More than 7,500 cases of missing looked-after and accommodated young people were reported to police in the 2017-18 period, a 5 per cent rise on the previous year.
The report, made available through Freedom of Information (FOI) request, revealed as many as 85 per cent of investigations were cases involving children at a young persons’ residential unit.
More than 6,400 cases of youngsters absconding from residential units were investigated by officers, many involving youths who had run away on previous occasions.
Lothians MSP Kezia Dugdale obtained the information through a series of FOI requests and described the figures as “staggering”.
She added: “Looked-after children are our children – the state is their parents – and we all have a responsibility to give them the same opportunities as every other youngster.
“If your child was missing, you’d move heaven and Earth to find them and then ask why and what could be done differently. These are our children and they should expect that same response.
“Residential units must be a place where children are nurtured and loved, as they are often brought up there after years of emotional or physical abuse.”
She continued: “I urge the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to investigate why these numbers are so high and examine what more can be done to support care-experienced young people.”
Lanarkshire had the most cases of youngsters running away from care, with 1,217 cases reported to police in the past 12 months. The Lothians and Scottish Borders was next on the list with 893, while the number of cases in the Highlands and Islands more than doubled, jumping from 220 to 457.
Six areas saw a drop in the number of missing person cases, with Edinburgh and Greater Glasgow reporting falls of 31 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Young people are by far the most common age-group to go missing and we are working with Police Scotland, local authorities and care providers to reduce these incidences.
“We have already provided £142,000 to [the] Missing People charity to increase awareness and use of their support services including their 24-hour helpline, textsafe facility and telephone counselling service.”
She added that trial projects in three areas across the country were now being studied by care bodies. She said: “Police Scotland pilot projects with looked-after children have shown that better outcomes can be achieved when the young person is closely involved in their care plan.
“This allows the young person to feel greater ownership and understanding of why an action they may take will result in the care provider or parent taking subsequent decisions, such as reporting them missing.”