What Should I Do If My Child Runs Away?

Steps to Take if Your Child Runs Away

Runaway Teens
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If you are a parent there is a 20 percent chance that your child will run away at least one time before they are 18 years old. If they run away one time, the risk that they will do so again jumps to 30 percent, according to Urban.org.

The National Runaway Safeline reports that a staggering 1.6 and 2.8 million kids in the United States run away in a year. Fortunately most runaway youths do return home safely, but not all.

Much of it depends on what motivated the youth to run away in the first place. Being able to identify the root cause is the first step to being able to fix the problem, but first every effort must be made to get the child back home quickly and safely.

So what should you do when hit with the shocking reality that your child has run away?

Get Control of Your Emotions

First, it is important to keep your emotions intact. You have a lot of work to do and it is important to do it quickly and with as clear a mind as possible.

You will be communicating with various people including possibly your child's friends, other parents, an ex-spouse or ex-in-laws, teachers or guidance counselors, and the police. You want to be able to clearly articulate why you are contacting them without emotionally collapsing which could cause you to forget important details.

The following list is suggestions that will expedite the investigation into locating your runaway child:

  • Get two notebooks to keep track of people's names, phone numbers and any other details relevant to finding your child. Keep one by your phone and one with you when you are away from your home. Be diligent in recording in your notebooks the details of any conversations that you have during your search for your child.
  • Locate the most recent picture you have of your child.
  • Write down a description of what they had on when you last saw them and search their room for their favorite items of clothing in case they packed a bag and change clothes.
  • See what they took with them. It could be an indicator of where they may go. For example, if they took their bathing suit, they may be headed to a beach.
  • Do they have any distinguishable marks such as tattoos, multiple piercings, birthmarks or other marks? Make a list.
  • If they have run away before - where did they go?
  • Did they ask to go somewhere, and you said no? List where it was they wanted to go -- outdoor concert, Florida for spring break, etc.
  • How did they leave? Their car? A friend's car? Walking? Their bike?
  • If they took their own car or a family car, write down the description and license plate number. If they took their bike, write down the description.
  • Do they have a boyfriend or girlfriend? If so, obtain their name, address and phone number for the authorities.
  • Who are their friends? List all the friends that you can think of and make a list of their names and how to contact them. If you do not know this information, list who may know.
  • Check their personal belongings including the pockets of their clothing, book bags, school notebooks, a diary, school lockers for names of friends, phone numbers or other information that may help.
  • Check their social network pages like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for friends that you may not know about. Make a list of their names.
  • If they own a cell phone, obtain a copy of the last bill they received. Do they have their phone or pager with them? If so, write down the numbers for the investigators.
  • Make a list of their credit card and ATM account numbers. Obtain a copy of their last bill.
  • Contact your local police department and report your child as a runaway/missing person and have them list the child's name and date of birth with the National Crime Information Center. Obtain a case number and a name of the lead investigator.
  • If an ex-spouse exists, contact them to inform them of the child's disappearance and to verify that the child has not found refuge with them. Do the same for ex-in-laws.
  • Install caller ID, call waiting, and call forwarding on your house phone if you do not already have it.
  • If someone cannot stay by the phone, then forward any calls that come in to your cell phone.
  • Contact the parents of your child's friends and inform them of what has happened. They often can supply you with valuable clues as to the whereabouts of your child.
  • List the names and locations of the places that they often frequent; their school, church, activity center like the YMCA, and favorite restaurants.
  • Prepare to send a contact sheet with your child's picture and description, all on one page, to police departments in surrounding cities.

If your child has runaway before, there is a strong possibility they may do it again. Preparing some of this information in advance can quicken their return home.