You overheard that your child is thinking of running away. Maybe he has already run and you don’t know what to do. Perhaps your child is returning home after being away for a few days and you’re not sure what to expect or what to do when he returns. These are all questions and concerns that the National Runaway Safeline (NRS) hears, and I can give you advice about that today.
Realizing that your child has run away from home is filled with emotion - anger that he would do such a thing; fear for his safety; shame that others may think that you are not a "good" parent. While some youth run across city or state lines, statistics indicate that many of them stay in the same general area that they live in. Some go only as far as a friend or relative’s home. Wherever your child has gone, there are certain steps you can take for a safe return.
- Notify the police and file a missing persons report. Keep records of all details of the investigation and stay in touch with authorities while your child is missing. Also, contact NRS, which operates an anonymous and confidential 1-800-RUNAWAY crisis hotline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Its live chat service offered at www.1800RUNAWAY.org is another option to get in touch. NRS’ services include crisis intervention, information, referrals, and the Home Free program in partnership with Greyhound Lines, Inc. A frontline team of staff and volunteers on NRS’ hotline will help you process the situation and give you support.
- Leave a message with NRS for your child. Spread the word among your friends and your child’s friends that you have done this and to encourage him to call. Your child can also leave messages for you.
- Tell others that your child is missing. Let them know that you are concerned and ask for their help and support. Posters can help. Contact the news desk of your local television station and/or newspaper. Check any records that may give clues about your child’s whereabouts. Look at phone bills, e-mail activity, credit card activity, bus or airline dockets, bank statements, and employment records.
- Visit your child’s school. Talk to the administration, security, teachers, or counselors for any information that might be useful.
- Contact hotlines for parents of missing children. If you think your child was abducted or you need assistance in distributing posters nationwide, NRS can provide you with national and local referrals.
- Take care of yourself and your other children. This is a difficult time and you don’t have to deal with it alone. Turn to people you know and trust for support. NRS is available 24 hours every day for you.
Having your child return home after being gone can be a blessing, but it can also be traumatic for both of you. Even if he was staying with friends or relatives, the time away was undoubtedly filled with anxiety. If he was out on the streets, it was probably terrifying for you both. This is a time for mixed emotions. Now the real work begins. Both of you have to deal with the problems that made him run away to make sure that it does not happen again. That will take hard work on both of your parts. It will take listening and compromise and communication. But most of all it will take time to learn to respect and trust each other again. Here are a few steps you can take to help make the transition easier.
- Be happy that your child returned home. While you may be understandably very upset with your child, let your first words be calm and welcoming. Many youth stay away from home because they are afraid of the initial confrontation with their parents when they return. Take a very long, deep breath and tell him that you are relieved he is home.
- Allow time to settle in. Most runaway youth have not had the luxury of consistent access to food or shelter while they were on the run. Perhaps he needs a shower, a meal, and a clean set of clothes or a good night’s sleep on his own bed.
- Get medical attention, if necessary. A visit to your family doctor might be in order.
- Talk with your child. Concentrate on how you can work together to prevent any repeat running awayepisodes. Acknowledge that some problems take a lot of time and effort to improve. Make a commitment to finding a safe and reasonable resolution to the current problems and situations.
- Make follow-up phone calls to anyone you contacted while your child was on the run. Let friends and family know that he has returned home. Call the police to let them know that he is no longer missing.
- Look for assistance. There are people and places in your community that can help your family. Counseling is helpful to everyone. Asking for help is a sign of strength and shows that you are taking the issues seriously.
Maureen Blaha is the executive director of the National Runaway Safeline (NRS), an organization with the mission to keep America's runaway, homeless and at-risk youth safe and off the streets. Under her leadership, the visibility of NRS and awareness of its 1-800-RUNAWAY hotline has grown, while support has steadily increased in both personnel and finances. New platforms to connect with youth and parents have been added, including live chat, bulletin board postings and crisis emails, as well as an expansion of social media activities. Additionally, Blaha has been a featured speaker of the Special Victims Assistance Unit for the FBI (2005 and 2010), was invited to speak to UK parliament to help launch The Children's Society of England's national Safe and Sound Campaign (2005), and represented the runaway population at the groundbreaking White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children (2002). Blaha was selected as the recipient of the CASA of Cook County 2010 Spirit Award and selected to participate in the Laura and John Arnold Giving Library for high-end donors. Blaha serves on the Interstate Commission for Juveniles, appointed in 2009. Blaha was also selected as an expert for Kids in the House (2012).