You are 16 years old and you come home from a long, hard day at school, teachers hassling you all day about schoolwork, classmates teasing you about the old T-shirt you wore today. At home, you get screamed at about cleaning your room by a parent or guardian who has also had a long day at work. You feel overwhelmed and just want to get away. So you pack a bag with some clothes and you head over to a friend’s house without telling anyone. You have just run away from home.
Your parent or guardian comes in to check the cleaning of your room and finds you gone. She looks around the house, checks outside, and calls your friends and family who live nearby, but no one has seen you.
On the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the first thing a parent or guardian should do if a child may have run away from home is to call the Salt River Police Department. The police will file a report and keep an eye out for the child. The information is passed on to detectives, who will follow up with the parents or guardians on the status of the child. Friends and family members will be contacted to see if they know where the child may be in an effort to get the child home safely.
According to the SRPD, three to five runaways are reported each week. Over the past year there were about 100 runaways on the Community.
“Children run away for a few reasons,” said SRPD officer Chris Davis. “They want to hang out with friends, may encounter abuse at home, dislike the rules at home, get in trouble (poor grades or not doing chores), and they might have a boyfriend or girlfriend or just want to go to parties.”
Signs that might lead up to a child running away include becoming withdrawn, truancy issues at school, a change of behavior, coming home late, a new set of friends and poor grades. Parents can attempt to prevent children from running away by talking to them and explaining the dangers of running away. It’s important for parents to be involved with their children’s daily activities, whether it’s sports or their friends, and to keep tabs on what their kids are doing on social media.
“I think a big thing is letting your child know they can talk to you, whether it’s a fight with a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend issues,” said Davis. “I know it’s difficult for teenagers, but they must understand that they can go to a guardian, parent or someone they can trust to talk to about concerns, issues or problems they may be having.”
Parents can also call a crisis center or a family or friend who has a good relationship the child. They too can encourage the child to talk, asking him or her how the day is going and stressing that they care if that child continues to run away.
“Runaways can become victims of serious crimes such as assaults and homicides,” as well as getting involved with gangs, prostitution and drugs, said Davis.
If a child has a pattern of running away, there are consequences. He or she can be charged with a curfew violation if found outside between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. without permission. Anyone caught harboring a runaway minor can also be charged with failure to report a runaway and could face jail time or fines.
Before running away becomes a problem, parents can seek counseling and other help through some Community programs offered by the Behavioral Health Department.
“There is nothing wrong with the parents or guardians asking for help. A counselor can talk with the parent and the child and try to make that relationship stronger,” said Davis.
“The main thing is to stress that the Community’s priority is the children, and anyone who fails to report a runaway or keeps important information from police officers will be charged with harboring a runaway child,” said Davis, noting two important things he would like Community parents to know.
Don’t be afraid of being a “snitch” or of retaliation; anyone with information about a runaway can contact the SRPD and remain anonymous. “Our goal is to find the child and bring him or her back safely before they fall into drugs, gangs, fighting and other serious problems.Obviously, if a child is running away, there is some type of issue going on. The best place for them to [work out the problem] is at home; if [the problem is within the home itself], that’s even more reason for us to know, so we can contact Child Protective Services and try to get the child into a safe environment.”