In the USA, laws that affect runaways are nearly the same in every state. A person under age 18 can be held by the court (at a juvenile detention center, foster home or police station) until being returned home or to local authorities. There is a difference between a child who has run away and a child that is missing.
A runaway has left home or left a supervised environment. They are usually running to escape or avoid something or they are running somewhere to find or get something. A missing child might be lost, abducted, injured or held against their will by others. It is very important to know that all runaway children are not running because of abuse, 95% of runaways stem from other causes. Parents should know that any adult who lets a child stay with them (including a relative) could be criminally charged with kidnapping, interference with child custody and/or harboring a runaway.
Although a grandparent or adult sibling might not be prosecuted for taking in a runaway, the police can arrest them first and ask questions later.
One of the unfortunate things about teens that run away is that if they continue to run away they will likely end up in the custody of the juvenile court, which means they probably will be in a group home.
This is where the criminal cycle begin. If the child runs from the group home they will be in violation of a judge's order and if your child is found they will probably be placed in a juvenile detention center. Parents should try be objective. Teens are running away for a reason. There may be some perceived physical or emotional abuse in the home. And there are those teens who run because they don't want to follow the rule's of the house. Some teens will run to a friend's house or a relative and make up stories about you and their home life. As a parent you may have to suffer the pain and humiliation that it causes, you will need to focus and try to get your child the help they need.
According to the Department of Health, more than 1 million teenagers run away from home each year. The National Runaway Switchboard reports that 86% of runaways are between the ages of 14 to 17 and 74% are female, while 26% are male. If your teen has threatened to run away, don't hesitate to talk to your child about it. Inform your son or daughter that running away is not as glamorous as it sounds. Let them know living day to day on the streets is very dangerous, it can be deadly. If your teen is having problems, make sure you let them know how much you love them and that together you can work through the problem(s) and running away is never the solution.
Call the Police, IMMEDIATELY!! Don't wait 24 hours, do it right away. Ask investigators to enter your child into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Persons File. There is no waiting period for entry into NCIC for children under age 18. Get the name and badge number of the officer you speak with. Call back often. Call everyone your child knows and enlist their help. Search everywhere, but do not leave your phone unattended.
Search your teens room for anything that may give you a clue as to where he went. You may also want to check your phone bill for any calls they may have made recently.
Call the National Runaway Switchboard 1-800-786-2929 or 1-800-RUNAWAY, you can leave a message for your child with them. They are funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau in the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
If your child is missing, what to do?
Think clearly where might your child be? With a friend, headed for a relative or divorced parent.
Record: Keep a record of everyone you contact.
Look for clues: Check your childs room for signs of preparation. Ask friends, teachers, coaches for any clues.
Take action: File a missing persons report with local police and ask them to put information into the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) computer. Contact your local youth shelter; they can help connect you with other reputable services in your area and can assist you in a plan of action.
Contact your cell phone provider to get phone history. You may need the local police to get a detailed text print out.
If your child calls, stay calm and do everything you can to talk them into coming home, whatever it takes.
If he/she is not ready to return home, give the number National Runaway Switchboard 1-800-786-2929 or 1-800-RUNAWAY,
When your child returns home they will be overwhelmed by emotion and you probably will be overwhelmed with anger and relief.
Try to stay calm here are few steps to take:
Seek medical attention if needed
Communicate with your child and listen to them. It may sound foolish but to your child it may be very important.
Contact officials, police, ect. Let them know your child has returned home.
Get your child some outside help (child psychiatrist or sociologist)
Bring in a trusted relative for more support.