You can call the police and make a missing child report. The police use a lot of judgment about how actively to look for the runaway. They evaluate things like the child’s age and emotional state. If you can give a specific address where the child is staying, the police will look for the child there.
The police decide how to handle the situation. The police may give a runaway child a ticket (also called a “citation”). Or the police may just give the child a warning. The police can also decide whether to bring the child home, to a shelter, or let the child stay where he or she is.
Procedures vary from county to county. If the case goes to court, there may be several hearings. The court will listen to the police, prosecutor, and to the child and the family. The court will decide if the child is a runaway, and what kind of help the child and family need.
The court can find that the child is “in need of protection or services.” It can just order the child to stay home. It can also order services for the child and parents. Services might be foster care, individual or family counseling, parenting classes, or chemical dependency treatment. Even if the court doesn’t order any services, families can get services voluntarily. The court can order the child to pay a fine or do community service. Court involvement can sometimes help, but there is no guarantee that it will solve your problem.
If you are low income, the county may appoint a free lawyer to represent you or your child. In any court case, both you and your child have the right to hire your own lawyers, if you feel that you need one.
That person may be “harboring a runaway.” It is a crime to deprive a parent of their parental rights. The person could also be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The police don’t often charge people with “harboring” unless another crime is also involved.
Go to all of your child’s court appearances, and ask questions if you don’t understand.
Write down the names and numbers of everyone involved in your child’s case – for example, social workers, child protection workers, and their supervisors.
If you think your child might run away, try to plan a safe place that s/he can run to. You might want to let your child stay with a relative for a while. Let your child know that this is an option. Another option is to check if there is a shelter for runaway youth in your county. Your child may be able to stay there temporarily.
Use the help offered in your area. You and your child may benefit from services offered locally. Like chemical dependency and family counseling, parenting education, day care, mental health services, and individual counseling. Services differ from county to county. To find services in your area call 2-1-1. You can also text them your zip code at 898-211 or chat online at www.211unitedway.org.