Teenage Runaways

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1999), a runaway youth is defined as being away from home without the permission of his or her parents or legal guardian or is absent from home or place of legal residence at least overnight without permission. This definition also denotes that the youth has left home voluntarily after planning their departure.

Defining characteristics and reasons for a youth to run away, varies from each case but Bass (1992) reports that runaways represent a full range of backgrounds. This includes all ethnicities, single and two-parent households and all socio-economic brackets from privileged and middle class to homeless families.

A ‘chronic runaway' will leave and return home many times over the course of time. A youth who runs away for a long period of time is defined as an ‘acute runaway' episode. Such a youth may return home and never leave again, or never return home. ‘Throwaways' or ‘push-out' youths are evicted from the homes of their families. A runaway may turn in to a homeless youth, defined as "a situation in which a youth has no place of shelter and is in need of services and shelter where he or she can receive supervision and care."

Most children do not know a different life and live in a world which is normal to them. However, some children experience a life of pain, indifference, conflict and abuse, as part of their daily life. By talking to other people, at school or in their neighborhood, they begin to learn the differences.

The number of runaways among teenage youths appear to be higher than in other child age groups, as leaving home requires a certain amount of survival and abstract reasoning skills. These cognitive skills appear in young people during early adolescent years. It is difficult to determine the age a child may run away but the younger the child is when they run away, the likelihood of repeat run away episodes increases. Another factor to consider is their first runaway experience. An unpleasant episode may result in the youth never running away again, although the perils of staying at home may increase the chances of this happening.

Lives are made up of many emotions and experiences. This can be shown on a continuum. At one end a person enjoys a healthy, functioning family, supportive friends, warmth, compassion, security and freedom from hunger. At the other end, a person may experience desperation, loneliness, fear, selfishness, hunger, violence and victimization. Research in social bond theory reveals that delinquency occurs when youths' moral, emotional and psychological ties to society weaken or rupture. This is reflected in research by O'Neill (1994), which examines what happens when social ties within a family have been broken.

Schaffner finds that in general, adolescents resist running away and view it as a last resort. It is also highlighted that runaways usually have a plan of action that includes finding the love and protection they need elsewhere. Researchers argue that running away is not necessarily permanent, with rapprochement often taking place.

Shaffer and Caton (1984) identify ‘system children' as being relocated between foster homes, psychiatric hospitals, emergency shelters, residential schools and juvenile justice facilities. There is a differentiation between street kids and shelter kids who make up a large portion of runaways and homeless youths. Street kids make their lives on the streets, befriended by other street kids to learn the rules of the street. Youths may exchange services, for example, sexual favors, for shelter, food, clothes or drugs. Shelter youths may never have experienced living on the street, having appropriate supervision or care.

Some researchers suggest that running away from home may be a fundamentally healthy reaction to a pathological situation, with life on the streets sometimes safer than living at home. However, it is also said that running away from home represents a poor coping strategy because the youth leaves a bad situation behind for an even worse one.

Researchers believe that running away is a difficult decision for a youth. These teenagers struggle to find a loving connection for their parents, even when there is chronic and acute family dysfunction, physical and sexual abuse, authoritarian and arbitrary parenting styles, neglect and abandonment, drug abuse and other sources of conflict. Running away is the ultimate choice for survival. Others argue that youths often seek reconciliation with family members following a runaway episode.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Our Runaway and Homeless Youth: A Guide to Understanding
Natasha Slesnick.
Praeger, 2004
Runaway Kids and Teenage Prostitution: America's Lost, Abandoned, and Sexually Exploited Children
R. Barri Flowers.
Praeger, 2001
Adolescent Runaway Episodes: Application of an Estrangement Model of Recidivism
Thompson, Sanna J.; Pollio, David E.
Social Work Research, Vol. 30, No. 4, December 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Predictors of Adolescent Running Away Behavior
De Man, A. F.
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Vol. 28, No. 3, January 1, 2000
Comparison of Family Therapy Outcome with Alcohol-Abusing, Runaway Adolescents
Slesnick, Natasha; Prestopnik, Jillian L.
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Vol. 35, No. 3, July 2009
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Victimization and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among Runaway and Homeless Adolescents
Whitbeck, Les B.; Hoyt, Dan R.; Johnson, Kurt D.; Chen, Xiaojin.
Violence and Victims, Vol. 22, No. 6, January 1, 2007
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Predictors of Running Away from Family Foster Care
Nesmith, Andrea.
Child Welfare, Vol. 85, No. 3, May/June 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Recidivism at a Shelter for Adolescents: First-Time versus Repeat Runaways
Baker, Amy J. L.; McKay, Mary M.; Lynn, Cynthia J. Schlange, Hans; Auville, Alicia.
Social Work Research, Vol. 27, No. 2, June 2003
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Examining Risk Factors Associated with Family Reunification for Runaway Youth: Does Ethnicity Matter?
Thompson, Sanna J.; Kost, Kathleen A.; Pollio, David E.
Family Relations, Vol. 52, No. 3, July 2003
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Child Abuse, Psychiatric Disorder, and Running Away in a Community Sample of Women
Andres-Lemay, V. Joy; Jamieson, Ellen; MacMillan, Harriet L.
Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 50, No. 11, October 2005
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Runaway or Abduction?
Simons, Andre B.; Willie, Jeannine.
The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 11, November 2000
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