Of late there’s been a lot of talk about missing teens and the fact that they’re most often categorized as “runaways.” Some people see this term as pejorative or dismissive. It’s apparent that many people visualize Opie with a bundle and stick over his shoulder in Mayberry when it should be apparent that a runaway can be in as much danger as a child who has been abducted.
I tried to explain this to a group on Facebook, but when I tried to explain that most of the missing girls in D.C. are runaways they accused me of being dismissive. Nothing is further from the truth, but when they claimed that the states get $72,000 per child, I quickly realized they had no idea what they were talking about and moved on. More the fool I, given that I swore no more arguing with folk on social media. I’m too old for that crap. So, I’m posting this here from the perspective of someone who has professional experience with this population.
For the sake of clarity I’m going to hit a few random bullets of issues that come up repeatedly when this discussion is occurring. Since my area of expertise is teenagers, I’ll limit this post to them. Younger children are a whole other discussion.
- Amber Alerts can ONLY be issued when there’s evidence that a child has been abducted. They’re not issued every time a child goes missing, there are criteria to be met. This is skewed more toward younger kids, because they’re unlikely to decamp of their own accord.
- Some states will not take a missing persons report on people over a certain age (this varies depending on state) unless there’s evidence that the person did not leave on their own.
- Generally missing teens are found within 24/48 hours usually with friends or family members.
In general, children do not run away from stable, safe environments. With chronic runaways there’s almost always some type of abuse occurring in the home. Of course, there are exceptions, but kids don’t run for no reason.
Most of the time if a teen girl is missing there’s a male, usually an adult involved. Girls run away more than boys, probably because of being lured by men. Boys don’t run as often, but when they do, they run farther and it can be more random. This is especially true of white males.
So, as you can see there’s certainly plenty of danger involved when a child runs away. It’s nothing something to dismiss, which is why I think we should consider using the term “lured away,” at least when we know or suspect that a child might have been targeted, and almost all of them are. If not initially, certainly within hours or days of being on the street. It’s so pervasive that these predators will actually set up “shop” near group homes so they can prey on girls in foster care.
And that’s another issue that must be acknowledged, most of the teens who do go missing in this country are in foster care. Law enforcement generally can’t mention that because of HIPAA regulations. Foster care is literally a bullet train into commercial rape for many young girls. This goes back to a post I made a while back about sex trafficking and how prevalent it is.
Now that I’ve depressed you out of your mind, I can think of certain measures we can take to address these issues.
- Strengthen families and provide services and support to keep children in intact homes.
- If children do have to leave their families of origin work hard to maintain a “kin first” model.
- Provide support to our foster care system so we can have more and better foster homes so children don’t have to go in group homes.
- Use better terminology liked “lured away,” and carefully explain the dangers of the street to people so they understand runaway is not a trivial issue.