What to do if a child or teen has runaway

If your underage child/teen runs away from home, it’s a terrifying experience. However it’s essential to try to stay as calm and collected as possible to take the necessary steps to help your child return home safely and to problem solve once they get home. The statistics on runway kids is alarming, one in seven 10-18 year olds runways; there are 8 million children who runaway every year in the U.S.; 50 percent name their parents or guardian as the main reason for leaving.

If your kid runs away here’s what you should do:

  1. If your child comes into contact with you (calls, messages, or texts) soon after he or she runs away, try to be calm while talking to them but show your concern. Let them know that you want to solve whatever problems they have and let them know you care about them no matter what. Try to avoid any reproaches and ask if you can come take him or her back home.
  2. If your child doesn’t contact you, collect as much information as possible. If you know what clothes are missing, get their descriptions. Check out their social networks as clues. Contact your child’s friends and classmates to see if he or she might be at their places, talk to the friend’s parents.
  3. Check your child’s favorite places. Often they may go somewhere familiar.
  4. Spread the news that your child is missing among as many people as possible and alert the police if need be.

Runaway child/teen cases are sadly not that rare. If can stay as calm and collected as possible and act quickly, you are more likely to find your child sooner and convince them to come home. To avoid such bitter runaway incidents, try to be always attentive to your child, caring about their worries and feelings, showing unconditional love. Get outside help or counseling if need be and remember that all children who reach the adolescent and teen age, may go through a rebellion phase, and therefore overreact even to minor things.

Questions and Answers:

Should I call the police? Yes you should, to create a paper trail that your child is not under your supervision. You may file online, call or visit the police station, but know that your conversation will likely be recorded. You can also call the Department of Social Services to document it, even if they can’t help early on.

Should I look for my child on the streets? Many parents go look for their kids to try to make sure they are okay. If you do find your child, tell them they need to come home and talk about it. But many use the “runaway card” and repeat the offense. See professional counseling if you need to, to learn how to cope without empowering poor behavior.

What do I do if I lack community support? Police will sometimes say they can’t do anything about youth runaways unless they commit a crime. Amazingly, there’s no statute that requires children to live in a safe place. Today there are 3-4 million kids on the streets in this country. If you file a missing person’s report, even if the police find him or her, they don’t have to make them go home, they can arrest them, but often it’s over and over for perpetual runaways.

What happens once they come home? Their re-entry to home life should be very structured, especially if your child quit school and has been abusing substances while living on the streets. Have frank discussions. Let them know that running away from problems isn’t the answer and get professional counseling if need be.

What consequences are therefor runaways? Running away is very dangerous and risky. You have to hold them accountable, and help them figure out how to handle things differently so their behavior will change. They need to learn how to be responsible and not runaway, to manage their responsibilities, do their homework, chores, stay clean and sober. If you need to, find community outreach and mentor programs, sometimes outside help is necessary.  

Is harboring a runaway a crime? In most places, running away isn’t criminal in nature, so there shouldn’t be any legal repercussions for a minor who runs away. But parents and guardians can file a runaway report with the police, and the police could force a runaway under the age of 18 to return home. Although running away isn’t a crime, harboring a runaway is a misdemeanor. This information isn’t provided as legal expertise, please call law enforcement for more details.

For local, state and national resources review the Resource page on this KELSIEAlerts website. If there’s a perceived emergency, always dial 911.

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