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A runaway is a minor or a person under an arbitrary age depending upon the local jurisdiction who has left the home of his or her parent or legal guardian without permission or has been thrown out by his or her parent and is considered by the local authorities to lack the capacity to live under his or her own accord.

Overview[edit | edit source]

In North America, runaway children or youth are widely regarded as a chronic and serious social problem. It is estimated that each year there are between 1.3 and 1.5 million runaway and homeless youth in the United States (Coco & Courtney, 1998; Cauce et al., 1994). This problem also exists in the United Kingdom, with runaway youths often congregating in London.

Current studies suggest that the primary cause of youth homelessness is family dysfunction in the form of parental neglect, physical or sexual abuse, family substance abuse, and family violence [1]. Family conflict can also be caused by sudden and or drastic changes in the family composition (i.e. a divorce, re-marriage, death of a parent), parental substance abuse, youth's substance abuse, and youth's sexual activity. They may have difficulty obtaining affordable housing, due to landlords being reluctant to rent to young adults. Since most homeless youth drop-out of school, they also have difficulty competing successfully in the job market.

A related term used for runaways is "throwaway youth". Normally a throwaway youth or child is someone who has been "locked out" or forced to leave home by his/her parents or caregivers. However, the distinction between runaways and throwaways is not clear as in many cases it depends on who provides the information. When the parents are asked they say the youth ran away, while the youth would say he or she was forced to leave, either directly or by circumstances. In most cases, youth run away because the situation at home is seen as unbearable and not because they are looking for excitement or fun.

Running away from home is considered a crime in some jurisdictions, but it is usually a status offense punished with probation, or not punished at all.[2] Giving aid or assistance to a runaway instead of turning them in to the police is a more serious crime called "harboring a runaway", and is typically a misdemeanor.[3] [4]. The law can vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another; in the United States there is a different law in every state. A 2003 FBI study showed that there were 123,581 arrests for runaway youths in the United States. [5]

The Family and Youth Services Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funds three grant programs to help runaway and homeless youth:

  1. The Basic Center Program funds emergency shelters where youth can stay for up to 15 days. Shelters aim to keep youth safe by providing them with immediate needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Shelters may also provide individual, group, and family counseling, and if desired, help reunite youth with their families.[6]
  2. The Transitional Living Program funds programs that help homeless youth develop skills that allow them to become independent and may prevent them from depending on social services in the future. Shelter, services, and counseling are provided for up to 18 months for youth ages 16 to 21 who are unable to return to their homes.[7]
  3. The Street Outreach Program funds local youth service providers that reach out to homeless youth living on the streets and in unstable housing. The providers offer emergency shelter and other services to young people who have been, or who are at risk of being, sexually abused or exploited, with the goal of helping them leave the streets.[8]

The Family and Youth Services Bureau also provides funding for the National Runaway Switchboard, a national hotline for runaway youth, youth who are thinking about running away or are in crisis, parents, and other concerned adults. Available 24 hours a day 365 days a year, the hotline (1-800-RUNAWAY) is confidential, anonymous, and free.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. (Smollar, 1999; Robertson & Toro, 1998)
  2. Background on Status Offenders
  3. Illinois Criminal Code of 1961 - 720 ILCS 5, Section 10-6
  4. Criminal Parental Kidnapping
  5. The World Almanac and Book of Facts: 2006 Edition, Pg. 205 ISBN 0-88687-964-7
  6. Basic Center Program fact sheet
  7. Transitional Living Program for Older Homeless Youth fact sheet
  8. Street Outreach Program fact sheet

External links[edit | edit source]

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