friends who sleep on friend's floors. I have even known young people sleep in outside toilets - they will sleep in any type of vacant property.
"There's a lack of accommodation for young people nationally and also when they reach 18.
"We need safe houses where young people can go and be told what their options are."
The Children's Society said nationally an estimated 100,000 children run away every year, but there are only 10 beds to cater for their needs.
Today, a petition signed by 100,000 people and delivered to Downing Street by a group of young runaways will demand the government creates a national network of refuges.
Matthew Byrne, director of the Young Person's Advisory Services in Birkenhead, said: "Lots of children still run away to Liverpool, because it's a city.
"Many of these children have nowhere else to go and may have experienced sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
"We have been supporting young people for almost 40 years and we would welcome the chance to promote any services that are trying to address these problems."