Children as young as ten have been sleeping rough outside a Worcester supermarket while their parents believed they were safely tucked up in bed.
The alarming news has come to light after one youngster was almost run over by a passing car early one morning near to the Tesco supermarket in the St Peter's area of the city.
Police found several children aged between ten and 15 years old had been sleeping rough there all night huddled together by the trolley storage area while their parents thought they were staying at a friend's house. Linda Giles, St Peter's Youth Club's treasurer – who also works at Tesco St Peter's – said she heard that three children had fallen asleep on the roof of the store, which shuts at midnight on weekdays and earlier at the weekends.
She said: "It's alarming really to think children that age are out and about at that time, with the parents not knowing where they were, anything could happen."
Police are now challenging city parents by asking them whether they really know where their children are when they say they are staying at a friend's.
PC Andrew Chuter, from Worcester police, said the lights from Tesco seemed to act like a magnet to the youngsters. He said: "They're not causing major problems, but we're genuinely concerned for their welfare.
"Some of them are as young as ten and are vulnerable. Even 15-year-olds should not be out like this."
St Peter's Parish Council chairman Craig Mills said it had been an area where youngsters congregated.
"It's the whole 'got nothing to do' syndrome but I must admit I'm not surprised," he said. "When our son was that age we used to take him to football and so on to make sure he wasn't up to no good so it's down to parent involvement isn't it?"