In addition the established reasons for running away – to acting out, or rebelling against authority – runaways are now being regarded as children who are victims of dysfunctional families, our social service institutions (such as foster care), and schools where they encounter multiple problems such as academic failure, social problems, and/or bullying problems.

Why Children Runaway (includes):

  • Family problems number one reason why teenagers run away]
  • School/peer pressure
  • Rebellion against parental authority/rules
  • Rejection (for lifestyle or sexual orientation)
  • Sexual identity issues/crisis
  • Alcohol/drug abuse
  • Sexual abuse / Physical or Emotional abuse
  • Legal issues including being arrested
  • Pregnancy
  • Placement in foster care or other custodial care
  • Domestic violence in the home
  • Parents force child to leave the home (these children are referred to as throwaways]

“Runaways have higher rates of depression, physical and sexual abuse, alcohol and drug problems, delinquency, school problems, and difficulties with peers than juveniles who do not run away. Many runaways have been exposed to high levels of violence, either as victims or as witnesses.”

Juveniles in foster care, group homes, or other forms of substitute care tend to run away in greater numbers than juveniles who live with a parent/guardian – especially in the first few months of custodial placement.

Facts about runaways:

  • 1/3 of runaways may be lured into prostitution or pornography within 48 hours of being on the street
  • Majority of runaways may use or try drugs
  • Majority of kids on the streets steal for survival
  • Majority of runaways are girls
  • Majority of teen prostitutes (both boys & girls) were sexually abused

Major reasons of death of runaways:

  • Assault
  • Illnesses / Diseases (including sexually transmitted diseases & HIV/AIDS and other illnesses
  • Suicide
  • Drug overdose
  • Homicide

Strong predictors of running away by adolescents:

  • Family conflict – divorce, separation, spousal abuse, homelessness, economic problems, etc.
  • Changes in behavior patterns
  • Child becomes rebellious-fighting; skips school
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Parental neglect / abuse
  • Express intentions to run away
  • Accumulations of possessions or money
  • In some cases contact with the juvenile justice system
  • Failing at school; social problems at school
  • Victim of bullying at school or neighborhood
  • Parental alcohol abuse or drug abuse
  • Family moves to new area-child want to go back to old community/friends

Many runaways become involved in criminal activities such as:

  • Shoplifting
  • Robbery
  • Dealing drugs
  • Prostitution
  • Pornography
  • Theft/burglary

Runaways must support themselves and crime will seem to be an easy way to get money. Runaways are also at greater risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as well as committing suicide. Runaways may lose the support of family and friends when they choose, or are forced to live and survive on the streets.

Police encounter runaways by:

  • Patrolling areas where they congregate
  • Investigating a missing person report
  • Conducting criminal investigations (where juveniles are either the victim or perpetrator):
  • Truancy
  • Curfew violation
  • Pan-handling
  • Problems relating to transient persons
  • Disorderly juveniles in public places
  • Underage drinking
  • Prostitution
  • Shoplifting
  • Drug dealing
  • Commission of a violent act or assault

While some juveniles plan to runaway some may run away from home on impulse after or during some emotional or physical conflict. They have no plans as to where they will live or how they will survive.  They may take no belongings or money to sustain them for any length of time. They may be forced to live on the street from the first day.  This situation places runaways at high risk for exploitation by others or becoming victims of crime.

Some runaways are not homeless and living on the street – they may stay with a friend or a family member.

Modes of transportation for runaways:

  • Walking
  • Stealing the family vehicle
  • Obtaining a ride with friend(s)
  • Public transportation (taxis, buses, trains)
  • Hitchhiking / Hitchhiking with truckers

Upon a child’s return:

  • Don’t blame the child for running away – don’t cast blame on the child
  • Try to figure out why the child ran
  • Listen to the child’s reasoning
  • Don’t ignore the real reason(s) a child ran away from home
  • Seek counseling or the appropriate medical care for the child
  • Prosecute any person, sex offender, or other predator who harmed the child or contributed to the delinquency of the child
  • Stand by or assist the child who may be facing criminal charges
  • Open and keep up a clear line of communication with positive feedback with the child (look for things to praise the child for instead of focusing entirely on the negative aspects of the situation].
  • Set behavioral standards and rules
  • Try and get the child back in school or help the child obtain a GED if returning to high school is not an option.

Sources include:

Dedel, K. Juvenile Runaways. COPS #37