Normally, we like to talk about the things that you can do to keep the children in your life safer and more resilient. We really enjoy empowering parents in ways that are pro-active and preventative.
But sometimes we need to talk about ways that we can empower parents who are in the middle of the worst experience of their lives, and need help.
The parents of chronic run-aways have few options and very few allies in keeping their children at home. They often face a public that is apathetic about the risks to the runaway, and who tend to judge the parents of runaways harshly. They also often have to deal with other adults in the child’s life who actively undermine their authority, lure and encourage the children into running, and alienate them from their parent rather than encouraging a healthy reunification. They face police whose hands are tied as far as what they can do to remedy the situation. And this is all on top of whatever difficulties are presented by their jobs (or the loss of their job due to dealing with a child in crisis), the need to care for their other children, and the need to simply keep the fundamentals of life moving in the right direction.
They have to hear their family derided as “most likely abusive or neglectful”. They have to hear their child referred to as a “Juvenile Delinquent” (as one mom told me “If only my child WAS a delinquent! They could lock her up and make her take her meds!”).
Like all things, how much you invest in helping is up to you.
Let’s start small:
You can help families of chronic run-aways by not minimizing their circumstances. A child is missing if the person who is responsible for their safety does not know where they are. Missing children are presumed to be in danger, because they are not where those charged with their safety can watch over, protect, and guide them. It is really helpful for parents to know that others share their concern for their child.
You can recognize that yes, good kids from good families run away from home. Kids run from problems that they don’t know how to solve, and sometimes they have a hard time believing that even the most understanding parents will understand their problem. After all, if the child themselves does not understand their own problem, how can they expect their parents to understand? It is really helpful for families to be supported rather than blamed, and to have the value and importance of their child affirmed.
You can “Share” the posters from reputable agencies. The key here, is to make sure that the poster comes from a reputable agency that verifies missing child cases before producing a poster. Agencies such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Missing Children Minnesota, Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, Polly Klaas Foundation, Heidi Search Center, etc. always verify that a case is legitimate, and that the person registering the child with them is someone who actually has a legal right to locate the child. One way to check if an organization is reputable, is to see if they belong to an association which requires its members to use best practices and follow a code of ethics. One such association is the Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations (AMECO) http://amecoinc.org
Now for something a little bigger:
You can volunteer, fundraise, or contribute to an organization that supports searching families. In Minnesota, both Missing Children Minnesota and Jacob Wetterling Resource Center are AMECO members. There is also the Amber Alert Fundraiser, which raises money directly for the BCA, who administer the Amber Alert in Minnesota.
You can advocate for more and better training for police officers around the issue of missing and exploited children. Did you know that training is a huge expense for police departments? It is, because they have to pay for the training the officer receives, pay them for their time spent in the training, AND pay the officer that works in place of the officer who is away at training! With money so short nowadays, training dollars have to be prioritized, and that means some issues have to take a back seat. One way to advocate for missing kids is to advocate for more funding for the people who have the most power and ability to bring them home; your local Law Enforcement! More manpower and more training would go a long way to bringing more kids home faster. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but this is the sort of investment that would pay dividends for many years down the road.
You can join the conversation and advocate for more support for families struggling with a child who repeatedly runs away. Did you know that it is almost impossible to find a secure facility in Minnesota for a teenager if they have not been adjudicated delinquent? If a child appears to be a danger to themselves or others, they can be put on a medical hold. However, the level of danger required for that is fairly extreme. Children with severe mental, behavioral, or chemical health problems are very difficult to place in a secure setting long enough to get them on the right path.
We have seen numerous cases of children placed in outpatient therapy programs who never show up, because they run the minute they are returned to their parent. The parents beg for a secure placement where their child will be compelled to face their problems, sit still long enough for the medications to really work, get intensive therapy and participate as a condition for gaining privileges.
We have heard these kids referred to as “frequent fliers” and the phenomenon as a “revolving door”. But these phrases don’t really capture the meat of what is happening to these kids. The lack of consistent treatment is counter-productive. Going on-and-off medications, running to other children or to irresponsible adults who encourage or enable self-medication with street drugs and alcohol, repeatedly suffering the traumas of street life (giving them even more trauma to run from) -- this isn’t working. It’s not working for the kids who need help. It’s not working for the parents and police officers and case workers who are desperate to help them.
As a society, we need to come up with a way to protect our children and help them make the transition into adulthood. It isn’t working to wash our hands of these kids at age 16 and decide that there is nothing we can do to bring a child in and keep them safe, help their parents make sure they take their meds, are kept clear of people who want to enable them to run (or even lure and encourage them to run), and make sure that they show up for therapy sessions and classes.
These kids can walk and talk and posture like adults, but they are still children. They still need guidance, care, discipline and support. Some need more than others. And some parents need help to fight the streets for their troubled children.
You can get educated about the issues, and proliferate good information and good policy ideas through your social networks in order to push solutions. In the end, this is what will make things better. We need good citizens who care enough and invest enough of themselves to get our resources focused on the root causes of the problem. These are just a few action ideas to get us started. You can start small. You don’t have to get into the weightier issues right away. If everyone did a little, things would be so much better! Thank you for reading this blog entry. Thank you for any comments you can make or ideas you can offer. Thank you for all that you do every day to make your corner of the world a little better!