If you are a parent of a runaway, a youth thinking of running away, or you know someone who is considering running away, please contact the National Runaway Switchboard toll-free at 1-800-RUNAWAY.
According to the National Runaway Switchboard, one out of every seven children will run away before the age of 18. While some of these youth will seek shelter with family members or friends, others will become homeless.
Most runaways will return home between 48 hours and 2 weeks of leaving home; however, some runaways choose to stay on the streets.
A number of runaways are actually "throwaways," which means that their guardians have kicked them out of the house, encouraged them to leave, or made it impossible for them to stay in their home.
Sudden relocation and homelessness can have many impacts upon an individual's life. Just some of the problems may include:
- Lack of money, food, shelter, health care access
- Loss of education opportunities
- Vulnerability to violence or exploitation
- Increased likelihood of involvement in crime (such as stealing) and substance abuse
- Mental health problems
Motivations for Running Away:
- Difficulties with family communication
- Abuse or violence in the home
- Loss of a parent
- Substance abuse by parents or youth
- Financial problems in the family
- Conflict with step-family members or extended family
- Conflict over sexual orientation
- Influence by peers or gangs
- Problems at school
Prevention and Solutions:
Runaways most often cite family problems as their reason for leaving home. While sometimes this means that there is abuse in the household, the issue may be less clear-cut. Many runaways feel as if they are unheard, powerless, or unimportant in the home. These feelings can be prevented by:
- Fostering communication that is open, honest, and non-judgmental
- Keeping the home environment safe and secure - free of violence and substance abuse
- Ensuring that the child's school is dealing with conflict (such as bullying) appropriately
- Respond to a child's emotional needs (addressing any mental illness) and maturity level
- Therapy - individual and/or family - can be extremely helpful in facilitating communication within troubled families
Before You Run Away, Consider These Things:
So now we come to the nitty-gritty, Pranksters. If things are so bad that you feel like your only option is to run, please take a minute to stop, think, and ask yourself these questions.
- If you are being abused, call 911. They have the resources to help you get out of this situation.
- Is there someone you could talk to about the reasons you want to run away? A trusted adult or friend may be able to help you solve the problems at home without you running away.
- Is running away really going to solve your problems? What will happen if you decide to return home?
- Is there someone you could stay with temporarily? Aunts, uncles, grandparents, close friends? If not - where will you stay?
- What are you running to? Will you really be in a better place?
- Where will you go? How will you get there? Do you know anyone there? Have you actually talked to them about your plans or are you just going to show up?
- What will you do if you aren't able to stay or live where you originally planned?
- What if your boyfriend/girlfriend/roommate/friend leaves or asks YOU to leave?
- If you don't have a car, how will you get around? If you do have a car, can you afford gas, maintenance, insurance, and payments on your own?
- How much money do you have? How long do you think it will last once you're on your own?
- How will you support yourself? What job skills do you really have? Do you have experience? If you have a job, is it enough to support a home, food, clothes, and other necessities for the long term?
- What if you can't find a job right away?
- If you're under 18, do you know that most places won't let you lease an apartment or check into a hotel by yourself?
- Even if you are 18, do you have a major credit card of your own? Any form of credit? Do you know what your credit score is?
- Do you know how to get utilities established for an apartment? What about money for security deposits?
- Do you really think you've thought it all through? What about school? Friends? Family you care about?
- Aunt Becky, you say, so what about school? Well, let me tell you, Prankster - many communities have laws about kids not being in school. If you're out during the school day, there's a good chance you could get picked up by the cops. Also, schools won't take you in without transcripts, so forget enrolling to finish out high school in your new town. Kiss graduation good-bye, along with a decent job that pays enough to cover the bills.
- What about safety? There are predators out there who target homeless teens. Are you prepared to deal with constantly looking over your shoulder, not being able to trust anyone, except your dear old Aunt Becky?
- And what about your dear old Aunt Becky? If you don't have a place to live, you sure as heck aren't going to have wifi, or Facebook or Twitter. Your laptop or smart phone will be the first thing stolen or sold to buy food.
- That brings us to the practical stuffz. If you have nowhere to stay, are you prepared for the practical stuffz, like the weather? It can get bitterly cold at night; conversely, the days can be blistering hot. Showers or baths? Not happening, Pranksters. There will be no microwave or refrigerator or bed; there may not even be a toilet.
One last thought, Prankster, what will you do if you get very sick or something really bad happens?
I only say these things because I care. Truly. Think long and hard before you run.
National Runaway Switchboard - This site provides resources for youth, parents, and educators as well as a confidential, 24-hour toll-free crisis hotline: 1-800-RUNAWAY.
Covenant House is the "largest privately-funded agency in the Americas providing food, shelter, immediate crisis care, and essential services to homeless, throwaway, and runaway kids."
Stand Up For Kids is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping runaway and homeless youth. They have chapters in many states in the U.S.
Boys Town runs a hotline for at-risk youth and families dealing with crisis situations: 1-800-448-3000.
Team Hope is a site offering resources for missing and exploited children, and offers a guide on what to do if your child has run away.
Runaway Lives offers personal stories of families who have dealt with running away.
The Runaway Game - This is a "choose your own adventure" type of text game online where anyone who is considering running away can choose scenarios and get an idea of the reality of being a runaway.
EmpoweringParents.com has an article that explains in depth why children and teens run away and offers guidance on what to do when your child has left home.
Focus Adolescent Services provides an extensive list of services, information, and hotlines for families and at-risk youth.
Interpol Missing Children Database is an international service for locating missing children.
PFLAG aims to create an alliance with parents of gay individuals to spread acceptance