March 7, 2011

Running Away - Adolescents

Facts:● Young people under 18 make up over half of Australia’s missing person reports● Those more likely to be missing are girls aged 13-17● 99.5% of people are located. In fact 85% are found in the first week.● About one third of people will go missing again. You can report someone missing more than once.● It is not a criminal offence to go missing

There is no one reason why adolescents run away from home. Young people from many different family backgrounds may run away, and their reasons for doing so are varied. Sometimes it may seem to young people that the only way to deal with conflict or unhappiness is to assert their independence and leave the situation. Whilst it is true that some young people leave home to gain freedom this is not true of everyone. It is important as parents not to jump to conclusions about why your child has left, or about what may have happened to them. Most young people who run away will return home, and most of those who are reported to the police are located within 48 hours.

What Can I Do?

When a young person runs away it is natural to feel worried, anxious, or guilty. Many parents blame themselves for what has happened. This can make an unbearable situation even more difficult. You may feel that you don’t know what to do next, or where to turn. You may feel frustrated or anxious about not knowing whether your child is safe.

To help you through this time, try to maintain a level of calmness and take time to think about the situation. Find out what you can about your child leaving. Was it impulsive or planned? Have they run away alone or with friends? Have they taken anything with them, or left anything behind? Think about where your teenager may go, and contact people who may know something.

If you have reasonable fears about your child’s safety or wellbeing, you may choose to make a report at your local police station. This does not mean they will be in trouble with the police, or will be charged with an offence – it is not a crime to go missing. It is usual practice for police to notify the Department of Community Services when young people under 15 years of age go missing, and for decisions about their welfare to be made collaboratively. If an environment is assessed to be unsafe, police will not force young people to return home.

Think about what you will do if your teenager returns home or is located by someone else. Remember that they are likely to be feeling very scared, confused, and uncertain. It is important to show them that you care, rather than conveying anger or hurt. Assure them that the door is always open for them to return. Think about what services may be able to support to your family at this time; you may find it useful to involve someone else as a mediator.

Some Strategies for Parents

1. Think about why your child run away

In some cases young people run away because of safety issues in the home. They may have experienced physical, sexual or emotional harm, or witnessed violence between family members. Other circumstances in which young people run away include difficulties at school or with friends, relationship difficulties in situation when parents re-partner or re-marry, drug or alcohol problems. Young people may experience depression, anxiety or stress, and it can be very difficult for them to know how to deal with all their emotions.
Take warning signs and threats seriously. Listen carefully to what your teenager is saying and talk to them about what they are feeling. Be careful of making threats in the heat of an argument. 
Comments such as “if you don’t like it you can leave”, are often make in the midst of emotion-charged encounters. Whilst you may not believe your teenager will go, many do.

2. Discuss options with your teenager

What alternatives are there to running away? Is there somewhere else they can stay? Who else can they talk to about what they’re feeling?
Keep up to date with who your teenager’s friends are, their contact details, favourite places, and school. Establish a contact person, or develop business cards that include the contact details of everyone in the family. Make sure your child carries this with them.

3. Discus the issue when your child return back home

If you child runs away , discuss the issue with them when they return. Don’t be afraid to bring it up, but do wait until they have settled. The primary thing is to let them know you care. Talk to them about what to do should they feel like that again, and develop some safety plans.

Check our articles for some ideas and strategies to help improve communication with your child:
  • Enough is Enough Anti-violence Movement – Sutherland (02) 9542 4029. Counselling for parents and youth at risk
  • Police Assistance Line: Missing Person's Unit: 1800 025 091
  • Family and Friends of Missing Persons : 1800 227 772
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
  • Parent Line: 1300 1300 52
Enough is Enough thank you Parent Line for this article.

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