In this next chapter in our series, we are covering the states on the West Coast: California, Washington State, and Oregon.

Runaway Laws in West Coast States

Can I Move Out at 17? – Runaway Laws on the West Coast

One of the most common questions we receive from youth is, “Can I move out at 17?” They are in tough situations at home and they want to know if they have options. They may be dealing with abuse from siblings or parents. They may be neglected by their guardian. They are looking for some kind of sanctuary.

Our goal, when dealing with youth in this situation, is to help them create a plan of action. We want to give them the most accurate information to help them in their decision-making. In an effort to provide that information, we have created a blog series addressing runaway laws in each of the 50 states.

In this next chapter in our series, we are covering the states on the West Coast: California, Washington State, and Oregon.

*Our main source of information is the comprehensive report, Alone Without A Home: A State-By-State Review of Laws Affecting Unaccompanied Youth, created by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

*DISCLAIMER: We are not legal experts. Laws can be interpreted differently from county to county and police jurisdiction to police jurisdiction. Everyone’s situation is unique, but we are here 24/7 to help you figure out a plan for your specific situation. For information, please call us at 1-800-RUNAWAY or visit us at 1800RUNAWAY.org.

California Age of a minor: This is defined as any person under 18 years of age.

Runaway status: In California there is no specific definition, but police officers are authorized to transport, with the permission of the person being transported, any person over 16 and under 18 years of age who appears to be away from home without permission of his/her parents or guardian or who appears to be suffering from lack of food, shelter, or medical care.

Is running away a status offense: Running away is not a status offense in California. According to California law, a youth may be taken into temporary custody without a warrant if it appears that the youth is beyond the control of the youth’s guardian or persistently or habitually refuses to obey the reasonable orders or directions of the guardian. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 625 (2011). A police officer may find it reasonable to take a runaway youth into temporary custody using these guidelines. The youth is typically returned to the custody or his/her guardian within 24 hours of being taken into custody.

Can a youth file for emancipation: California states that any person under 18 years of age is considered to be an emancipated minor if the person (a) has entered into a valid marriage, (b) is on active duty with the armed forces of the United States, or (c) has received a declaration of emancipation. A minor may petition the superior court of the county in which the minor resides or is temporarily domiciled for a declaration of emancipation if the minor can show that he/ she (a) is at least 14 years of age, (b) willingly lives separate and apart from guardian with the consent or acquiescence of the guardian, (c) is managing his/her own financial affairs, and (d) earns income that is not derived from criminal enterprise.

West Coast Laws on Runaway Youth

Washington State  Age of a minor: There is not a specific definition for minors, but youth, a child or juvenile are defined as anyone under the age of 18.

Runaway status: In Washington State, there is no specific definition for “runaways”, but a youth who has run away could be classified as a youth in crisis, an at-risk youth, or a child in need of services. A youth in crisis is, among other things, any youth under 18 years of age who is a run away from the home of a guardian. An at-risk youth is, among other things, a juvenile who is absent from home for at least 72 consecutive hours without the consent of the juvenile’s guardian. A child in need of services is, among other things, a child who has been reported to law enforcement as absent from the home of his/her guardian or from a court-ordered placement without consent for at least 24 consecutive hours on two or more separate occasions.

Is running away a status offense: Running away is not a status offense in Washington. A runaway youth may be taken into custody without a warrant by a police officer if the youth’s guardian has reported to a law enforcement agency that the youth has run away. The police officer shall then deliver the youth to a crisis residential center for assessment and care.

Can a youth file for emancipation: In Washington, any minor 16 years of age or older who is the resident of the state can petition a superior court for emancipation. The petition must include, among other things, a declaration by the minor indicating that he/she has the ability to manage his/her financial affairs and has the ability to manage his/her personal, social, educational, and non-financial affairs.

Oregon  Age of a minor: A minor is considered to be anyone who is under 18 years of age.

Runaway status: There is no specific definition in Oregon law for runaways. The definition for a homeless person is a person who has no fixed place of residence or resides in temporary housing such as a hotel or shelter.

Is running away a status offense: Running away in Oregon is not a status offense. A runaway youth may be taken into custody without a warrant by a peace officer, a counselor, an employee of the Department of Human Services, or by any other person authorized by the juvenile court. The person taking custody shall then release the youth into the custody of the youth’s guardian or deliver the youth to a shelter care facility approved by the juvenile court to provide care for runaway youth.

Can a youth file for emancipation: Yes, any minor may petition for emancipation in the juvenile court where the minor is domiciled. Notice of the petition will be given to the parent. The juvenile court shall conduct a preliminary hearing on the minor’s application for emancipation within 10 days of the date on which it is filed or as soon as possible thereafter.

As our series on runaway laws continues, you may notice how the laws differ from state to state. It is important to understand what your state considers to be a runaway youth, and how the authorities are required to respond when locating a runaway youth. Please continue to follow this series as we cover the remaining state laws.

If you need more information, call us at 1-800-RUNAWAY, or go to 1800RUNAWAY.org.

Related Articles: Are you living in a different state? Find your state and the related information below:

Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho

Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona

Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana

West Virginia, Virginia, North & South Carolina, Georgia and Florida

Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania

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  • Trent

    I came out to my mom as transgender (female to male) this year. Unlike the response I hoped she us constantly stripping away what I have and what I’m allowed. Since 6th grade she and my sister have physically harassed me. I’m typically not a violent person and don’t do anything but yell for help. My mom used to work with many of my teachers who think I’m lying when I tell them what she has done and ask for CPS to be called. I’ve lost everything lately from articles of clothing that I bought, just pants and shirts from the old navy men’s section. Nothing inappropriate. My mom is making me live in the basement and although having my own space is nice the room is very small and I often get locked out of the rest of the house where there is food and water and a bathroom for several hours. I’m constantly being told I am good for nothing and that I should commit suicide because my grades are so bad. I’m constantly in fear at school and I show signs of having learning disabilities my teachers have pointed out to me but my mom fails to believe in medical healthcare. I feel the need to get out of here or get out of life. I have 3 safe homes and maybe more I can stay in but I don’t have a job and since I live in Washington state I can’t get emancipated. What should I do, and what can I do?

  • Hi, Trent. Thank you for finding us and for having the courage to speak up. The situation you described sounds incredibly hard to endure. We are here to listen and to help. Our crisis services center can help in several ways: our frontline staff members can listen to your concerns. They can help you create a plan of action that will keep you safe and off the street, and can also provide referrals to resources in your area that can help. Our service is available 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-RUNAWAY, or by sending an email or using our live chat function through our website, 1800RUNAWAY.org. We hope to hear from you soon.

  • Rachel Harris

    I have read many articles and no one discusses the high school graduate who is 17 and wants to get away from an oppressive situation to go to a college of their choice and wont be 18 till October when schook is well under way. What rights do they have????

  • Rachel, this is a great question. In order to get the best answer, we suggest calling our hotline and speaking with our frontline crisis service staff. We can be reached at 1-800-RUNAWAY, or send them an email or use our live chat through our website, 1800RUNAWAY.org.