When Krystina Kessler went to county officials in early 2003 to ask to be removed from her abusive home, she thought life was finally going to get better.

But after being shuffled through a string of foster and group homes where she said she encountered violence and prostitutes, the 16-year-old decided she would be better off on her own and ran away from the system designed to protect her.

"When kids are running away or making allegations about a home, that should be a clear clue something is going on because they are being placed in uncomfortable and unsafe situations," said Krystina, a former sheriff's Explorer scout and A-student who is now living with a friend's mother. "There's a lot of kids running away."

Krystina, whose story has been confirmed by county officials, is one of a growing number of foster children in Los Angeles County who officials say have run away, been abducted or are just listed as missing from the system.

The number of foster runaways and abductees jumped 23 percent in Los Angeles County in the past three years - to 913 as of Dec. 1. Statewide, foster runaways more than doubled in the five years since 1999 - to 1,160 last year . Nationally, the number rose 25 percent since 1999 - to 10,560 in 2003, the latest year available.

But challenges remain, they add, because of inadequate funding for proper oversight. tem or the court system and are not willing to come back," Ball said. "A lot of these kids end up being prostituted or turning to survival sex to try to make ends meet."

"The government doesn't keep track of how many of these kids from foster care die out there," said William Tower, president of the California chapter of the American Family Rights Association. "Do you know why? Because it scares them to death."

Sanders said he plans to have workers compare the lists of foster runaways and abducted children over the last few years with coroner's records to determine whether some might have died.

Troy Anderson, (213) 974-8985 troy.anderson@dailynews.com