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According to the National Runaway Switchboard, every day, between 1.3 and 2.8 million runaway and homeless youth live on the streets of America. One out of every seven children will run away before the age of 18.
Seventy-five percent of runaways who remain at large for two or more weeks will become involved in theft, drugs, or pornography, while one out of every three teens on the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. Gay or bisexual youth are even more likely to be involved in prostitution.
What Should I Do If My Child Runs Away?
Following these steps will expedite the investigation into locating your runaway child:
- Locate the most recent picture you have of them.
- Write down a description of what they had on when you last saw them.
- Do they have any distinguishable marks such as tattoos, multiple piercings, birthmarks or other marks? Make a list.
- If they have run away before – where did they go?
- How did they leave? Their car? A friend’s car? Walking?
- If they took their own car, write down the description and license plate number.
- Do they have a boyfriend or girlfriend? If so, obtain their name, address and phone number for the authorities.
- Who are their friends? List all the friends that you can think of and make a list of their names and how to contact them. If you do not know this information, list who may know.
- If they own a cell phone, obtain a copy of the last bill they received. Do they have their phone or pager with them? If so, write down the numbers for the investigators.
- Make a list of their credit card and ATM account numbers. Obtain a copy of their last bill.
- Contact your local police department and report your child as a runaway/missing person and have them list the child’s name and date of birth with the National Crime Information Center.
- If an ex-spouse exists, contact them to inform them of the child’s disappearance and to verify that the child has not found refuge with them.
- Install caller ID on your house phone if you do not already have it.
- Contact the parents of your child’s friends and inform them of what has happened. They often can supply you with valuable clues as to the whereabouts of your child.
- List the names and locations of the places that they often frequent; their school, church, activity center like the YMCA, and favorite restaurants.
- Prepare to send a contact sheet with your child’s picture and description, all on one page, to police departments in surrounding cities.
If your child has runaway before, there is a strong possibility they may do it again. Preparing some of this information in advance can quicken their return home.
What to do when your child is back home after running away.
- Be happy that your child is back home. Many teens fear the initial meeting with their parents. Remain calm. Express relief and tell your child you love him/her and that together you will solve any problems.
- Make follow-up phone calls. Let all your contacts, including the police, know your child has returned home. Police may need to speak or meet with your child.
- Give your teen time to settle in. Your child may need a shower, a meal, clean clothes, or sleep.
- Medical attention may be needed. Visit your family doctor to address any medical concerns.
- Communicate with your teen. Discuss how you can work together to prevent him/her from leaving again. Acknowledge some problems take time and effort to solve. Be sure you resolve the problems safely and reasonably.
- Look for assistance and support. Asking for help is a sign of strength and shows you are taking the issue seriously.
Other Helpful Resources and Links
State-by-State Missing Children Clearinghouses
The Polly Klaas® Foundation is a national nonprofit that helps find missing children, prevents children from going missing, and promotes laws like Amber Alert that help keep children safe. The foundation makes and distributes posters of missing children for families of missing children, and has a national eVolunteer force that distributes posters of missing children in their communities. The Polly Klaas foundation’s hotline is 1-800-587-4357
National Missing Children’s Locate Center (NMCLC) The NMCLC’s mission is to find children who have been kidnapped, are missing, or have run away. To do this, the NMCLC works extensively at promoting public awareness around the problem through a variety of communication strategies, some of which include newspaper advertisements and participation in fairs. The NMCLC’s hotline is 1-800-999-7846
Beyond Missing, a nationwide non-profit, helps in the search for missing children, specifically abducted youth, by providing law enforcement agencies with a secure, web-based system for the creation of missing children fliers, which are then distributed within a 200-mile radius from where the abduction took place. In addition, the organization has an on-line Parent Flyer Tool that allows parents to create and send by email or fax their own missing child fliers in english or spanish. The creation and distribution service offered by this organization is free.
National Clearinghouse on Family Support and Children’s Mental Health This organization’s focus is to provide families and their children with mental, emotional, or behavior disorders with services that involve the community and families. Respect for cultural differences is also of importance.
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