This is the story of Debbie, and the ordeal she went through to find her runaway child. After contacting Maureen Blaha to thank her for NRS’ help, events transpired that created tangible results.
– By Johnny Moran

One Missing Child Case Created Runaway Youth Legislation

We do not often receive updates on the runaway youth that we serve. We try to connect youth with resources in their area, or reunite them with their families, as well as help them create a plan of action for their next move. We don’t often hear the results of those actions.

In one instance, we did receive an update on a case from the mother of a runaway child. That communication then started a chain of events leading to tangible results: runaway youth legislation at the state level, requiring local law enforcement to provide parents of missing children with two resources: NRS, and The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Our executive director Maureen Blaha spoke with me recently about this unique situation.  She described how she, and one of our board members, and members of Indiana’s state legislature worked together to create pioneering legislation to protect runaway and homeless youth from the dangers of homelessness.

In 2002, a year into her tenure, Maureen received a call from Debbie, a parent of a youth who had run away from home, but with our help, was now back home. Receiving a phone call was most unusual for the organization, because we do not receive or expect feedback from individuals that we serve.

After her daughter went missing, Debbie went to her local police department to fill out a missing persons’ report. Debbie filed the report, and then did not eat or sleep for three days. “She said, what really bothered her,” Maureen relayed,” was the city she lived in, if she had gone into the police to say that her car was stolen, they would have given her a resource to call. She went in to say her daughter was missing, and there was no resource provided. They did not give her our number…and she was perplexed by that.” Debbie called in order to say thank you, because she did find NRS about three days later, and called us. Through our message service and conference calling services, Debbie and her daughter were reunited.

The call was special, according to Maureen, because “we made such an impact on this family’s life, that she chose to call me, but I think her other motivation was to say, why would I be given a resource to help me find my car but I’m not given a resource on who to turn to (for runaway children.)”

After this event, Maureen made it her goal to raise awareness about what legislation could do to support families. If passed, it would require law enforcement to give to parents who file a missing children’s report the number for NRS and the number for The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Beginning in Illinois, where NRS’ offices are located, she began to ask questions. She learned that when a victim of domestic violence files a report, local law enforcement supply resources to the victim.

In 2014, board member and NRS’ “liner,” Michele Lehman, held a housewarming party at her new home in Indiana. This also acted as a benefit for NRS. Friends and colleagues were invited to learn more about NRS Fan Michele and Maureen. Some of the attendees included Indiana state legislators. One of the legislators asked, “What can we do in Indiana?” After that meeting, legislation to provide resources for parents of runaway youth passed in the state of Indiana in 2015. “It is the only state in the country,” said Maureen, “that requires local law enforcement to provide such information.”

This was groundbreaking legislation, and could serve as a model for other states to follow. Parents should be aware that help is available at NRS and NCMEC. “When a parent calls, the message service we have is phenomenal. But wouldn’t it be nice if they knew our number (1800-RUNAWAY)?”

Each case is important, but this story illustrates the power of one person’s ability to affect change. Debbie was able to contact us and share her feelings and story with us, which took a lot of courage. It was also the effort of board member Michele Lehman who created the opportunity of connecting with lawmakers in Indiana. Her support, as well as the entire board, has been invaluable.

Debbie and her daughter joined us at our annual benefit, Spirit of Youth, and shared their story. Here’s a clip. (2003)

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