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Missing Children: Incidences and Characteristics of Runaway Children and Resources Available to Them (page 3)

By — University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on May 2, 2014

Things You Can Do in Your Community

There are many things that individuals can do in their community to help all who are faced with the problems and issues associated with runaway children.

Invest in Your Own Community

First, find out what resources are available to runaways and children in crisis in your area. Take a look at your local emergency shelter. Is it in good condition? Is it large enough to house all the runaways in the area? Maybe the building is big enough, but the services aren't addressing the real problem. A trained counselor can be just as important to these children's well-being as a warm bed and food to eat. If there is something lacking in the local emergency shelter, then local citizens, Extension, and other change agents can help. They can raise money to improve the shelter, and they can volunteer to help it serve its clients.

Team Up and Coordinate

If there aren't any programs or facilities for runaways or unwanted children in your town, then it's time to establish one. It is always best to work with people and organizations who already know the area. You might simply ask an existing organization if they can expand into your town. If that isn't an option, then consider teaming up with another agency that has the resources and expertise to help your cause. Local service providers, hospitals, churches, police, and civic organizations could all contribute.

Work With, Not Against, the Local Authorities

Every state has different laws regarding runaways. Every county handles runaways and homeless youth differently. Some police stations will actively search for runaways, while others do not have the time or resources to look for them. Some judges are strict when assigning punishment and might make the family pay fines or keep the incident on the child's permanent record. Other judges are much more easygoing. It is important to understand the policies your town has about runaways. Talk to officials before starting any program, and always work with police and the judicial system, not against them. This way, your efforts and theirs will help serve children who face difficult times, instead of creating a more stressful and confusing experience for them.

Be Proactive

Children most frequently run away because of conflict with their parents. Well-timed family counseling could stop thousands of youths from ever running away in the first place. There should be at least one organization in every area that can provide affordable family counseling to those in need. A proactive and supportive school system can also help stop children from running away. Teachers can address the issue of running from home in their classes. They should let children know that running away is not romantic, adventurous, or a safe way to deal with their problems. Children need to know that life on the streets is nothing short of grim. Students also need to know where to turn if they ever do run away, become throwaways, or feel like they need to run away. Most importantly, teachers should help students learn better ways to solve conflicts and always let their students know that someone is willing to listen and help them.

Be an Advocate for Change

If you think your community isn't doing enough about the runaway/throwaway issue, or if you think things should change on the national level, do not be afraid to speak out. Advocacy has been shown to work.

Fundraisers are a good way to start collecting money and increasing awareness. They are also fairly easy to organize. Showing your support and voting for government officials who address the problem of runaways is another way to help. Writing to your local representative or collecting signatures for a petition might influence future legislation. On a group level, you could organize an ad campaign or even hire a lobbyist. You could even organize your own demonstration at the state or national capitol. No matter how you decide to help, be ready to accept small victories and numerous setbacks. Being a child advocate is not a simple task, but if you think that the issues facing runaways and "throwaways" are worthy of more attention, you should consider becoming a voice for change.

References

Greyhound Lines, Inc. (2006). Charitable contributions. Retrieved February 20, 2006, from http://www.greyhound.com/company/contributions.shtml

Hammer, H., Finkelhor, D., & Sediak, A.J. (2002). Runaway/thrownaway children: National estimates and characteristics. (NISMART Bulletin Series NCJ 196469). Retrieved February 20, 2006, from http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/documents/nismart2_runaway.pdf

Mitchell, F. (2003). "Can I come home?" The experiences of young runaways contacting the Message Home helpline [Electronic version]. Child and Family Social Work, 8, 3-11.

National Runaway Switchboard (2006). Homepage. Retrieved February 20, 2006, from http://nrscrisisline.org/

National Safe Place, YMCA. (2006). Retrieved February 20, 2006, from http://www.safeplaceservices.org/

Sandt, J. (2006). Runaway lives: Personal stories and reflections by runaways and their families. Retrieved March 18, 2006, from http://www.lv.psu.edu/jkl1/runawaylives/index.html

Sandt, J.(2004). Teens in trouble: Runaways. Retrieved March 18, 2006, from http://www.lv.psu.edu/jkl1/teens/runaways.html

Spatz, C., Widom C., & Ames, M.A. (1994). Criminal consequences of childhood victimization [Electronic version]. Child Abuse and Neglect, 18, 303-317.

Stiffman, A.R. (1989). Physical and sexual abuse in runaway youths [Electronic version]. Child Abuse and Neglect, 13, 417-426.

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