Image: mostly trueStatement: “Over 7,500 youth each year run away from home in San Diego County,” Walter Philips, executive director of San Diego Youth Services, wrote in an editorial published by the Union-Tribune Jan. 21.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: In the editorial, Philips argued for greater financial support of the region’s homeless children, a service offered by his nonprofit organization, and said the need is rising as budget shortfalls across the state pressure cuts to social services.

“It is imperative that the state and county invest in services for homeless youth,” he wrote. “Now is the time for San Diegans, and all Californians, to declare homeless youth a priority.”

To put the issue in perspective, Philips said 7,500 children run away from home in San Diego County each year, in some cases fleeing domestic abuse or other at-risk conditions. On the streets, they face becoming victims of crime or criminals themselves, putting their futures at further risk.

While Philips’ statistical snapshot of the runaway population is accurate, taken from estimates by state law enforcement officials, it’s slightly outdated.

In 2009, the most recent year of data available, county law enforcement officials reported 6,784 runaways in the county, the second lowest annual total in 15 years. The previous year, they reported 7,587 — close to Philips’ estimate.

It’s worth noting that runaways represent most of the larger statistical category used by law enforcement agencies for all missing children. Agencies also track lost children, abductions and those missing after catastrophes like a plane crash.

In 2009, agencies reported 147 missing children other than the 6,784 runaways. The graphic below shows the countywide breakdown in recent years. State and local law enforcement officials said they don’t know why cases have consistently declined, but lauded programs aimed at addressing family problems.

Since Philips’ figure is accurate, but slightly outdated, we’ve called the statement Mostly True. The difference between two most recent years was significant, the biggest drop in nearly a decade, but the statement implied an average and, for the most part, the number of runaways has hovered around 7,500 in recent years.

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